Lisskulla Ljungkvist photo via Iconic Focus

When I first started blogging nine years ago, I was always banging on about the lack of older models, my Grey-dar permanently on high alert. But whereas in the past, the older model was restricted to a healthcare or life insurance gig (cue woman strolling jauntily down the beach in a lilac waterfall cardigan and stretch chinos), now nearly every week there’s another gorgeous silver-haired model in an advertisement for a fashion brand. While this age-appreciation is fantastic – it is wonderful to see women such as Daphne Selfe, 88, Maye Musk, 69, and Lauren Hutton, 73, looking vivacious and stunning, I still can’t help wondering: where have all the fifty-something models gone?

Although the fashion industry has finally woken up to the power of the Silver Spend (in the UK, the 50+ customer accounts for 47% of consumer spending), advertisers appear to have resorted to a kind of “diversity checklist”. Model with grey hair: tick. That’s age sorted then. But the view of the older woman we’re being shown is signified by someone in her 60s, 70s, or beyond. It’s lazy; it creates an age gap and we still end up with extremes. Young and sexy or old and fetishised – take your pick.

“Part of the problem is that people who create the ads don’t look like the people who buy the products,” points out marketing expert and vice-chairman of the Mature Marketing Association (MMA) Kevin Lavery. “The average age of an ad agency account executive or creative is 28. It’s the same in marketing departments and, believe me, a 28-year-old can’t think like a 50-year-old. Unconscious age bias is a proved academic fact.”

Coco Mitchell photo via Iconic Focus

Social media has enabled us to look beyond appearance and demographics to lifestyle, personality and psychographics. Like-minded people interact online via style blogs and Instagram, and information relating to their interests and attitudes is essential for marketing departments to consider. “Brands are scared,” says founder of Grey Model Agency Rebecca Valentine, “because they’ve never had to pitch to people who were revolutionary and rebellious in the 1960s and 70s before.”

What’s needed is more variety, more diversity. Women over-50 come in lots of different shapes, sizes and ethnicities and we want to see images of women who reflect that and look like us. Women we can relate to, as opposed to tokenism. This takes commitment from fashion brands and advertisers, as well as continued pressure from consumers, outside agencies and influencers. “It could take six months it could take two years,” suggests Valentine. “We do need to see more diversity, more wrinkles, more curves, more black models. But so far, so quiet.”

Read my full Guardian article HERE.

39 thoughts on “Where are all the 50-something models?

  1. This is exactly why I think blogging is so fantastic—you can see models of every age, size and race!!!
    I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Fierce 50 Revolution, but Catherine formed a group and is trying to shift the perception of women over 50!!
    In fact, I changed my tagline on my blog a couple of months ago, where it didn’t say women over 50—and I had one reader beg me not to forget the older groups—so I changed it back! We are out there—we just need to roar!!

  2. I always wondered how one became an older model especially with no experience, the ones we know of are gorgeous but have always been either models or in the industry.

  3. I think it’s more than just an age gap or ageism in advertising. I believe women in general now want to see a reflection of their own reality. I mean why can’t models be all different ages, shapes & ethnicities? I certainly would like to see more women over 50 in campaigns from mainstream brands like Whistles, Finery & AllSaints. . I wonder if they think young women will stop buying their clothes if they see a 50 year old wearing them? Mango has recently had a go at it & that didn’t appear to harm them.
    Created quite a buzz actually.

  4. I love this – and the Guardian post – agree that its probably younger ad teams who are deciding that everyone over 50 can be filed in one marketing basket. We’re a feisty bunch though, they ignore us at their peril 🙂

  5. I totally agree with you. I’m always searching for blogs with us “mature” women. That’s how I found you.

  6. That’s what I love about your blog Alyson – you dive headlong into issues related to women and aging! And in the end, more diversity, perhaps a bit more reality in the representation of models over 50, or at any age for that matter, is the ticket. It will be interesting to see if this happens in the next couple of years. In the meantime, yes, 50-somethings do seem underrepresented. The ‘wow factor’ of the exceptional woman in her 70’s and 80’s seems to be the sell these days.

