Fashion & Beauty

Is Fashion Waking Up to Older Women?

By Janet Kelly

“FINALLY, FASHION Ages Upwas the print headline from the Wall Street Journal story published this past weekend, accompanied by another article titled “Why Older Women Ruled New York Fashion Week.”

Whoa. Is the fashion industry finally . . . or have we seen this movie before? For about a nanosecond, older women, featured in ads, make the industry feel like they’ve paid homage to a certain segment of the population, and then just like that, those ads/articles are gone. Remember Blackglama’s campaign, “What Becomes a Legend Most?” Along with young beauties, those ads featured Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, and more women of a certain age. In 2016, 68-year-old Maye Musk starred in James Perse’s fall 2016 campaign. She also became the oldest CoverGirl at 69 in 2017. More recently, ads are popping up of 79-year-old Diana Ross as the new face of Saint Laurent and of 89-year-old Dame Maggie Smith modeling Loewe’s popular Puzzle Bag.

Coincidentally or not, a new eight-episode FX/Hulu series, “Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans” zeroes in on the lives of a circle of glamorous, impeccably dressed women. Among the cast are actors Naomi Watts, who’s 55, and Diane Lane, who’s 59. They portray the socialites and fashion icons Babe Paley and Slim Keith, whose secrets their supposedly trusted friend and author Truman Capote betrays in a chapter from his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, excerpted in Esquire’s November 1975 issue.

Set in the 1960s and 1970s when Paley and Keith were in their 50s and 60s, the show is a love letter to grown-up clothes. Last week, New York’s  fall 2024 fashion runways weighed in with the kind of tailored, investment-worthy offerings the Swans would have approved. Instead of The Row’s usual capacious clothes, the Olsen designers changed direction with slim, waist-defining dresses and contoured jackets, while Michael Kors eschewed flash for classic looks—with skirt suits and pleated trousers.

So, is fashion is waking up to older women? As the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, quoting a Zen master, said in the 2007 film, Charlie Wilson’s War, “We’ll see.” In any case, below some suggestions for what would appeal to today’s grownup girls.


In show-stopping red and flattering side ruching, The Row’s wool-blend (91% wool, 8% elastane, 1% polyamide) Lucienne dress is no run-of-the-mill sheath. Details, such as pleated cuffs and an asymmetric midi hem, add interest as well, and a 100% silk lining is pure luxury. Reduced from $2,740, it sells for $1,375 at Net a Porter.

A black turtleneck is a wardrobe workhorse. This one, in a lightweight wool jersey with a touch of stretch, will pair with everything from white flannel trousers to tweed pants to charcoal gray midi skirts. A luxe look for less, it sells for $70 at Banana Republic.

Babe Paley favored creamy neutrals, and it’s easy to picture her elegantly swanning around in these wide-leg pleated pants. Crafted from double-faced merino wool, they sell for $790 at Another Tomorrow.

Along with their Verdura cuffs and Schlumberger earrings, the Swans loved their pearls. CZ Guest was rarely seen without a strand or two. This Tiffany necklace, which comes in pearl sizes from 5-6mm to 8-9mm, ranges in price from $850 to $1,600. Note: Coco Chanel often accessorized her simple jersey dresses with real pearls and multiple faux strands.


When Babe Paley attached her scarf (Hermès) to her handbag, the rest of New York followed. Paley didn’t have a Twilly—Hermès didn’t come out with the design until 2003—but this 32-inch-by-2-inch Epaulettes De Gala Twilly ($200) is a handy-dandy colorful accessory for bringing a bit of whimsy to your neck, wrist, or purse.


Nili Lotan’s handsome Horace cropped jacket, inspired by vintage military looks, is made of 100% Italian wool, has epaulets with horn buttons, and is fully lined. The kind of piece that will have longevity in your closet, it sells for $1,330.


One chic young woman was photographed on the street at New York Fashion Week wearing Nili Lotan’s jacket, which she unexpectedly paired with the silk-organza fabric of Bite Studio’s Ruffled Skirt ($990, Moda Operandi) and then accented with a red clutch. It’s a sophisticated combo that could be replicated by a stylish woman with an AARP card.


Slim Keith et al. look so glamorous in their gorgeous printed silk shirts I immediately wished I had one as stunning. This blouse, with a graphic mix of pink and black from Elie Tahari, would fill that hole in my closet. It sells for $325.



One of the appealing aspects of Pandora’s Chain Bracelet is it’s available in five different wrist sizes (from 5.9 to 9 inches long). Also, you can customize the chain, swapping out smaller links for larger, openable links, for example. Then, for more individual expression and dollars, you can add large medallion charms or mini dangle charms. The 14k-gold-plated bracelet sells for $200.


So minimalist, so tailored, so Jil Sander. The go-to grownup girl’s designer launched her first collection in 1973, becoming known for clothing that was expertly tailored and made in luxurious fabrics. Though no longer headed up by Sander, the company is still recognized for its way-high quality and attention to detail. This all-cashmere cardigan in the label’s Resort ’24 collection sells for a whopping $2,520.



First introduced in 1965 and one of the brand’s most favored styles, Roger Vivier’s Belle Vivier Covered Buckle Pump would have appealed to Capote’s Swans. Available today in spring combos of white and yellow (above), as well as white and violet and white and blue, it sells for $995.


Bygone chic or the must-have coat for fall? Fifty-year-old model Amber Valetta wears a leopard-printed coat with black leather accessories on Michael Kors’s fall 2024 runway.




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4 thoughts on “Is Fashion Waking Up to Older Women?

  1. Nancy G says:

    Grown up clothes! Aren’t we all constantly discussing what clothing, and styling, is “appropriate” for our age? These styles are beautiful, and would enhance any woman’s body shape. But you’re right, Janet. How long will the trend last, before designers are right back to clothes for 6’ tall, very thin, 16 year olds?

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      We can always hope for grown-up clothes but unless advertisers are convinced that’s where the money is . . . At least at the moment the trend is in our direction.

  2. Thank you for this insightful post about us “older” women and our fashion needs. Hard to think of 50’s as old, but I guess it is in Hollywood standards. These actors look fab. The Swans series has been one I find myself clicking “pause” to look at all the accessories, bags, shoes, dresses, jewelry. Almost as much as Mad Men and Downton Abbey.

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      I don’t think of women in their 50s as being old either, but our youth-obsessed culture tends to disregard women over 40! Nikki Haley is 52, and Don Lemon said she wasn’t in her prime anymore. He got fired for that, but he’s surely not the only one who views women over 50 that way. It’s kind of hopeful that 79-year-old Diana Ross is the new face of YSL ads and that designer Batsheva Hay wouldn’t cast anyone in her New York Fashion Week runway show who was under 40.

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