The fashion industry’s ageism problem is getting old

Boomer leads the way and meets the men and women embracing age and fuelling fashion’s ‘greynaissance’

Jan De Villeneuve photographed by Daniel Riera for L'Express Styles magazine

Fashion has always been about searching for something new, cutting edge and out of the ordinary. But the hunt for the ‘latest trend’ has rubbed off on the casting of models male and female. Ageism is still rife across parts of the mainstream fashion industry. The archaic idea that someone’s prime is in their twenties is exemplified by the rarity of which we see any fabulous over forty-year olds on the runway, in shop windows or in advertising campaigns.

However, over recent years there does appear to have been a push towards inclusivity. Those wearing the clothes are becoming just as, if not more interesting than the fashion itself. Models Winnie Harlow and Brenda Finn adorned the catwalks at London Fashion Week last year and the level of buzz surrounding these particular models is electric.

Diversity in terms of race, gender, and size has been a hot topic among models, designers and journalists but when it comes to age, it seems we’ve been just that bit further behind. But, fashion is changing, a ‘greynaissance’ is sweeping through the industry and Boomer is leading the way by shining a spotlight on the bold and daring mature models who are igniting change across the industry.

Jan de Villeneuve is 74-years-old and has been modelling since 1966. Her catwalk appearances for Simone Rocha and Osman at London Fashion Week in 2017 lit up social media and sparked a number of conversations surrounding inclusivity.

Jan on the catwalk at Osman during London Fashion Week 2017

Jan began modelling when she was 22 and says that at that point she already felt quite old. After taking a break to have children, she returned to the industry in the late eighties. “It’s pretty crazy to still be working, but diversity seems popular these days which suits me fine,” she says.

Having always struggled with the idea of beauty, Jan says being an older woman in the industry is liberating as she has no interest in people thinking she looks good, she just wants to be herself. “People used to say to me ‘that photograph is beautiful’ and I’d just think ‘that isn’t me that is the photograph - the lighting and the clothes’. I feel much more comfortable now that fashion is more inclusive and diverse - this is totally the place I want to be,” she says.

Unfortunately, ageism extends far beyond the runway. Jan tells the story of the time she was in an Abercrombie and Fitch store with her daughter and was refused service. “If an American teenager sees an old lady in a shop, maybe they’ll think this isn’t the shop for them,” she says.

Inclusivity means mainstream fashion brands and magazines having older men and women modelling trendy, current and innovative fashion. Jacynth Bassett founded after growing saddened and frustrated at seeing women, including her mother, being treated as invisible in the eyes of the industry, largely due to their age. The company is an online fashion boutique which celebrates and caters for the stylish older woman. They feature models of varying ages, shapes, heights and sizes. Jacynth understands that some consumers may be put off by seeing older people modelling fashionable clothes, however, encourages them to be more open minded. “Ultimately, if one has a true appreciation of style, age should be irrelevant. You should be able to love and be inspired by an outfit, regardless of how old the person wearing it is,” she says.

Jacynth sees design as the main obstacle standing in the way of eradicating ageism in fashion. Although we have seen an increase in models over sixty on the catwalks and in campaigns, she believes some designers and brands feel they have ticked the boxes and moved on. “Even if brands feature a model who is over sixty, that doesn’t mean their styles actually cater to that demographic,” she says. “We need to educate students, designers and brands on how they can be more conscious of their customer”.

Jacynth Bassett, founder of, an online boutique for fashionable older women

Over-65s spend around £6.7bn a year on clothes in Britain, and at last this demographic, one so fundamental in the industry’s progression, is being represented by luxury brands. Large fashion houses have cast a variety of sassy and stylish over sixties in their campaigns in the past few years. Many marketers have begun recognising attributes and achievements of individuals rather than just the way they look. Since 2015 80-year-old Joan Didion became the face of Céline, Joni Mitchell starred in a shoot for Saint Laurent and 73-year-old model Lauren Hutton was revealed as one of the stars in a Calvin Klein lingerie campaign.

The rise of social media and brand endorsements has changed the industry dramatically. Gone are the days of needing to be signed to a major modelling agency, if you’re at all interested in fashion, Instagram is your best friend. However, yet again there is the perception that to be ‘Instafamous’ you must be in your twenties and just at the start of pursuing your career. This is absolutely not the case.

Judith Boyd started her blog Style Crone in 2012 and her accompanying Instagram account now has over 47 thousand followers. She says fashion was a life line for her during difficult times and sees it as a meditative form of self-expression. “I’ve become very comfortable expressing myself on my blog and my Instagram,” she says. “On Instagram older women are visible and we don’t have to rely on being chosen by anyone, we are able to put ourselves out there and often I find that it’s very celebrated.” Judith has a huge passion for hats and says that Instagram has given her the opportunity to meet milliners all over the world, increasing her creativity and her love for putting outfits together and expressing herself.

Judith Boyd wants to show people that it doesn’t matter what age you are, anyone can be an Instagram influencer

The increase in the number of mature Instagram influencers and bloggers has meant consumers are able to find their own ‘real-life’ style icons as oppose to celebrities or professional models which may portray unrealistic ideals. Consumers are able to decide for themselves what looks they like and take inspiration from a huge variety of beautiful and stylish older men and women who have embraced their age and begun motivating others.

Maggie Cox is a journalist and author who’s done just that. Her book encourages older women to take on a new approach to style and never think of themselves as too old to enjoy fashion. “It’s Never Too Late to Look Great! – Style for the Young-at-Heart” shows ‘normal’ women how they can transform themselves, with inspiration from Maggie - a­ ‘normal’ woman and not a celebrity or famous fashionista. Maggie says, “The exciting process of shopping, choosing outfits, creating new looks is for everybody – even bodies that are not quite as smooth, peach like or svelte as they once were.”

Maggie Cox believes that looking good can change our lives

The fashionable baby-boomers sweeping through the industry is inspiring a whole glad-to-be-grey generation. But there is a still a long way to go before ageism is eradicated in the industry. Diversity must not be merely a trend, but a continual movement. A fear of ageing is deeply engrained in our society but wanting to look stylish, chic and fabulous clearly has nothing to do with the decade you were born. “I think that until the skin of an 80-year-old is seen as just as beautiful as the skin of a 20-year-old we won’t be able to conquer ageism,” says Judith.

The future of fashion looks hopeful. The shift we’ve seen in the last five years from ‘anti-ageing’ to ‘pro-ageing’ surely means the only way is up. And while we hope the runway will always remain a place of fantasy – we hope it continues to welcome older generations and therefore become more representative of the world we live in. As Jan de Villeneuve says, “We must continue to show all shapes, sizes, nationalities and ages, so the fashion industry reflects life in general and we can learn to accept and appreciate our differences”.

To buy "It’s Never Too Late to Look Great" by Maggie Cox at an exclusive price of £6.60, go to and enter code STYLE!

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