  7. I work in a branch this industry, interiors rather than fashion but I encounter the same problem with the 28 year olds. I actually enjoy working with many of them but find that they have very different cultural references; imagine not even knowing who Mrs. Robinson is! I’d love to know where the older, more experienced art directors have ended up?
    Over the past couple of years I have modeled for a few brands as the token older woman (50 but can play 60) because I have the requisite hair!
    We need creatives of our age so our hair actually working in the industry.

  8. Great post! I’ve been following your brilliant Instagram and now I’ve found your blog. You’re right about the gap. We all know what young, sexy and gorgeous looks like and now we know what old, feisty and fabulous looks like but there isn’t an ‘industry norm’ for the gap in the middle. I hit 60 this month so I’m edging into the interesting old hag category but I remember being in the doldrums for most of my 40s and part of my 50s. The fashion industry had nothing to offer me. Everything either made me look ridiculous or made me feel slightly depressed. My own way out was rediscovering vintage – clothes made for proper women not plastic perfect nymphettes. I found that vintage clothes looked good and made me feel great – stylish, strong, womanly and individual. I know it’s not the answer for everyone but each woman needs the confidence and encouragement to find her own style. You are so right to highlight the importance of the over 50s as a consumer group but it’s astonishing how badly served we are. Looking forward to reading more from you …

  9. OK, first things first. Alyson, I enjoy your blog. Please keep this going.
    Second, yes, there’s an age-color-weight-you-name-it gap. For me – now 63 – there’s always been a gap. For most of my life, I’ve not seen anyone who looks remotely like me in a magazine or tv ad. Just. Didn’t. Now, sometimes I do. And yes, it’s a stretch for a 28 year old to make this leap. Remember – at 28, we didn’t realize that someday we would be…58 or (OMG) 68 or beyond. I don’t think they realize what 48 – 62 can look like – and how many looks there are.
    It’s a process.

  10. Oh wow what a great article to read today.
    I run my own small one woman band business which I have to confess I never set out to hit the “silver spender”, however they found me which was really interesting.
    Being a small business and keeping things real, I have recently started to invite my customers to model for me, this way I am sure to get diversity in all ages above 45, from a personal perspective I love it, I get to meet the most interesting ladies whom have not yet gone out to pasture but thrive on life and their love of fashion.
    I do have to admit my customers still like the mix of seeing my scarves on both mature and younger models and I now like to show the comparison images. “ageless style”
    So glad I read your article today it makes me feel like I am doing something right.

  11. We +50 ladies are alive, love fashion and spend money!!!
    Not only do we need models that represent us as a positive demographic, but fashion designers need to recognize us and create pieces that work for us.
    We are in the prime of our lives: creative, experienced, sophisticated, and fearless!

  12. It seems that anyone in the ” middle” gets left out. If you are a middle weight, no pics, if your in the middle with age, no pics. Very frustrating. I am inspired by women my age that are not willing to be categorized as ” less than” and show it with their confidence in themselves as well as in their style. Don’t get me wrong, I love the young and the old, I embrace the thicker and the thinner, just show us some ” middle”!

  13. I agree completely! I’ve also noted that there are no 50+ models showing plus and extended sizes. I am almost 60, love fashion and wear a size 20/22. When am I going to see someone who represents me?

  14. One word – YES! I feel “older” is currently being used (misused?) to represent “unusual” or “quirky”. I’m all for unusual and quirky but older is more than a “look”, it’s a fact, and I wish marketers would address this.
    On a brighter note all MY models are 40 or 50 plus – and I am currently on the hunt for a new one. We’re not talking “won’t get out of bed for less than…” fees and I like to use someone who hasn’t modeled before but if anyone here has any suggestions or is interested herself I’d love to hear. Hope I haven’t broken any rules with this comment Alyson!!

