Representations and Reflections on Age and Ageing

On 29th and 30th October, I attended a conference entitled “Mirror Mirror: Representations and Reflections on Age and Ageing”, organised by Dr Hannah Zeilig of London College of Fashion. As I get older, so does my mother, my sister and all of the other women who are close to me. Many of my connections with them involve clothing, because that is something I have always been interested in, and so I am curious as to how this will change as we all get older. I don’t want to have to stop wearing polkadots and bows once I hit 40, but I’m not entirely sure what I should be wearing… or even if there is a ‘should’ at all. How we connect with our appearance as we age is firmly linked with clothing in my mind, but is it fashion? Dr Zeilig explains:

“At first sight it is something of an anomaly to have a conference exploring ageing hosted by London College of Fashion. Fashion is associated with youth, with speed, with the cutting edge of the current moment and certainly not with ageing. In fact, the idea that old people might be fashionable is almost paradoxical and even distasteful to some. However, times are changing. We are living in an era that is unprecedented. The 21st century is characterised by the demographic transition in which there are more people aged 60 and over than there are children and than there have ever been before […] Within this, the world of fashion is also beginning to consider the possibilities represented by older men and women. After all, fashion is only partly related to clothes, it has a much wider remit and significance.”

On the evening of 29th October, the conference began with a conversation between two bloggers: Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style and Alyson Walsh of That’s Not My Age. They discussed what and who inspired them to start blogging, and introduced us to a world of style into middle and old age. I left this buzzing with thoughts, ideas and inspiration, so headed home to watch a Cutting Edge documentary called Fabulous Fashionistas as my homework for the following day. The conference was to close with a conversation between four of the stars of that documentary – two of which we’d already been introduced to by Ari and Alyson – so I wanted to know more about them in advance. I’m extremely glad I did as it was a joy to watch and highly recommend that you check it out, if you haven’t already.

The second day of the conference began with a welcome from the Head of London College of Fashion, Professor Frances Corner, and then we went straight into a morning of talks on many aspects of age and ageing, from the creative (representations of older people in portrait photography, women’s later life style within popular music, and the wonder that is Joan Rivers) to the technical (style and trends for an active ageing population, and how fashion is always ‘moving younger’). The highlight for me was a presentation called “Women, Later Life Style and Popular Music: Petula Clark, Authenticity and Performance” by the rather wonderful Dr Ros Jennings who made so many complex ideas much more accessible by using a case study we could all relate to. After lunch, the Small Things Theatre Company presented “How Do You See Me?“, an interactive performance about the representation of ageing which explored how a person’s sense of their own style changes as they get older. The piece – which used sound, images, monologues and mime – was amusing, moving and thought provoking. The main bulk of the day was then finished with a fascinating talk on “Storying Ageing through Visual Media”.

After a coffee break, fashion historian and LCF associate lecturer Amber Jane Butchart hosted a conversation between four of the Fabulous Fashionistas: Bridget Sojourn, Daphne Selfe, Jean Woods and Sue Kreitzman. They discussed fashion and how their own style has changed and evolved. They shared stories about how being in the documentary has affected their lives. They revealed where they buy their clothing or how they customise it. Sharing their opinions on methods of staying young – including fitness and plastic surgery – we ended with some very wise words from Daphne Selfe: “remember that, while growing old is compulsory, growing up is not!”

The conference was a wonderful and thought provoking couple of days, and I will be keeping an eye out for the video that will be going up on the LCF site soon. In the meantime, for more soundbites from the day, check out my Storify of Mirror Mirror.

UPDATE: A video addressing themes from the conference is now up on YouTube.

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