Sunday, May 3, 2015

We Go to the Head of the Class

to talk to fashion and design students about style and aging ... 

Regular readers may remember that Valerie flew to Toronto last October to participate in a panel discussion with other bloggers of a variety of sizes, ages, body types as part of Diversity Now - 2014 at Ryerson University convened by Dr. Ben Barry, Assistant Professor, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, School of Fashion, Faculty of Communication and Design.  (Jean was otherwise engaged, darn it!)

So earlier this week, Jean was thrilled at the opportunity to get into the act. We were both delighted to be invited by Dr. Barry to speak to a select group of students in his master's class at Parsons School of Art and Design History and Theory, The New School University here in Manhattan, where he is a Visiting Research Scholar in Fashion Studies. We showed up bright and early, "loaded for bear" as the saying goes.

One of the many references for Dr. Barry's class is Julia Twigg's 2013 book Fashion and Age, published by Bloomsbury Academic.

Throughout history certain forms and styles of dress have been deemed appropriate - or more significantly, inappropriate - for people as they age. Older women in particular have long been subject to social pressure to tone down, to adopt self-effacing, covered-up styles. But, according to the author, increasingly there are signs of change, as older women aspire to younger, more mainstream styles and retailers realize the potential of the "grey market."

Additionally, according to Bloomsbury Publishing's website, Fashion and Age is the first study to systematically explore the links between clothing and age, drawing on fashion theory and cultural gerontology to examine the changing ways in which age is imagined, experienced and understood in modern culture through the medium of dress. Clothes lie between the body and its social expression, and the book explores the significance of embodiment in dress and in the cultural constitution of age.

As our readers know, we are most definitely NOT among those older women who "aspire to younger, more mainstream styles".  Rather, we are committed to pushing Seventh Avenue to recognize and cater to "women of a certain age".  Rather than change our outlook and adopt their designs meant for younger women, we are agitating for them to design for us -- older women with different needs and preferences.  It's quite simple, really: Madison Avenue and Seventh Avenue: Give us what we want, not what you want us to want. Just listen to us and women like us. We will tell you what we desire, staring with more choice. We advocate breaking down those current barriers and stereotypes.

Ben Barry is another strong, consistent voice espousing diversity and inclusion and inculcating that message into his classes.  A consummate academic, he has the history and theory down pat.  He also has the people skills to effectively convey the information to make people stop and take notice. His students are presented with the full spectrum of possibility, to weigh the unmet wants of the fastest growing segment of society against the politics of the fashion industry in particular and society in general.  They will have all of the data and information on which to make their own choices. We remain hopeful that they'll make the right decisions and that the next generation of fashion, art and design students will emerge with a new, broader perspective on the fashion and design business and on the full spectrum of its clients and customers.

Last time we looked, mainstream designers and manufacturers weren't producing articles of clothing for women who look like this:

But we digress ... Back to Parsons:  Over the course of about ninety minutes, Ben posed a series of questions designed to elicit opinions and provoke thought.  For example,

What are your thoughts on aging and dressing?
How does age influence your dress choice?
Why do you think many women tone down their style as they age?

We two often think along similar lines, but we don't think alike, and offered different viewpoints.  The students, who represent a mix of disciplines in fashion, art and design, are in an accelerated program, attending classes from 9 - 12 every day for a few weeks.  At the conclusion of our discussion, Ben opened it up to the room for additional questions.  The students, impeccably turned out, were a diverse, articulate, engaging and thoughtful group. Talk about the new real-time classroom: One of the students texted our blog site to her mother, who in turn texted back questions for her daughter to ask us.  Real world feedback in real time!

As if we needed further affirmation that life as we know it is changing radically, one look at the restroom door at Parsons dispelled any doubt:

We loved the opportunity to interact with students and open their eyes to issues that very likely their own mothers (or, ahem, grandmothers) may not have discussed with them.

If your design students would benefit from hearing the thoughts of older women on wearing clothes while old, and you would like to book our services, please contact us at


  1. I think it's great that you have had these two opportunities to speak to fashion and design students, and hopefully more will come up. I'm sure the students enjoyed having you two in their classroom as much as you enjoyed being there. "Fashion and Age" looks like a good read.

  2. I enjoy your blog and applaud your efforts to encourage women of a certain age to live life with verve. It's often challenging helping people understand my not wanting to look younger, but rather the best I can be and feel for my age. It's a youth-based society, but it is gradually challenging, albeit slowly. Carry on beautiful ladies!

  3. Brava! You are on the front lines and the perfect twosome to articulate what the fashion industry needs to hear. This was one of my favorite posts, and that's saying something!

  4. Thank you so much for expressing so precisely what's been on my mind too, for a long time! That one sentence: "Give us what we want, not what you want us to want" is crucial in the industry's further development of garments for us not-so-young. I'm so glad to see signs of change :-)

    You both look fantastic, your style is right up my alley, so I'm about to dive into your extensive archive - and maybe get lost?