  15. I’m so pleased you’ve covered this. My heart rose the sank recently when the cover of a mainstream fashion magazine declared the theme of ‘diversity’. There was not one dark skinned model on the cover. Like a mirror, these these magazines need to wake up and reflect society as it really is. I happen to know a range of stylish, intelligent and dynamic women, who are over 50 and of all hues. Things are changing…but at a snails-pace. Thanks for bucking the trend!

  16. A someone is the 60+ category, I have to say that seeing models my age is a bit disheartening, because they are the exception to the rule as to how most of us look. So once again, we are up against a norm that few can emulate. Really, can most women in their 70’s be that thin? No! So, at every decade it seems, one faces an impossible standard. I too wish the agencies would use realistic models. Just trying to be healthy and fabulous in my skin

  17. Perhaps it may be worthwhile to have a greater age range in the workplace. Women in my age bracket (60-64) are very fashion conscious. We read magazines, look at websites, share on Pinterest, and dress with the latest trends in mind. We can always learn from one another, and I believe that inter-generational ideas can spark new movement in the fashion world.

  18. I love, love , love this post! I teach yoga and this is exactly why I address the client I do. We are not 20 anymore but we are not ready to do chair yoga. (nothing wrong with chair yoga!!) We need strength, stability and mobility. We need practices that can address not only the physical aspects of middle age (menopause and its changes) but the emotional and mental aspects (children leaving, parents dying).
    I love this quote “believe me, a 28-year-old can’t think like a 50-year-old. Unconscious age bias is a proved academic fact.”.
    thanks Alyson!

  19. Great article, and so true that we are still not being acknowledged in many ways
    I get my ( grey) hair cut at a top London salon, and anytime I go there, and look around,the average customer is around 45- 65, all wanting to look fabulous. When I spoke to the artistic director about the lack of inspirational photos for us 50 something ladies, he admitted that the models they used were all youngsters, and when I asked him to consider using older people, he said that they were hoping to address this issue ‘sometime soon ‘- not holding my breath on that.

  20. Maye Musk is completely beautiful as is Ms Hutton (with the undoubted benefit of truckloads of stylists, makeup artists, hairdressers, colourists, expensive clothes, airbrushing, soft focus etc. etc. etc.) I sound like Yul Brynner. However, most of us are more ‘average’ and scrub up reasonably well when time and effort is put in. I mentioned previously that I am at an age (nudging 60) and just want to dump my clothes and start again. I don’t need to keep reinventing myself – vintage one day, classic the next, bohemian the day after that – I was in definite danger of Mad Bag Lady and Her Dressing Up Box. HOW many trips to the charity shops and dump have I made with bagfuls of craziness! Finally, I think I know my style which has very little to do with fashion or trends but I trust my instinct more. Obviously, a nod to current trends keeps everything fresh – but only a nod. I understand myself and who I am way better now than when I was younger – obviously that size 8 , 5 foot 8 person has morphed into a going south size 12/14 and I appear to have shrunk in height too. Too much pressure is put on us to look like these 60 plus ‘sirens of gorgeousness’ which is exactly the same pressure as young women have with their own age group models. Dove had the right idea for a while, using wonderfully ordinary women but even that seems to have disappeared now. I agree totally with Sandra – can we just have some average models that are not famous in their own right, not super toned and thin, not 6 foot tall possibly with middle-aged spread thrown in for luck! Sorry to rant.

  21. Thank you for keeping this on the radar Alison, I would say the UK and USA are way ahead of Australia when it comes to understanding the importance of age and diversity in the fashion/beauty world. I try to shoot as many style stories on my blog using women of all shapes, sizes and ages. It would help if our designers opened up a dialogue with us however. Love your blog.

  22. Love this!! So true! Brands wake up …. I don’t want to purchase something that a 20 something year old is wearing, but show me a classy 50, 60, 70 year old that has a great look and I am all in! (with purchase power)

  23. It seems that the 40’s and 50’s are now the middle years that no one is interested in. As a 55 year old, I’m too old to be considered “young” anymore, and too young to be “old”. Many of my friends, some of whom have appeared on Ari Cohen’s Advanced Style Blog, are 10 or more years older than I am and while they are great role models for me, I would love to see more women who are in my age range represented. That’s why I enjoy blogging and Instagram – it helps me connect to other 50-somethings.

