Don’t Dress Your Age: Six Women Say No to Drab

A new TV documentary on Britain’s BBC4 has been tickling people’s fancies across the pond and stateside. “Fabulous Fashionistas” features six women of advanced years who share a love for style and a “screw that” attitude to the standard dictates of age.

Audiences in the U.K. have embraced the documentary’s message that when it comes to aging with attitude, style – whether it’s costly designer, handicraft or thrift shop find –  is a crucial part of the package; you can’t be walking around in baggy beige, which is what one of the Fashionistas calls “the color of death.” Sorry!

The documentary doesn’t just tell us about six seniors’ style choices. By the end of its 45 minutes, these women are much more than clotheshorses – just as they’re much more than “old.”

“It’s not about money or looking younger,” one of the six says. So, what is it about? “Having an identity beyond old lady.”

The documentary makes a strong case for age being what you make of it. But one lone critic, blogging in the Guardian, has taken issue with it. “Fabulous Fashionistas,” Michele Hanson writes, has simply picked something that these women have done all their lives – being stylish – and called it remarkable because they’re old. We wouldn’t have made a big deal of it if they were their younger selves, and so isn’t that ageist? Why can’t we get used to the idea that someone can be an “old woman” and also a person who is interested in style? And is an older woman who’s not interested in style – never was, never will be – any less of a remarkable person? 

The fact is, these six women break with the stereotype in many ways. We learn that when Jean Woods’ husband of 56 years died, she applied for a job at Gap to make ends meet and ward off loneliness, and then switched from that job to a new one in a fashionable boutique. “Just because you’re 71 doesn’t mean you’ve stopped being able to converse with people and hold down a job,” she says.

Gillian Lynne, the 87 year old choreographer responsible for “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera,” has been working nonstop since the ’40s. She says she loves her life because she loves her job – and loving life keeps her living. “You mustn’t allow it in,” Lynne says about age. “The minute you give an inch, it will take a mile.” She had just recovered from a serious bout of pneumonia.

And let’s face it, when you’re feeling invisible, the message that you don’t have to agree to fade into the background is inspirational. Just read the comments under Hanson’s blog post. Then take a look at the documentary trailer taster, below, and judge for yourself. (A DVD of “Fabulous Fashionistas” is available by clicking here.)

What’s your view? Share it in the comments below.

Read our Q&A with “Fabulous Fashionistas” director Sue Bourne (and see another taster) here.

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  • alma..

    Love this …shows age is not important

    gives you a lot to think about style clothes

    colors and creating your look can be a blast.


  • irene

    I am age 74, in good health and I consider myself a pretty well educated person (BS in nursing) Yet I feel as though I do not fit in anyplace. Yes, I am active, I sing in two chiors, work out at least twice a week, and I am trying to market a soft-sculpture sock monkey doll (it is patented) I do not dress in “senior” type clothing. But why do I feel so lonely and isolated. Yes, I live alone. I am single and I really do not like it, but there are worse things. I feel like a red-headed step child!!! what is my problem..depression

  • Elizabeth Smiley

    I adore these ladies ! I’m 54 years young ! I shop in the juniors section of all the major department stores ! Full of color & flair ! I love black tights and printed skirts ! These woman are the new COLOR to fashion ! I will be one always ….

  • meera paukner

    you can wipe them out. dignity and edge are Not mutually exclusive! those who can get that can make the young “hotties” look very stupid indeed.intelligence expertise and taste.

  • DJKwan

    It doesn’t matter what style you choose. Businesses want to make millions in sales, and better to target than a bunch of old women who no matter what they wear they are still just a bunch old women that do not look any younger, they are just old!
    It would make more sense if they were in a word graphic, “HOT!”

    • annie7

      “……they are still just a bunch old women that do not look any younger, they are just old!”

      You’re rude! You don’t know these women and you have no real idea as to who they are. And for your comment,”they are still just a bunch of old women”….It’s mean, and cynical. Hopefully someday you’ll understand karma.

