Our fashion industry is ageist.
In the next 50 years, there is projected to be an additional 8.2 million people aged 65 years and over in the UK – a population roughly the size of present-day London. Yet this growing demographic remains significantly unrepresented in the fashion industry. By 2040, people aged 50 and over are expected to be this sector’s key consumer base. So why does the industry remain resistant in recognising how fashionable and stylish older generations are and want to remain?
According to the ILC report, Maximising the Longevity Dividend, “spending by those aged 65 and over increased by 75% between 2001 to 2018, compared with a 16% fall in spending by those aged 50 and under during the same period”. Whilst the younger demographic is holding back, the spending power of our ageing population is being ignored. Their research further stated that a £2.9 bn (21%) growth in spending on clothes and shoes by older people was found between 2011 and 2018.
Having an interest in fashion or wanting to look good has nothing to do with age. One celebrity who continues to defy judgement based on a number is Jennifer Lopez. Causing a social media storm after her performance at the 2020 Superbowl, Jennifer Lopez showed the world what 50 is to her by rejecting the words ‘dress your age’ and wearing an intricate Versace bodysuit that took 700 hours to make.
Yet a significant proportion of the population is being treated as invisible and irrelevant by the fashion industry, starting with the clothing itself. How many brands can you name that are aimed at 50+ and are considered ‘fashionable’? Take L K Bennett and Whistles, two high street clothing brands supposedly aimed at an older audience. Head to their sites and you will see a majority casting of younger models. Brands that have a 50+ target audience do not fairly market their clothing. How is it that the fashion industry continues to present a forever young vision all the way through to the clothing sites which are filled with images of those in their teens and 20s?
We have become inclusive with ethnicities and disabilities on the runway. Yet people over 50+ have are still shamefully side-lined. In 2017, only 13 over 50-year-old models appeared on catwalks (The Telegraph) where models aged 47+ protested lack of representation at the opening of London Fashion week. It is clear that people over 40s are interested in fashion and do buy into trends.
Instead of reaching out to this market and welcoming them, the industry still plays on the fears and insecurities of people to make money. What would it take to acknowledge the issue? According to research by the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK), continuing to ignore this demographic could cost the fashion industry £11bn over the next 20 years.
Perhaps brands do not know what their audience wants, or how to reach them? Or maybe they are choosing to ignore them completely. Either way, this anti-ageing ideology must be replaced with an age-inclusive one. A slight shift in attitude with the occasional 30+ model is not enough. Don’t be fooled by brands such as Zara and Mango beginning to seek out older women for their advertising. Using the occasional diverse model to create organic and believable Instagram posts is simply a tick box and not a sign of the industry opening its doors to all.