    WHERE AM I…………………….in those ADS and MAGAZINES I tend to ignore now as you can see the TWENTY-SOMETHING is really more like a teenager……..just MADE UP!I’m MORE intrigued by the STAGE SET than the clothing…… being a FIFTY something there is NO WAY I could wear what they are showing!
    SO, I do MY OWN THING!!!!!!

  25. Like Shelley wrote, I’m considered too old to be hipster cool, too young to be Advanced Style cool – falling through the cracks. Nunh, I don’t accept it. Scream louder, Alyson, please, on behalf of all of us. I loved your piece in the Guardian.

  26. I went to Ford Models NYC when I was 52, portfolio in hand. I had a wonderful interview but was told that Ford did not hire ‘old’ models. I was told that ‘if they wanted an old model, they would hire someone like Cheryl Tiegs’. Models used in commercial print for fashion are selling ‘an illusion’. That’s why everyone of a certain age who does get a shot at print ads is either a celebrity or an ‘old’ model.
    I found another less-well-known agent and went on to model for 10 years doing those ads which required someone with white hair….osteoporosis drugs, knee replacements, investments.
    Frustrating, but true. The culture has to change. Keep pushing that reality boulder up the hill, Alyson. Bravo. Great post.

  27. Absolutely great article! I posted it on social media as soon as it came out in The Guardian . I am represented by the agency run by Rebecca Valentine, Grey Models, and know all about the stereotyping of ‘older models’. I love people like Hutton and Musk and even Accidental Icon but middle aged women cannot be lumped together the 70s and 80s year old.
    Keep up the good work Alyson it is always a pleasure to read your articles and your blog!

  28. I am forever grateful that both my parents, who were both fashionable, encouraged both myself and my sister to dress to feel good from a young age. My Mum,who is 81 is still rocking fashion. I am in my late 50s and still ask her opinion.
    My children, nieces and nephews, who are in their 20s,30s and 40s love fashion.
    However I am the one with the most disposable income and there is very little out there for me. Thankfully we now have blogs and Instagrams like yours to inspire.
    Perhaps the Marketing people will catch up.

  29. so true it’s laughable — when I see a woman my age in a television advert I play a game: will this be for . . . dentures? Adult undergarments? Insurance? There was one recently that featured an extended family on a holiday rental, and while everyone else (including gramps) was out having fun in the sun, nan was shown sat in bed reading!

    I’d suggest to the ad and fashion folks to get out to see the 50+ competitors at athletic events, or the high street during afternoon school run, or up early and stake out the dog walkers — it’s not that hard to view vibrant, thriving, attractive older women who haven’t been surgically overhauled — it’s just a matter of looking in the right places.

  30. Thanks for bringing up this issue; I’m optimistic that if we keep talking about it, the culture will eventually change.
    As someone who wears quite a bit of vintage and is 46, I couldn’t agree more with Nikki’s comment about vintage clothing being one solution to the youth driven clothing options available at most retailers. I find a lot of the offerings on hand alienating and juvenile. Vintage is a great option, especially when you are looking for items like silk blouses or dresses with sleeves.

    Blogs like this comfort me and give me hope for a new definition of the basic clothes that women of a certain age crave: tailored, well-made clothes in durable fabrics and interesting colors, clothes that can be worn many times and personalized with accessories. Perhaps when retailers understand this, we will see more models in their 50s in advertising campaigns.

  31. One could ask where are the 50 something ROLE models period? It’s disheartening to Google “over fifty” and find a gallery of stereotypical gray haired models with cliche pastel outfits. Glad I stumbled across your blog, the Americans have a lot of growing up to do. I can always count on Brit perspective for the sharp truth!

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