      • chris

        These big $$ clothing businesses mainly want to target young to middle age women. If older women (or any aged women) want to have FUN, fun being the operative word, why is that a problem for anyone? It’s also a wonderful way to express one’s fashion and creative side. When you are dismissive of older women wanting to live the way they want to, you are dismissing everyone’s sense of individuality.

  • Deila

    Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to see how other women of a certain age respond to people saying”you’re wearing THAT?” Can’t wait to see it!

  • maurangrose

    Age is a matter of mind, if you don’t mind.
    it doesn’t matter.

    I wish you all
    **** A Merry Christmas****
    **** and Happy New Year.****


  • Still Alive

    I will be 70 in 3 months and I get a lot of noise from one of my kids about the way I dress. I just keep saying that just because I am a SR Citizen, doesn’t mean I am dead. Age is a number and that is all.

    • Sandra

      My kids say your granddaughters wear that. I say they have good taste. I have a good figure so I wear leggings short skirts etc. I feel like I am still in my 20yrs and as long as I can I will dress make-up color my hair blonde wear heals have a live in boyfriend .I am 83yrs young.and still going strong had 2 hip replacements colon cancer and I feel great.at this age I could care what people say,my grandchildren like playing with me they say u r cool.live life that’s why we are here.

  • Emma Ward

    I think there is nothing more beautiful than seeing a senior or lady of consent beautifully dressed. You know being sexy does not have a number on it. It has a look and we know men never stop looking.

  • Starchild

    The Golden Girls did it…nothing new. It’s all about positive attitude and getting older is being your better self. A reward of having survived all the trials & tribulations life threw in your path and people being in our faces, now we thrive and that’s important.

  • Loralie

    I love getting older; daring, colorful, alive, creative and courageous about clothing, and all aspects of this marvelous age of NOW!. I’m 83 and live life loving it and discovering ways to express my inner feelings of youth and creation. I want to become a true fashionista to leave a marvelous outside expression of how I feel inside… of love and way of relating to life… to my children and grandchildren and the world! What a way to go!!!!

  • barbgene

    These women are terrific! They’re exactly what I aspire to be when I grow up, and I’m 65 now … I’ve never wanted to see myself walking toward me on the sidewalk. How boring! Dressing our bodies should be fun, colorful and make us feel good, and to heck what others think. It’s not about them. We’ve only got one body, so have fun dressing it.

  • Talitha

    “Fashion” is just another product that is continually sold to us. Think about it. If a particular style looked fabulous ten years ago, why does it look awful now? Because advertising agencies working for corporations tell us that it does. For the most part, people (especially women) have no idea what they like; they know only what someone else tells them they like.

    If someone wants to dress up in bright colors with crazy jewelry and makeup, I say GO FOR IT / ENJOY IT as long as it’s truly her own style. Same goes for someone else who wants to wear blue jeans, tee shirts, and Birkenstocks every day.

    Of course clothes are also used to define social classes, as in the phrase, “dress for success.” How insane is it that a man dressed in the “right” suit and tie is more capable than a man dressed in comfortable slacks and a tee shirt? We are brainwashed into believing we must wear uniforms. Know where neckties originated? From the bandanas working men used to wear around their necks that they used to wipe off sweaty faces and dirty hands as they worked. But now, a man must wear a silly little strip of fabric tied tight around his neck in order to be successful.

    It just makes me sad/furious that people buy into all the fashion crap instead of taking the time and making the effort to learn their OWN tastes and preferences.

    • justmefolks

      In a sense it does suck; but this is what we are stuck with as social creatures they need to conform and fit into hierarchical structures. What bothers me most about the dress codes is how they apply to women in particular, how they are used to display and limit us when we’re young and marginalize us as we grow older. But I suppose if it wasn’t the clothing it would be something else entirely.

