The new “it girls” of fashion and music: ladies over 60

There is a fountain of youth; it is your mind. — Sophia Loren
There is a fountain of youth; it is your mind. — Sophia Loren
Image: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The silver economy is on the rise.

Marketers are increasingly targeting the world’s fastest growing consumer group, people over 60, and it’s fueling a transformation in fashion and entertainment: old ladies are booking gigs like crazy. Women who once would have been considered too old for show biz are working it.

Punk poetess Patti Smith, 69, rose to fame in the seventies and played a goth music festival on Oct. 22 after telling it like it is about big bootie and good music at a fundraiser with Alicia Keyes days earlier. Literary giant Joan Didion began modeling for the fashion house Celine at 80. Meanwhile, Lily Tomlin, 78, and Jane Fonda, 77, are killing comedically on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie.  Jessica Lange examined aging in chilling performances on American Horror Story before becoming the face of Marc Jacobs Beauty at 64. Actress Helen Mirren turned makeup model for L’Oreal at 64, too. Supermodel Iman started a cosmetics line in the 1990s and, at 61, is still stunning as the brand’s brains and face. The list goes on.

For businesses, choosing representatives in their 60s and well beyond makes dollars and cents, euros and yen. Worldwide, the number of people over 60 grew from 600 to 800 million between 2000 and 2010. By 2050, the global elderly will reach 2 billion, so it’s worth targeting them as a consumer market, especially women with increasing economic power.

Meanwhile, young people have struggled to make money of late, and aren’t exactly dropping thousands of dollars on high end fashion. That’s why the houses of Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Kate Spade, and many more have all hired models long past the traditional prime, aligning the faces of their representatives more closely with those who can afford their products. “We exist in a post-recessionary world and the millennial generation is more challenged in terms of its buying ability, ” New York Times fashion columnist Vanessa Friedman told AdWeek. “There is a certain economic imperative.”

But with this imperative come adjustments for all participants, young and old, as fashion is physical work. The 1970s supermodel-turned-actress Lauren Hutton, now 72, walked the runway for Bottega Veneta’s Spring/Summer 2017 show in a classic camel trench, holding the arm of 21-year-old supermodel Gigi Hadid (in futuristic pink pajamas). The spontaneous pairing was a hit with the fashion press but born of desperation. The room was dark and Hutton’s heels high, so despite making it down the runway once, she refused to do a second go alone. The model explained to paparazzi after the show, “I said, ‘I can’t. I’ll have to hold onto Gigi,’ and that’s how it worked.”

Designer Betsey Johnson is 74 years old and opened her first shop in New York in 1969; today, women of all ages wear the brand, and on Nov. 4 this year she’ll release an accessories line with Dreamworks for the animated movie Trolls. “It’s wild,” she says. “There are three generations now…the grandmas and their offspring and their offspring.”

The thought behind Grace and Frankie, Fonda told Vogue, was to give a “cultural face to aging.” She wants women to be hopeful about growing old. It’s clearly hit on something; the series was just renewed for a third season.

Fonda’s efforts and those of other icons seem to be working on all ages. Gray is now a hair color of choice for younger stars like Kylie Jenner and Lady Gaga, and the wisdom of grand dames is being sought by style bloggers on the streets. Old is now new and cool, which bodes well for an aging global population.