Silver Threads: Making Clothes For Older Women

As Alison Lurie notes in the Guardian, fashion abandons women once they age. Designer Fanny Karst wants to change that.

When Lurie turns 60, she suddenly realizes that, after a lieftime of slavishly following fashion, designers are lo longer making clothes for her.

At first my feelings were hurt. Hadn’t I loved fashion and been faithful to her all these years? Just as one avoids the songs that recall a lost lover, I stopped reading her magazines, even in a doctor’s office. As a result, I felt first panic and then a rush of euphoria. I was abandoned and alone, yes, but I was also free: after more than 60 years, nobody was telling me what to wear.

Lurie embraces the new comfort by letting her hair go gray (yay!), abandoning heels and uncomfortable trends, and wear the outre clothes she loves. She and her friends find this process liberating, and if the options are either throwing in the towel or plying the toxins, this is certainly a more wholesome – and appealing alternative.

But why are these the only choices? It often seems that when “elder style” is regarded at all, it’s with a sense of curiosity: I love the street fashion blog Advanced Style, but sometimes what we herald as avant-garde is really just a holdover from another era, and the taint of exoticism can rankle. Sure, plenty of people come into their own – aesthetically and otherwise -as they age – and every Iris Apfel and Nan Kempner are classic examples – but a part of me wishes we could applaud them merely as “fashion icons” rather than applying a special, “aren’t they cute/inspiring/amazing” old person lens.

Which is why Fanny Karst is encouraging. With typical fashion immoderation, Karst designs exclusively for older women – her models range from 60 to 80, and the clothing is designed to flatter silver hair, older figures and the tastes of a generation “left behind” by fashion. It’s lovely, and so are the clothes, but it still leaves older women isolated. And even in this collection, there’s a smattering of self-conscious cuteness: Models sport tees that read, “Not at your age”; and “Let’s begin at the end” which, while light-hearted enough, kind of undermines the dignity of the enterprise.

Then too, anyone who can afford Karst’s pieces can probably afford those of more staid designers – think Donna Karan, Armani, Ralph Lauren – all of whom make pieces that can be worn, in their “classic” formulation, by women of any age.The larger issue would seem to be the trickle-down; where now high fashion is available to younger women at high street prices, this is still largely untrue for Karst’s demographic. Or is aging gracefully, with all its earth-mother connotations, simply too terrifying for Fashion to contemplate? Ever the iconoclast, the peerless Abigail Lorick put Mimi Weddell in her latest catalogue (see picture) and it does indeed serve to show the versatility of her clothing. We’re not expecting the industry to crank out an “all-olds” issue, nor is this what we want. It would just be nice if older women weren’t regarded as an ignored minority by the fashion industry: it’s a growing demographic, and, the way things are going, the only one which will still be able to afford fashion in six months.

The day I threw away fashion

Granny takes a trip
Advanced Style

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