- Middle-Aged Women Against the World's Obsession with YouthThe global population is increasing by around 1.1% annually and with this, of course, comes a growth in the number of those entering their middle age. It is predicted that by 2018 there will be 20 million over-55s in the UK, making up one in three of the population.Despite this demographic being the fastest to expand, we are not seeing an increase in the representation of this social segment relative to their size. In fact, the Office for National Statistics recently revealed that people over 40 remain one of the most underrepresented demographics today. But this problem increases significantly when considered in relation to women, and appears to be particularly rife within the fashion industry. If fashion is a conveyor belt, then it comes to an abrupt stop for women shortly after their 40th birthday decorations have been packed away. Thanks to fashion’s unrelenting obsession with youth, it’s lens is constantly focused on younger and younger models, as teenagers are used to promote clothes designed for women in their fifties. Kaia Gerber, one of IMG’s latest signings is just 15 years old yet has already secured herself a campaign modelling for fashion superpower, Versace. A brand which will charge you £240 to buy into their world in the form of a passport case. However, this is not an issue exclusive to the fashion industry. This demographic has been under-represented by all forms of media for decades. Recently, many actresses over the age of 40 have spoken out about the dearth of opportunities available to them. Most especially the paucity of these parts, where they are seemingly resigned to playing only matriarchal roles. This subject featured as the centre of Amy Schumer’s 2015 sketchstarring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette commemorating their “last fuckable day” in Hollywood. Out of the top 100 grossing films of 2016, women over the age of 45 appeared in just eight of these movies as gender equality website Women and Hollywood reported. This stereotyping of women in relation to the number of their rotations around the sun is continued in the fashion industry. Dolce & Gabbana’s series of family-centric ad campaigns, while appearing as a positive anomaly by actually daring to feature older women, mostly does so in the form of grandmothers with Monica Bellucci as the single exception. Leaving us asking; where are the women in between these ages? Although Dolce & Gabbana’s use of matronly figures can be seen as disparaging, they are at least one of the few brands who actually dare to use women older than 40 in their advertising. Most brands meanwhile continue their concentration on youth, employing models who have barely finished their GCSEs. The worst culprits often appear to be the most aspirational high-end fashion brands, as seen by Versace’s recent casting of Gerber who is yet to finish high school. The over 50s are the wealthiest generation there has ever been, meaning they have the largest disposable income to be spent on luxuries and as such are the perfect target customers for these brands. They account for around 47% of all UK consumer spending, yet they continue to be under-represented by luxury fashion houses, who opt to use models fresh from the classroom. Where other ‘minorities’ have made progress in the fashion industry, seen in the growth of the inclusion of plus sized models and the increasing representation of those with disabilities, Nordstrom are one of the latest to be praised for their inclusion of a model with a disability in the form of amputee Shaholly Ayers – women over 40 generally remain disregarded. There have been positive efforts to increase the representation of different races and genders, but not so much with age. Many brands, particularly those on our high-street, still overlook this growing demographic as it would be deemed too great a risk to use a female model over 40. However, in choosing to ignore middle-aged women they are disillusioning a large number of loyal customers in the process. Many women who are ignored today have been Topshop customers since they were teens, but now find themselves invisible due to age and lost in a shop once familiar to them as the brand targets younger and younger consumers. Not to mention that hand-in-hand with this omission of middle-aged women comes the pressure to remain looking youthful for eternity, resulting in ever increasing numbers of invasive surgical procedures in an effort to freeze time. These are now beginning at younger and younger ages, with the thought that only youth equates to beauty so ingrained in the minds of young women that they are reaching for the botulinum toxin while still in their teens. It is now not unusual for girls to openly receive Botox injections before any signs of ageing have even set in (for more evidence watch this summer’s Love Island series) with the youngest reported user in the U.K. starting the treatment at just 15 years of age. The Guardian’s fashion supplement has become synonymous with its efforts to include older women in the publication’s fashion editorials and this April, 73-year-old model Lauren Hutton was revealed as one of the stars of the new Calvin Klein lingerie campaign. Former magazine fashion editor Alyson Walsh established her blog, That’s Not My Age, in order to “celebrate the fact that older people are cool too and you don’t just disappear off the radar once you’re over 40” and it is great evidence of how style continues after 40 candles have been blown out. In a recent interview for the blog, renowned director Jane Campion used the platform to call out how older women are regarded as “invisible and unfuckable”. People are living longer and healthier lives; middle age no longer means being resigned to a blue rinse and pearls and it’s time that the fashion industry began to reflect this. For whoever dares to venture into the untrodden tracks of the middle-aged market there is a potentially massive financial gain. So if they can’t do it for greater equality, surely they can do it for the moolah.
