I am a big fan of Maggie Smith, Miriam Margolyes, and Harriet Walter. They are my new fashion icons, and I can’t get enough of them. This was said by Emma Beddington.
Have you viewed Maggie Smith’s ad campaign for the fashion brand Loewe? I am captivated and cannot look away. The outfits and accessories captured in Juergen Teller’s photos are flawless. Whether she is bundled up in a large, shaggy brown coat or elegantly lounging on a sofa in a black-and-white ruffled dress, Smith appears to be thoroughly enjoying herself.
Crucially, she also looks her 88-year-old self – magnificently, imperiously, but relatably so. She is like your most glamorous aunt, the one people talk about in hushed, slightly scandalised tones. As someone online said, you can just imagine she is about to unclip the exquisite handbag she is clutching and hand you a crisp £20. I imagine she would smell of Sobranies and Rive Gauche and drink brandy and ginger. (I don’t think she actually does, but each to their own fantasy aunt.)
This year has been successful for older women in the fashion industry. Vogue magazine featured 106-year-old tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od and 82-year-old actress Miriam Margolyes on their covers, with Margolyes wearing pearls and a veil and posing playfully with iced buns on her chest. In the current issue, 73-year-old actress Harriet Walter is photographed by Lucian Bor, who highlights her wrinkles instead of concealing them. Judi Dench was the first to be featured on a Vogue cover in 2020, with a slightly softer appearance that still looks wonderful. All of these women are celebrated for their ageless beauty.
I am delighted to see this, especially considering that their career has always been, and continues to be, extremely harsh towards women who dare to age, often pressuring them to play the role of their male counterparts’ mothers. I ponder if this is partly due to the fashion industry realizing that this generation has a significantly higher amount of money to spend compared to younger and more youthful fashion enthusiasts, but there are other factors at play as well.
The current trend is for young people (gen-Z) to dress like Diane Keaton, known as the “coastal grandmother trend.” On TikTok, there is a popular group called “Ladies of Madison Ave” featuring sophisticated older women in New York showing off their vintage fashion. There is now a special appreciation for stylish clothing that comes from a lifetime of experiences. It’s uncertain if this trend will continue due to the fickleness of fashion, but I am hopeful.
As I sat in the dental hygienist’s chair, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed as she pointed out the plaques on my teeth and the state of my gums using purple dye and a mirror. The bright lights in the room only accentuated every imperfection on my face. My clunky walking shoes were leaving mud on the pristine floor, and as I silently cursed the pain they caused me, I couldn’t help but wonder about getting veneers. Despite all this, I found solace in seeing confident and beautiful women in magazines.
As we reach middle age, despite the popular belief that this is the prime of our lives, it can actually be quite difficult. The realization of our mortality becomes more apparent as we experience physical changes such as achy hips, a droopy neck, and overall tiredness. Our hormones become imbalanced, our skin loses its elasticity and our self-esteem takes a hit. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of my reflection and wonder if it’s too late for cosmetic procedures like Botox. However, I am fortunate and grateful to have a functioning body.
Smith, Margolyes and others have gone through this experience – reaching their age without experiencing physical ailments, health concerns and major life losses is unlikely. Smith had breast cancer, Margolyes has spoken about her spinal stenosis and Dench has macular degeneration. They have all faced significant losses in life, but have managed to overcome them and continue to thrive. It’s possible that they may have thought, “why not?” when considering a Vogue photoshoot or ad campaign.
I am extremely grateful that they did: encountering them is both soothing and motivating. I will never possess their natural bone structure, fashion sense, abilities, or collection of clothes. However, visuals like these provide me with hope that I can break free from the dullness of my middle age and appreciate life even more.
Emma Beddington writes for The Guardian as a columnist.
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