As a fashion scholar, model and influencer, Dorrit Bøilerehauge inspires others with her take on age and style. She discusses how her various roles inform one another, which fashion brands capture the cool confidence of age, and her Silver Starter Initiative.
This From David Stewart of the wonderful site The Ageist
Age, beauty and fashion are particularly thorny subjects at any age. Once we think we have it figured out, things change and we change. It may sometimes feel as if the ground underneath these is all rapidly shifting sand. How do we want to be seen, and how do we want to see ourselves? We may want to just blow these off as foolish non-issues, but how we present ourselves will have an impact; it is a form of communication. Should we try to look fun and of-the-moment? Classic, cool, sporty, bold, or subtle? Whatever we choose, we are saying something. For some of us, this is an opportunity to create; for others of us, it is a never-ending conundrum to be muddled through. Count us as frequent residents of both camps. Cool is ageless but complicated, and often the aim is far off target.
Dorrit Bøilerehauge is a fashion scholar, influencer, fashion model, and age advocate. Her research area is fashion branding on social media, and this combines her passion for fashion with her sharp interest in everything digital. In recent years, she has been digging into the representation of age in fashion, and she has become an advocate for the mature cool.
How old are you?
I’m 62 years old.
Where are you based?
When did you become interested in investigating the meaning of fashion, its imagery and its impact?
I’ve had a great interest in fashion from early childhood with drawing clothing for paper dolls for days on end, dressing up and experimenting with vintage clothing in the attic. Later, when living abroad in London and Italy, my passion for fashion was strengthened. When given the opportunity to work on a PhD in Denmark, I chose the field of digital fashion communication from a sociological perspective. After leaving the university to work as the director of The Knowledge Centre for Design & Business, and later as the CEO of the organization Danish Designers, I developed my approach for sensory communication and authored my book Brand Elegance on sensory tools and platforms. Upon returning to Aarhus University in the late 10s, I found my take on analyzing and discussing the aesthetics of Instagram fashion branding. This approach enabled me to focus on age in fashion, which I have done for a number of years now.
“Age is the category most often forgotten when attempting to be diverse”
We understand that you teach. How is your work, especially around age, received by younger people?
At the university it is well-received but, naturally, it may appear somewhat distant to some of the young students. However, when I move about in Aarhus and Copenhagen, my work on Instagram is cheered on by young people, whom I don’t know, who greet me by praising my work. I also get very positive responses on Instagram from young people, which means a lot to me.
The fashion industry is often thought of as being youth idealizing, although often the consumers are much older. What do you make of this?
As many other industries, also the fashion industry is in transition. The waves of inclusion and acceptance of differences are upon us, but they are also a substantial challenge to many. This goes also for the fashion industry, where we now see a number of brands working on diversity. But old habits die hard and, oddly enough, age is the category most often forgotten when attempting to be diverse. Fashion reflects society at large, where youth is idealized, but the industry also holds a significant responsibility in its branding and representations of age. But fashion will reach its diversity goals eventually.
What is greynaissance, and is it a “whitewashing” or is it a real movement?
I see the term applied mostly by the media trying to explain the development with the active and healthy mature crowd having a very different lifestyle than previous generations at their age. Apart from this specific term, we can identify a substantial change in the way the mature crowd lives.
When you look at social media and major brand communications, are you seeing old being a copy of youth, or as something distinctive?
I see good examples of mature being communicated on their own terms and in a very dynamic and distinctive way. But it is still fairly rare to see mature models. Copy of youth or not.
What is the difference between fashion and clothing? How would you define the aesthetic character of age?
Clothing refers to garments worn for modesty and protection – they are functional items. Fashion are styles communicating about the wearer and the times we are living in.
For the beauty industry, age and older skin are troublesome, as the whole point seems to be to look younger. How would you approach this if you were a brand?
I would adopt a discourse concerning taking good care of yourself and eliminate any references to age. Again we have to include a broader perspective, and ask each other: What is our perception of beauty, and do we want a retake on it?
“We need to lead by the good example to dismantle the fear by simply showing the attractions of age”
What are the taboos that are yet to be broken with age and fashion?
Taboos are connected to different kinds of fear and anxiety. We need to lead by the good example to dismantle the fear by simply showing the attractions of age. We need to unfold the attractions, and that is what I work on.
Which are some brands which you feel capture the cool confidence of age while pushing against the narrative of age invisibility? Favorite brands for how they communicate with an older audience?
I saw the cool confidence of age communicated by H&M when they used Gillean McLeod in 2016, and Zara when using Marie Sophie Wilson in 2021. These are good examples. In luxury, Dolce & Gabbana often include mature models on the catwalk. Mind you, I don’t think that there is a particular communication with an older audience in fashion. Fashion is about trends – and in that respect, rooted in the present. However, and this is very important, fashion is also about style. And style is connected to lifestyle – not to age.
What are you personally wanting to express with what you wear?
I dress to express my mood but also to match the occasion.
Favorite brands for the clothing they design for an older audience?
In my view, designing for older audience does not exist, but that may be because my view on old is too young. ☺ No, again, fashion is about style, and you don’t subscribe to a style because of your age.
“My work as a model informs my academic research on fashion, maturity, diversity, inclusion and aesthetics”
Additional to being a thinker around fashion, you are also a model. How does the one side of your work influence the other side?
My work as a model informs my academic research on fashion, maturity, diversity, inclusion and aesthetics. I’m very fond of my work as a model. It’s full of creativity, lovely people and development.
What is the Silver Starter Initiative and why did you initiate it?
It is a platform communicating about the resources of the mature crowd. Telling the stories of their drive, passions, curiosity, and how they use all that to create something different and new. The network in the platform is still pending as my time is occupied by the university, modeling and working as an influencer on Instagram, where I post daily on all my interests and angles on age, lifestyle and fashion.
What is an essential part of your daily routine that makes you feel good/healthy?
Working out in the gym, sea bathing all year round, spending time with family and friends. Last but not least: learning something new.
Do you have any resources for people who might want to learn more about the fashion industry?
The fashion industry is huge and works in so many different ways. Everybody is most welcome to follow me on Instagram to see how I work with fashion.
What are your 3 non-negotiables in life?
Apart from honesty and love, it is not to live by absolutes. Not to turn in to a “non-negotiable.” On the contrary – always to remain open, curious, flexible, eager to learn and play a part in the present.
Main image by: Asbjorn Christensen, @asoninsta
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