    • Amyeb

      With all due respect, neck ties have evolved from cravats worn by gentlemen of means. I believe it still carries that connotation, esp for young men or working class men who appear at church, weddings, funerals, etc., to much ribbing/admiration. Clothing, for better or worse, is like grammar. It signals who you are/aspire to be.

    • Barbara, Senior Planet editor

      Jane, thanks for commenting. Do you know Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog? It’s a wildly successful blog by a young NY-based photographer who shoots and writes about street style with a senior focus. He’s grown close to several stylish older women who appear regularly on his blog. The movie takes off from the blog. The film debuted in London last month and as far as we know does not have a US release date set yet – but as soon as it does, we’ll be featuring it.

  • MsTeri

    I dislike that I keep getting emails about further comments in “my thread”, when my comment was never published. Also, please inform us in the US when the full doc is again available.

  • cupcake

    I THINK THAT THEY ARE GREAT…WHO SAY’ S to dress a certain way because of age? I know women in there sixty’ s that look 85-90 and act that way. I also know women who are in there 80-88 and are stunning dress young and beautiful,make-up are dating yes and enjoying you know what. I say keep going on do not stop that is what keeps you young.only one.life used.it.to.the.fullest.I am

  • Sunnydew2

    Hooray for these girls!!

    More women should feel this way!
    Older women got a bad rap with the smart Alec’s “cougar crap”. How come men have been doing it this way for years with perfect approval. I would like to know who started this
    passive, obedient, little woman , submissive to the male, etc., stuff. If it wasn’t for the
    Women behind the men, nothing would ever have gotten off the ground.
    Let’s even it out now, but do it nicely.

  • Mary Lou

    In my last comment I should have said in the line about (it doesn’t matter what you think) to say it doesn’t matter what we think( society). I was not trying to insult you. Sorry if it seemed like that. I do agree tho, that the pic looked more like it was staged for a model pic. I would not wear it but hay that’s me.

  • Fritzie

    Small explanation and then goodbye:

    I heartily approve of anyone at any age wearing whatever they want.

    What I was trying to express was that – to me – most of these women look like they’ve “been dressed” or are deliberately wearing things to make a statement, which is FINE … but what they’ve chosen (or what’s been chosen for them for this shoot) is not flattering, with a couple of exceptions, and is not beautiful. It’s jarring and outlandish! WHY?

    Who wants to wear such clothing? I’d rather wear beautiful clothing or at least outfits that are flattering and somewhat subtle. But some days I might not! I might wear something way wild.

    Wasn’t it always obvious that people are free to wear what they like? Does that need to be said over and over again? Duh.

    • msannie7

      It has not always been that women can wear what we want. It has been subtly frowned upon to dress in ways that others don’t approve of. Have you not heard the “mutton dressed as lamb” line ? As I steer through my 60’s it’s fantastic to know women have paved the way for our self expression. I raise a glass in gratitude to the ladies in this film.

  • Mary Lou

    Although I don’t care for some of outfits these woman wear or for that matter either in the rest of society. But good taste or bad taste is in the eye of the beholder and it doesn’t matter what you think. Everyone is entitled to be the way they are and dress the way they like, as long as they are not hurting anyone, or breaking the law. Variety is the spice of life and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Fritzie

    These women are embarrassing themselves by wearing outlandish outfits unflattering to a woman of ANY age. But the photographer goes on shooting …

    • Annew

      What a load of rubbish! They are expressing themselves and their personality! Why should a woman of over 65 suddenly become a drab? I hope that I continue wearing my reds and pinks and pretty clothes until I am into my 80’s and 90’s. I am now 70 and feel about 40 and enjoying life more than I have ever done.

      • Fritzie

        Of course! I am too, and I ALWAYS wear colorful fun stuff, but these outfits and haircuts are stupid and unflattering. We’re all free to wear anything – but why wear something ugly at any age?

