I’m sure women have lots of aspirations as they approach their 100th birthday. Receiving a letter from the Queen, perhaps. Successfully masticating a piece of chocolate fudge birthday cake. Avoiding organ failure.
Looking ‘hot’, however, is unlikely to be high up on the list of most centenarians’ priorities.
Last week the UK’s fashionistas gathered for a debate on ageing, style and sexuality titled: ‘How to look hot at 100’.
The event was organised by Intelligence Squared, a debating society whose discussions are broadcast by BBC World News.
Inspired by the work of photographer Ari Seth Cohen, whose blog Advanced Style is dedicated to ‘capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set’, the debate also featured silver-haired model Pam Lucas, 65, who regularly appears in Vogue.
Cohen created his blog with a view to bulldozing any idea of older women as invisible, beige, or mousy.
His subjects, who are now the focus of a film due out this week (also called Advanced Style) are fabulous grandes dames of Manhattan, whose outfits continue to stop traffic even as they wobble towards their centenary years.
Wearing peek-a-boo veils atop black and white Pierrot outfits teamed with tottering platforms, or coral boiler suits framed with an Elizabethan ruff and completed by a Carmen Miranda-style head-dress, these ladies could give Lady Gaga a run for her money.
There is something wonderfully celebratory about their insouciant attitude and playful approach to fashion.
As one of the style doyennes pouts: ‘I am dressed for the theatre of my life every day. I get such a kick out of it.’
Another insists: ‘Good style improves the environment for everyone’.
Cohen makes a great case for championing the eccentric style of these women in their senior years.
After all, we are endlessly drip-fed images of young, slim women as if this is the only valid representation of femininity worth displaying. It’s great to see older women making style choices in such a joyful way – an alternative that playfully challenges our cultural norms as well as offering hope and inspiration for the wardrobes of our future selves.
Yet the story of these moneyed Manhattanites doesn’t represent most women’s experience. In a recent study of 2,000 women aged 45+, more than two-thirds said they felt ‘completely invisible’ to men.
It’s such a shame that at a time in our lives when we might feel most at ease in our skin, confident in our abilities and settled in our personal relationships, we also feel like we’re fading into nothingness.
Even the gorgeous Kristin Scott Thomas, star of the English Patient and Four Weddings and a Funeral, (age 53) has spoken of her fears that she will ‘just disappear’, saying: ‘When you’re walking down the street you get bumped into, people slam doors in your face – they just don’t notice you. Somehow, you just vanish.’
Cohen’s fabulous fashionistas have found a way to challenge this invisibility with their peacock-like ensembles – an emblem of ‘look-at-me’ style that defies conventional norms of sexuality. But do we really have to be challenging our middle-aged invisibility with an expectation of looking sexually alluring long into our old age?
The whole concept of aspiring to be ‘hot’ in our senior years leaves me feeling uneasy and exhausted.
Is there not enough pressure on women to look ‘hot’ already? From the moment we smuggle cotton wool into our training bras and pinch our mums’ lipstick, we’re aspiring to ‘hotness’.
While a sexagenarian can be as sexy as a woman in her 20s, surely there comes a point in life where we’re allowed to not care whether we’re hot or not anymore. I’m not even 40 yet, and I can feel that moment fast approaching already.