ge cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety … ” The glamour of the older woman has been celebrated for centuries; the historical temptresses Diane de Poitiers and Cleopatra are no less memorable than unforgettable literary seductresses such as the infamous but irresistible Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. For only in maturity was a woman considered to enter her full sexual and social prime: no wonder little girls always wanted to dress up like their mothers, donning the heels and gloves that lent them that mantle of adult wisdom and mystery.
But then came the 1960s Youthquake as defined by that powerhouse older woman, Diana Vreeland, ushering in an era dedicated to the pursuit of eternal adolescence. Fearful of frumpiness, women now sought to dress like teenagers, in the process damping down their own mystique; those who could not, or did not want to were expected to wear clothes to conceal their lack of youth, rather than to display their maturity. Consequently, by the 1990s, Germaine Greer was declaring with some truth that to be a middle-aged woman was to be virtually invisible.
No longer; in fact, she has never been more visible. In part, the transformation in attitude is a response to changing demographics. The baby boomers have grown up. More than a third of the British population is aged over 50, and life expectancy has soared. What is more, it is older women, increasingly the main breadwinners and at the peak of their earning power, who hold the purse strings. A recent study found that almost all financial decisions in a household are taken by women aged between 40 and 60. Fashion and beauty brands have responded; it would be financial suicide not to.
So Christy Turlington, who became the teenage face of Calvin Klein’s Eternity 25 years ago, recently returned to front a new campaign for the brand, and Cate Blanchett has signed her first beauty contract with Giorgio Armani. Both are in their mid-forties, with an elegance and beauty that only seems to have grown with the years. Meanwhile, Jessica Lange, at 65, has just become the face of Marc Jacobs make-up, and the agelessly seductive Charlotte Rampling stars in Nars’s 20th anniversary campaign.
The use of retouched photographs of teenage models to sell make-up and anti-ageing creams to mature women is now a thing of the past. Today’s grown-up consumer is prepared to spend her money – Clarins’s Super Restorative creams, designed for menopausal skin, are the French brand’s fastest-growing range – but she does not want to be patronised in the process. Hence the choice of Nancy Tate, a model of 49 with visible lines under her eyes, to front the campaign.
Fashion designers, too, have been paying homage to the older woman. At 53, Tilda Swinton has been the face of Chanel’s Paris-Édimbourg collection, with Karl Lagerfeld proclaiming her “a timeless icon of elegance”. Dolce & Gabbana’s campaigns have starred the voluptuous Monica Bellucci, who is now 50, alongside the 85-year-old British model Daphne Selfe – whose grey mane and chiselled features make her far more striking now than she was as a young model in the 1950s. The whitehaired stylist Linda Rodin was recently cast as a model for The Row, the Olsen twins’ fashion label; Lauren Hutton, now 70, has also modelled for the brand. Hardly surprising, then, that a recent study for L’Oréal found that 80 percent of women over 65 agreed with the statement ‘you should make an effort to look good at any age’.
Admittedly, looking fabulous at 50 may require more thought than it does at 20, when blooming health and unlined skin can make a show-stopping ensemble of a T-shirt and jeans. But the grown-up woman has other advantages: greater confidence, more money, and a style she has honed over the years.
Inès de la Fressange, 57, model, author, and collaborator with Uniqlo and Roger Vivier