        • chinagirl99

          Their clothes, for the most part, are high fashion, which is not for everyone. They are also extremely artististic: again, this is not for everyone.
          Judgment of anyone for anything, of anything for any reason just means we are judging OURSELVES even more harshly.
          Life gets easier as the judgment eases away.

    • tigerlily2

      sounds as though you are the one embarrased for some reason…….these women should wear whatever they wish…………their choice may not be mine , but more power to them in their “third age”…………..

  • La Tanya

    I live in the U.S. I loved this movie! I watched it twice and then showed it to my husband! Very inspirational! I loved these women! Daring! Energetic!

  • stillhere

    You should live until you die, period. I just turned 50 a few months ago and already society is giving me the message that I am already old, that I should slow down, that I should temper myself and show constraint in how I dress and become serious, stable, that I should fulfill the role of a stereotypical “older” woman. To hell with all of that. I am still a part of this world and I refuse to be put out to pasture or to conform to someone else’s ideas about who I should be. Personally I rarely consider my age. I didn’t dwell on it when I was 27, why now? I don’t allow it to limit what I want to do or how I dress either. If anything, being older should make you live with even more urgency. It is not the time to temper yourself. I will be living in any way that suits me until my time is up. I admire these women for being true to themselves. How old you are is a tiny part of what makes you who you are. In many ways it’s quite incidental, especially once you are an adult.

    • Jamie J

      So true. I’ve found that now that I am in my 30s I have good friends from the ages of 25-85. Once you are an adult your an adult. I think everyone should be allowed to be who they are no matter what. Love the idea of this documentary.

  • nona Pandil

    I am still dancing literally through 85years of life with all the challlanges and joys that come with 4 children and now numerous grand and great grand children. One of the on going sources of fun and joy is dressing a little funky. Usually lots of color, a flower,saucy hat,or unique leotards that show a little skirt above bppts or interesting stockings. Creating an outfit enforces my feeling of part of the young living world. Not driving these days, but still getting out to Starbucks, Tango dances, and engaging in all of life keeps me near the youngsters. I often get comments like I want to be like you when I grow up. Or you remind me of my grandma. Fun, Fun.

  • Carolyn

    I am loving the discovery of this site thanks to the blog of artist Kelly Rae Roberts…I am 75 years old and refuse to dress the way that is considered appropriate for my age…in other words, dowdy; tho stringently avoiding the teen age look, I often find what I like in the junior section. I hike/w a friend & dog for 2-1/2 hours a week in a park/w great hilly dirt trails; I also have an active sex life/w a wonderful male partner who is 7 years younger than I am, but we both feel like teenagers when together; I’ve even had a hysterectomy but my doctor says I should be able to have sex for the next 20 years. I so love my life…attitude is all. The universe has been very good to me & I say THANKS every day.

    • barbara

      Hi Rose, the article is about a documentary that is 47 minutes long. Originally, we were able to show the full video on our site; however we are now only able to show a teaser for the video for copyright reasons. That’s why we say in the article that it is a “teaser.” We hope the full video will become available again in the United States in the future.

      • Jane S.

        So sad, not to see the video again. I had gone back to my FB page for some inspiration and could not find the link. You-tube, no luck there either. Finally found this spot. Hopefully the full video will be available again soon. Wanted to share with girlfriends. Many of us need their food for the soul. Missing that tonight, when I really need it. Please come back soon. How will we know, when it is back up and running?

  • Ina

    I lost my wonderful, creative sculptor husband three years ago. I am 70. I am trying to reinvent myself, reluctantly, not doing a very good job of it! Watching this has helped me to rethink life. Thank you! I just may go on for a while!!

  • Sue

    I’m nearly 72 and I do yoga classes and volunteer at our church Thrift Shop.. My 3rd husband ,who is 88 and I just came back from ballroom dancing tonight. We have both out lived 2 former partners.
    Age is a number . It’s like anything else in life , You have to work at staying involved in what you love doing.
    Being an artist helps. Artists keep each other interested in the process of Art and… Art is Life
    It’s nice to know that there are other women and men that value

  • Kathryn

    What beautiful, courageous and vivacious women! Watching this was like a gift, assuring me I’ll never have to fade into the background as I age, just continue to be myself. And keep on wearing my Doc Martens!

