As YOU’s cover star Julianne Moore says, let’s just get past age. Ella Alexander celebrates women over 50 living their best lives yet.
It was only fitting that Jennifer Lopez should close summer dressed as a queen. At Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda fashion show in Venice, the star arrived in St Mark’s Square wearing a floor-length couture silk cloak layered over a jewel-encrusted bralette and brocade floral trousers, accessorised with, naturally, a glittering gold crown-like tiara.
Head high and shoulders back, with regal poise she sashayed off her boat and along the jetty. It was the perfect entrance for a woman who has had a better summer than anyone, after rekindling her romance with ex-fiancé Ben Affleck and spending months sailing around the Med on a yacht. This summer’s It-girl (if it’s not too crude to call her that), the celebrity we all want to be right now, is not a Hadid, or a famous offspring, but a 52-year-old woman with two children and a career spanning three decades. Lopez is the glamorous face of a growing group of women giving midlife a powerful rebrand.
This year’s Oscars also celebrated the talents of women over the age of 50: Frances McDormand, aged 64, won Best Actress for her performance in Nomadland, and the night’s biggest laughs came via a twerking Glenn Close, 74. On the small screen, Jennifer Coolidge, 60, was everyone’s favourite female character in buzzy show The White Lotus. The forthcoming Sex and the City reboot, meanwhile, stars the three protagonists, Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda, as they navigate the ‘complicated reality of life and friendship in their 50s’. It might be belated, but women in their 50s and 60s are finally Hollywood’s scene-stealers.
This new recognition and appreciation isn’t limited to the entertainment industry. Fashion is also showing signs of ditching its renowned ageism with the rising popularity of mature influencers. These women have reached an age where they have learnt the art of what looks good on them, creating a style that feels authentic and joyful.
Sophie Fontanel, 59, is one such example. After quitting her job as a writer at French Elle, she began taking outfit selfies and sharing them on Instagram. Known for her silver hair and penchant for vintage, she has gathered a social media following of 255,000 and works with luxury brands including Gucci. She says she’s seen an upsurge in the number of fashion labels who want to partner with her. ‘I say no when a brand – and this has happened a lot – wants to change me or to dress me conservatively,’ she says. ‘I say yes when the idea behind it is smart. Gucci, for example, allows me to be myself – witty and talkative.’
Among other notable midlife influencers are Grece Ghanem, 56,a personal trainer famed for her angular bob; Lyn Slater, a chic full-time academic in her mid-60s with 757,000 Instagram followers on her page @iconaccidental; and Renia Jazdzyk, 56 (@venswifestyle) a Newcastle-based content creator with a love of Jacquemus. ‘With age, I became more confident and so did my style,’ she says. ‘I know what looks good on me. That said, I like being surprised by fashion. I watch new trends and use those that are the best for me.’
Part of the explanation for this new appreciation of middle age is that key life stages are happening later. We are getting married and having children later (the average age to become a first-time mother in the UK is 28, according to ONS), so it follows that middle age also now happens later. When people blithely quip that 50 is the new 40, they have a valid point.
The fashion industry is wise to cater to style-conscious midlifers. Men and women over 55 contributed more than one third of the total spend on fashion in the UK in 2019 – £12.2 billion out of a total £34.6 billion, according to research by data analytics company Kantar. This is a discerning demographic with money to spend – one in five over-65s in the UK is a millionaire, according to ONS data.
Beyond fashion and film, women are proving that midlife is full of adventure and productivity. Professor Sarah Gilbert, 59, who was instrumental in developing the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine (her efforts rewarded, perhaps questionably, with a Barbie doll in her likeness). Kamala Harris was 56 when she made history last year in becoming not only the first woman to become Vice President of the US, but also both the first Black and South Asian woman to take the post. Justice campaigner Gina Miller was also in her 50s when she took on the government and won in two landmark victories (about triggering Article 50 – the legal mechanism taking the UK out of the EU – without approval by MPs in 2017, and in 2019 when Boris Johnson tried to suspend Parliament).
What unites these women is their commitment to pushing the boundaries of what it means to be middle-aged. With a few decades of life’s hard knocks comes resilience, self-knowledge and an ability to take on the seemingly impossible –a powerful combination. This period of a woman’s life can not only look fabulous but feel fabulous, too. It can mark the moment where we embrace our bodies with more peace than in our younger days. As the saying goes, life begins at 40 – the preceding years are a dress rehearsal.
The standards set by these overachieving women might seem impossibly high, but they are important because they represent us when we feel too tired and unmotivated to do it all ourselves. They speak for us, defying ageist preconceptions when we feel disillusioned. They also speak to younger women, telling them that growing older is nothing to fear. They reassure us that this life stage is hard work but the world is progressing and, perhaps, the best is yet to come. It’s time to bow down to the midlife goddesses, famous or otherwise.