The Age Game

February 12th, 2017

Is age just a number?

For years, I believed it was. Let’s call it the naivety of youth. I can’t count the number of times I have told women, “You’re only as old as you feel,” or “Dress for the woman you are, not for your age.”

I’m not saying I was wrong, but perhaps it’s a bit more complicated than that.

As with all things in life, age seems to live in a gray area. We talk about ageism as fact but, truth be told, how many of us have actually experienced it? I work in an industry where I am learning more and more that age is more than a number. Models, for example, are considered past their prime by the time they reach 25. (Too bad the ADEA only forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older.)

Fashion has always embraced youth. And why wouldn’t it? Teens and 20-somethings are cool and vibrant — and often with a bit less body fat than their 30 and 40-something counterparts. (Hence the thigh gap phenomenon).

If you think my model example is extreme, consider this: The fact that more than 20 models over the age of 30 walked the runways during the S/S 2015 runway season actually warranted an article about it in New York Times magazine. (Over 30? The horror!)

I’ve been in this industry since my early 20s, and have held a range of positions from fashion editor to stylist, personal shopper and beyond. But as someone who works everyday to stay successful in an age-obsessed field, sometimes you have to wonder if it’s a losing battle. Over the past few years, I’ve seen my seat at New York Fashion Week move further from the runway to make room for a young crop of fresh-faced bloggers (many of whom possess little more than a well-heeled closet, an opinion and an arsenal of photo editing tools.) And, over the past few months, I’ve seen a bevy of fashion opportunities go to younger fashionistas; the same opportunities that used to flood my Inbox.

While no one ever comes out and tells you the reason, it’s clear to me, “We’ve decided to move in another direction” is the career version of “It’s not you, it’s me.” And like the sting you feel when you see your ex wining and dining a younger version of you, it’s a similar pain to see other fashion gals awarded the opportunities that used to be yours.

Don’t get me wrong — many of these bloggers are phenomenal. I love to learn and grow as an artist, and being inspired by those just entering the industry with a fresh outlook is a great way to do that. But everyday, as I get better, I am also a day older. And with age comes wisdom … and sometimes disappointment.

Younger fashionistas often ask for my advice about succeeding in the fashion arena. I always tell them a few things: Keep your skin thick, cherish your relationships, be kind to others and learn to diversify. Diversification is key. I have cultivated a unique career that encompasses more positions than the Kama Sutra — and for that, I am able to stay relevant in the fashion world.

There’s no doubt surviving in this industry is a challenge. But like a bruised and battered Russell Crow in “Gladiator,” I have chosen to fight. Why? Because I’m good at what I do and I love what I do. I also believe women become even more beautiful as they age — no matter what our new “president” may think.

I know that I am more than my wrinkles and my non-existent thigh gap. And even though every year will bring a new battle, I will keep fighting for my place in this industry because it’s worth it.

I fully expect to be pushed aside for the next new thing. And that’s OK. That’s just human nature. But it’s also in our nature to overcome, and be thankful anytime we can make a career doing something we love.

And for that, I feel blessed everyday. Opportunities with fashion industry pros like Bon-Ton, Adrianna Papell and Milwaukee’s-own Wantable have breathed new life into my career as I approach 40. And for that, I am thankful. Age may be more than a number, but it’s up to each one of us to embrace it, celebrate it and rock life — wrinkles and all.

Now if I can just find a 20-something to teach me the finer points of Facetune …

(Photo by Matthew Haas Photography)

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