  • Ka’ohinani

    STUNNING & INSPIRING FILM!!! Very well made, covers several important topics. THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO PARTICIPATED IN MAKING THIS!!!!! I believe a magazine should be published that showcases gutsy older women, perhaps online even, this is needed by all ages as inspiration to consider how one is living. I am 66 (which seems young next to this film & I do find myself questioning: Am I old? Hmmmmm.) & find myself certainly wanting to continue dressing expressively & to continue doing what is important to me. Currently am stewarding a farm property, doing much of the heavy work, dressing in pants that refer to Arab influence, continuing yoga & lifting weights & reaching out to develop warm community with family & friends. THANK YOU FOR THE INSPIRATION TO KEEP ON!

    • Genoveva

      If there are magazines for everything!!! teen ager, mechanics, weddings(toooo many)food etc….one for 60teen or 70teen and get ideas. Yes we reinvent ourselves with age and need fresh ideas from the experts. We belong to a group that is not happy with letting life go by or fade until death….

  • Jen H

    My goodness what a delightful surprise this film was for me today. Each of these women shared something that inspired me to fall in love with life once again! Thank you ALL for your lives, your message and your example of what it looks like to keep LIVING no matter what your age. I am inspired to tears. I do think about death, but I am consciously choosing LIFE. Thank you!

  • Renee Peck

    I now have a dream! I want to meet all these women. They inspire me, I am half their age, and I want pieces of their styles. I love the dancer and the short haired lipstick lady and oh that colorful lively one ahh I want them all. May I please request a dream come true to meet anyone on of them? Please! I simply love them all. Truly, Renee

    • Sky from QLD

      I am 60 going on 61 and have no intention of moderating my fashion, still love the luxury of creativity and these delightful women epitomize
      Individuality and freedom and the dare to be who you are. Please don’t ever stop being yourselves. Bravo . I say bravo. Sky Jenkins.

  • Annelies van Dommelen

    Inspiring is the word. I am lucky enough to get older and be flexible in more ways than just my body, in mind as well. Still feel like a twelve year old unless I start going over to the dark side. Yesterday, I started to slip and then I saw this documentary. I am an artist and for some time was thinking there was no more “great” paintings in me. The kind that take energy and introspection but today I will try something new. Thanks

  • Alejandra

    Breathless! Powerful! Beautiful! Inspirational! I just love how free they feel and look, I believe in choosing this lifestyle for all my life and I love the feeling of it. It’s amazing!

  • Ann

    I LOVED this documentary!! Such wonderful life forces – I am going to pass this on! We should live our entire lives with this spirit.

  • diane

    i grew up with an aged grandmother who used to drum her fingers on the arms of the armchair whose cushion was indented with the shape of her saggy bottom, and when she had forgotten that i was there, she would sometimes call out to her dead husband: “David, I wish I was in the grave with you!” Throughout my life I have searched for role models of women growing older with zest. You have given them to me. Thank you. the film is an inspiration.

  • Gisou mostoufi pour

    I learnt more in 47 minutes than all 49 years living my life. it was really eyes opening for me getting to 50 on 29 February can be a second chance to re consider the way I looked and lived my life before. I realized there is still time to start over and enjoy the rest of my life and get the best of it. thanks for awakening me !

  • Artspacehippy

    I think for once age is not just about a number! It’s who u are that counts , I love some times when I here people say how old does she think she is? Wearing that! And so I applaud a program that gave us older women a say even if I agree with comments about why age should matter? But in this world it does we get judge for it in many ways being old and having a colour sense instead of beige ” I would say I loved the idea of freedom wear want I like I am still the age I like to be , being older does not mean I have to become invisible !

