Grey Hair Makes a Statement on the Runways (but what was it saying?)

Batsheva - Reactions and Aspirations

At New York Fashion Week, the 40-year-old designer Batsheva Hay made a point of only casting women over 40 for her fashion show. 

Batsheva explains her hiring choice to Allure “Since turning 40, I have felt a real shift in my place in the fashion world, which is so obsessed with youth, as well as in the way I like to dress.  I wanted to create an environment on my runway where aging and gray hair were out on display and where that was fun and cool and aspirational.”

The appearance of grey and silver-haired women, with exquisitely styled hair on the runway made an immediate impression spawning think-pieces from the likes of the New York Times, reactions on TikTok and empowering Instagram posts (#batsheva) celebrating the choice to promote the beauty of grown women as chic and fashionable.

This is a brilliantly fresh perspective on women’s beauty. That this show was presented by a female designer facing her own place in a youth-centric industry was evident. Women were presented as valuable, vital and aspirational.  

Dall’asen – Reflections and Questions

Nicola Dall’asen, a 29-year-old beauty editor penned one of the top viral articles about the Batsheva show for Allure, “Put More Gray Hair on the Runways You Cowards”. 

She offers an acerbic and insightful perspective on the complications of aging in the beauty and fashion world and reflects that, “the importance of positioning mature beauty as something to admire at this current moment in time” is not lost on her.

The show made an impression and ultimately, she asks, "Why is the fashion industry so afraid of letting naturally gray hair or faces with fine lines shine on runways?”

This represents the perspective from the next generation of women aging out of their 20s. They are realizing that there is a scarcity of real pro-age representation in fashion and beauty and are rightly questioning what that means.

JW Anderson – Nostalgia and Contrasts

Meanwhile in London, another almost-40-year-old designer JW Anderson was making his own fashion statement.  The clothing was artistic and bold and a grand success (we LOVED them!). His purposeful use of grey hair, however, was questionable.

This designer played with contrasts found in nostalgia and tropes using “The subtle and the loud. A grey wig as a device. And flats. Housewife flats. Grotesque everydayness, in grotesque distortions and proportions.”  He sees grey hair as part of the stereotyped uniform of the mid-life housewife.

Leaning on the gnarled, grey curly wigs as a contrasting ‘grotesque’ or comical device on the young, red-lipped models might have inadvertently served to dismiss the experience of actual modern adult women. 

Models were presented to artistically provoke saying: look at how strange this is - grey hair and bold beauty.  This parody felt off: offensive. This was not an aspirational presentation of silvers but more a signal that says we still have a ways to go.

These stereotypes are still how some people see silver and grey hair. This outdated point of view is presented to us - as it traditionally has been - through the male gaze and is supported by an industry often too male or too young to understand the real beauty in a woman's aging.

Importance of the Female Gaze

How aging women are represented matters to women

That's why as more older women take positions of influence in the beauty and fashion spaces, they are shifting the narrative around the visible signs of aging.

By showcasing the real beauty that comes with growing up, they know they can inspire the next generation of women and show them that they can be beautiful as they age.

We are in a time of change when it comes to representing older women, and beauty brands are struggling to get it right – on one hand including older models to be inclusive (a good start) but still positioning youth as the aspirational goal with anti-aging products on the shelves for younger and younger women or showcasing grey hair as a trope.

It’s contradictory and it’s complicated.  But does it have to be?

If the three points of view here illustrate anything, it's that the answer to getting the presentation of older women right - with tact and meaning - might be simpler than we think: let the grown-up women take the lead.


Wisdom. Is. Beautiful.

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