- A Class of Their Own: The Representation of Classes in the Fashion IndustryIt comes as news to nobody that representation is an ongoing struggle within the fashion industry. An enterprise borne out of such aspirational and elitist origins is always going to take time to get its butt into the 21st century. Race, size, age, disability, have all come up against the Goliath that is fashion. However, there have been many developments in recent years which finally feel like the real progress the fashion industry so desperately needs. This May saw France’s law prohibiting underweight models from appearing on catwalks come into action and in July Willy Chavarria sent an exclusively black and Latino troupe of models down his runway at New York Fashion Week, French Vogue featured its first ever trans cover-star this March and Edward Enninful’s appointment as the editor-in-chief of British Vogue seemed to signify the promise of change that we are still yearning to see. Yet the saturation of industry roles by the upper-class is one of the problems which somehow remains largely unquestioned. While English catwalks are no longer filled solely by the designs of those who were lucky enough to attend Central Saint Martins as they were in the nineties, there is still a severe lack of representation of the working class behind the scenes of the fashion industry. Behind all the token diversity and newfound inclusivity, deep at its core, the fashion industry has been built around a system designed to be unreachable for people of lower classes. The exclusive world may now allow a plus sized model on the catwalk every couple of seasons, or a trans model to feature on a magazine cover, but the lower classes are left widely unrepresented and disillusioned by an industry which fails to recognise them. The monopolisation of high power industry roles by privately educated white people echoes the state of affairs in other sectors, particularly within the arts, where young actors from humbler beginnings similarly struggle to break into an elitist drama sphere. Flicking through the pages of any glossy magazine today, it doesn’t take long to realise that these pages were created by people from very privileged backgrounds. Fleur, Francesca and India certainly didn’t go to my high school. Where are Kerry and Vicky and Shazza? Of course this is not to attack these people in any way, or diminish their work, they are undoubtedly very talented and have worked immensely hard to make their way in this tumultuous industry. But many people do not even have the opportunity to do so. The crux of the problem really is the obsession with the South and its Mecca, London. Once a cherished memory of family trips and pictures outside Buckingham palace, instead it now brings gentle yet unrelenting waves of nausea. Reminding us that if we are ever to make it then we must move there now. It’s a sad truth that to have any real chance of succeeding within the fashion industry, one must first begin by heading straight for the South in the pursuit of an internship. For those unaware of this concept; interns are required to work unfeasibly long hours for precisely zero, usually undertaking the tasks deemed too menial for anybody actually being paid to complete. Meanwhile, the intern will of course have to live in London because that is where ALL of the internships are. Where they will be expected to pay the ever increasing rental prices and purchase tins of beans with their brand new salary of precisely, nada. Class representation seems to be the anomaly of the fashion industry, where in other areas we are witnessing slow but real progress, this particular problem seems to be regressing. It was once much more doable for a young fashion enthusiast to up-sticks to London, live in a grimy bedsit in Hackney and hope for a break. But this is now less achievable than ever before. Most aspiring fashionistas are emerging into the fashion world already burdened with at least £27,000 of debt in the form of their tuition fees. But if that wasn’t enough to deter them, London is now officially one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world with the mayor of London himself Sadiq Khan declaring a “cost of living crisis”. Many people’s growing animosity towards the city was vocalised by leading Samsung boss Felix Petersen who recently described how “in London, the cost of living, the cost of getting around and the infrastructure mean it’s not a fun place to live unless you are really rich, especially for young people”. To make matters worse, this demographic which are so clearly excluded from the fashion industry are now the latest in the long line of victims to face appropriation. Perhaps the most prolific example of this in recent times is the rise of the athleisure trend which has been the staple of look-books and high-streets alike for the past few years. Athleisure’s steady domination of the trend landscape seems, on the surface, harmless. However, it doesn’t take long to note where the designers of the latest tracksuits and hoodies derived their inspiration. This has been a uniform of the lower classes for decades, with many often demonised and stereotyped as a result of their choice of clothing. ‘Hoodie’ became a term to describe a violent and antisocial person, and those wearing them were even banned from certain public places. As recently as 2015, a Liverpool council introduced a Public Spaces Protection Order which detailed the prohibition of hoodies. Now, they are being sold for £800 by the likes of Vetements, Off White and Stussy. The working class are otherwise completely ignored in the aspirational world of luxury fashion. But it seems that instead of being ignored, the lower classes are now the latest group to face appropriation by designers in order to market their clothes. So if you want to have a chance of securing your dream job in fashion, or even the opportunity to make tea and coffee for someone who actually has your dream job you better hope that the womb from which you emerge is located somewhere in the vicinity of WC1. Or that soon the industry will wake up and realise that life exists North of the Watford gap and the working class are more than just an exhibit to appropriate.