  • noreen

    Yeah! I am 71, run 2&1/2 miles a day, lift weights etc and could do a Playboy centerfold. The thing is: Don’t buy into the stereotypes of being old. Strive to push the envelope in every way, creatively, athletically, and especially sexually. If you don’t like the way you look in the bathroom mirror when you step out of the shower, don’t tell people you are no longer interested in sex, just get to the gym. Imagine that you are going to live to 100, this makes you middle age just about the time you start getting Medicare. Remember good health is a function of participation.

  • bajunajewelry

    I love these ladies! They really enjoy life and are unencumbered by the stereotypical thinking of today. Good for them. I love the fact that they teach that you don’t have to be rich or even well off to be able to express yourself or do what you like.
    They resist ageism way better than ladies a lot, lot younger.
    I hope their dreams come true. Maybe they can have their own fashion magazine with even better articles than those others. They can have the last word!

  • NapalmNess.

    Absolutely, wonderful to hear such wisdom from such accomplished women. Inspirational, deep and in your face about life, beauty and perception, and letting go. I enjoyed this. I wish them all well. I’ve def got a few things in my life to change thanks to these ladies. Thank you for creating this story. _V.

  • Joyce

    This is the best documentary I’ve seen about how older women don’t accept what society says about aging. What a great job you have done in communicating that by choosing
    these women. I loved it!
    Joyce, NYC

  • mamaeyecon

    I rarely dress my age. I dress stylishly while still comfortably. People rarely guess my age. I look rather decent for an “old broad” if you consider 56 to be old. I don’t. You’re as old as you feel and I feel so good I should be twins! The only thing I’ve changed in my dressing is I refuse to be uncomfortable for too long. So I keep that in mind when I shop. So I can look great – for long periods of time. And I must cause that’s what people tell me. I’m not bragging, just repeating what they tell me about me. I like what they say!

  • Susan

    At 64, I find these women are my heroes and inspiration. Often known as “the crow” by my sisters, I choose colourful apparel and love feeling hip which hopefully will never end with aging. Dare to be different and true to yourself. Aging is a gift and should not be boring, but do something wonderful for someone or for yourself each day. Be selfish and do what makes you feel good.

  • Ashton Applewhite

    Not everything that highlights age is ageist, and it is their age that makes these fearless fashionistas stand out. They’re not trying to look younger than they are; they just want to look good—and, like the women on the Advanced Style Blog, they do. The sad fact is that over time many women lose the confidence to dress stylishly lest they appear “mutton dressed up as lamb.” A huge reason is that we lack examples over the age of 30 in advertising and the media. These “fabulous fashionistas” are an excellent corrective.

  • ant

    I feel very inspired watching these great ladies. I was feeling old at 52 because of the the way the media treats women over 50 as indivisible but these women are not hiding!

  • Nancy

    I loved these women! Just wonderful………all beautiful in their own way……..very encouraging for me at age 76………

  • Jane

    I’ve just watched this … and it’s the best 45 minutes I’ll spend all day! This is FANTASTIC … and those calling it “ageist” are missing the point.

    Yes, these women are “just being themselves,” which they have always done, regardless of their age. But many people still believe aging requires abandoning certain activities and preoccupations of younger years, which these women have refused to do. Not everyone is so brave or so persistent (or, to be frank, blessed with continuing health) … but for anyone who’s tempted to give up, these women are an inspiration.

    To the person who objected to the reference to “little old ladies”: It’s difficult to buck stereotypes without naming them. As several people have pointed out, this documentary is about WAY more than fashion sense. But dressing “appropriately” is probably the most consistent wall that older women come up against, and these women demonstrate that tossing that out the window doesn’t mean dressing like a teenager.

    My heart broke for the woman who was deemed too “high fashion” for a modeling agency, which claimed it could have used the image of “the granny next door.” THAT is why this documentary needed to be made!

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