Does age matter less in men's fashion?

Nick Wooster, former fashion directer and buyer at Neiman Marcus, is a big player in the menswear industry.

Nick Wooster, former fashion directer and buyer at Neiman Marcus, is a big player in the menswear industry. Photo: Supplied

You don't need to dig deep to find examples of ageism in the fashion industry. Just look to the catwalks and billboards, populated by models that are barely old enough to vote. Open up any magazine and you'll find trends are segregated into strict age-related categories. Crop tops, miniskirts and anything vaguely '90s? 'Youthful!' Whereas women over a certain age are relegated to longer sleeves and matronly cuts, encouraged to forgo fashion-forward choices altogether for fear of looking undignified.

Even when a woman is applauded for her style panache, that all-too-common qualifier –she looks good "for her age" – only bolsters society's treatment of growing older as a terrible disease. Culturally, our value diminishes as the years go on. We may have entered an age of gender-fluid fashion, but clothes remain divided into strict age-related categories.

Cross to the world of men's fashion where the divide along age lines is nowhere near as rampant. The prevailing attitude? Clothing is just an outward expression of your creative self, so why should we tone it down once the candles on the cake hit a certain number?

Last week at London Collections Men, we saw many a grey-haired member of the silver fox set peppered in among the chiselled 20-something babes at Versace and Umit Benan. There was further breaking down of age barriers at Walter Van Beirendonck, Raf Simons and Prada, which saw a cross-generational mash-up of styles such as grandpa-inspired plaids and argyles, powder-pink suits and short shorts, worn by models of every age.

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This season's Pitti Uomo, that biannual menswear trade fair in Florence, will be themed 'Generation(s).' As Pitti Immagine's vice-CEO Agostino Poletto told Vogue, they'll be looking "at an era where age is increasingly more a mental attitude than a number, with mature men in jeans and tees and youngsters with Victorian-style beards and a passion for vintage."

 

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This attitude trickles down to the streets, too. Outside the tents, you're just as likely to meet an ultra-skinny teenager in his grandad's double-breasted Savile Row tweeds as you are a septuagenarian in leather joggers and Y-3s. If you're male, in your 60s, and Japanese, it appears you've got carte blanche to wear whatever the heck you like and still be papped by the hypebeasts at High Snobiety.

Nick Wooster, Instagram star and arguably the most stylish man on earth, is an exemplar of this. At 55, he's no qualm about sporting his signature salt-and-pepper coif and tattoo sleeves. Whereas women over 40 rarely get away with an abbreviated hemline, men who wear tailored shorts with a neat turn-up are hailed sartorial superstars. As Wooster says, "not everyone aspires to be younger."

The menswear industry imbues growing older with dandifying and distinguishing one's wardrobe. A whole host of mature-aged men, from The Sartorialist's Scott Schuman, to Tom Ford, to Premier League coach Pep Guardiola, has earned their stripes as style setters. Every one of Mr. Porter's style icons are over 30 ­– and most are in their 50s and 60s.  Yohji Yamamato remains one of the coolest dudes in the biz and he's 70-plus. Whereas men are noticeably less constrained by age-related sartorial rules, women have had to contend with diktats on age appropriateness for years.

And it makes no sense. An aging population means the over-60 set is potentially the biggest and most diverse market for luxury fashion, so why would brands alienate half their audience? The high contingent of mature-aged women appearing in campaigns – from Kim Gordon for Saint Laurent to Catherine Deneuve for Louis Vuitton – has certainly set a positive tone, but it's hard not to take it without a hint of scepticism.

Championing age diversity, without the fuss, is key to brands broadening their appeal, cornering an older clientele and imagining a new take on 'aspirational' for younger consumers to lap up and buy into. For men and women, not only is there fashion life after 40 … it gets better