- A Family Affair: The Representation of Families in Fashion AdvertisingFamilies and the depiction of family life have been a cornerstone of advertising since its conception. Stored in a box marked ‘for lazy advertising execs’, the image of the family quickly became a fail safe trick employed by brands time and time again to quickly connect to their target customer because everyone has a family, right? However, a lot has changed since the fifties and sixties when it was simple to portray a one-size-fits-all idea of family life. The decline of the nuclear family means that attempting to portray a family that customers can actually relate to is much more difficult and often leaves people questioning why they can’t recognise themselves in these ads, and why the hell everyone always has such a clean kitchen. Other advertising concepts borne at a similar time already appear wildly outdated, particularly the gender stereotypes and sexism that dominated advertisements of the 1960s. With the Advertising Standards Agency recently vowing to crack down on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles claiming they had “costs for individuals, the economy and society”, is it really acceptable to continue to perpetuate outdated versions of the ‘perfect’ family which often feature similarly harmful stereotypes? Or perhaps it’s time to ditch these, too. As well as the sexism often palpable in advertisements portraying families, they often feature unfeasibly young parents which raises another problem. Versace caused controversy last year with their Autumn/Winter ad campaign which featured supermodel du jour Gigi Hadid as the matriarch of a ‘modern’ interracial family. Hadid was 21 at the time of the photographs, an age which for one is unrealistic in relation to the age of the models posing as her children. But the real issue with Hadid’s youth in regards to her portrayal as a mother in the campaign is the message which accompanies Versace’s set of images. Young mothers are constantly stigmatised in the media, often labelled as irresponsible and even as bad parents. As a result, many young families face a constant struggle to battle against the barriers which society imposes on them, and have to work incredibly hard to do so. Gingerbread, a charity which offers help and support to young parents, said that many young mothers it works with have been verbally abused by strangers, leaving them isolated and alone and even reluctant to leave the house. Experts believe that this discrimination is partly due to the misconception that teen pregnancy is much higher than it actually is, with the public still overestimating teen pregnancy levels by as much as 25 times. So, while it is positive that Versace is not ignoring this demographic, in an advertisement that was said to depict ‘actuality’ it is unhelpful to suggest that young families can often be found strolling around Chicago/Bolton/Sheffield in their luxury clothes with not a care in the world. Of course, luxury fashion houses’ aims are to depict a sense of, well, luxury. But as such a global brand, isn’t it time Versace adopted at least a portion of responsibility for the images which they are creating, and how their messages may influence ideas of normality. Instead, their campaign created something which real young mothers would find alienating and that others would subconsciously adopt as a version of reality for teen mums. Many people also put to question why the brand could not have opted to use a model that was in fact already a mother. Both Hadid and Karlie Kloss, the two models selected to feature as the mothers in the campaign, are currently without children and arguably, if Versace really wanted to apply a sense of ‘reality’ to their ads then perhaps they could have selected a model from the large number of whom have already experienced what it is to be a mother. Teen pregnancy rates are rapidly declining, with numbers having halved in the past two decades, they are now at their lowest levels since record-keeping began in 1969 bringing in to question again their choice of such a young mother. It seems that Versace’s decision was not actually an attempt to de-stigmatise young mothers but rather based on fashion’s constant obsession with youth equating to beauty. It’s not all bad news however, as one brand who is consistently nailing the depiction of the family is Dolce & Gabbana. The Italian fashion house has used the representation of family in its campaigns for years and seems to have the ability to capture the sense of family in a way that advertisers strove to do back in the sixties, minus the stereotypes. Their images portray a range of family situations, from weddings to holidays, but without the previously inescapable sense of perfection (if you ignore the genes of the models that is). Their campaigns frequently feature families fighting and arguing. Finally, something we can actually relate to. Importantly, Dolce & Gabbana do not ignore the older generations of the family. There are grandmothers in D&G, now that’s something I can get on board with. Take note, Versace. Maybe there is still room for the representation of families in fashion after all.