They are the ‘Instagrans’, women over 60 who are using the platform to bust the notion of ‘old is boring’
Photographed with a hip thrust forward to show off her Margiela apron dress and modishly frayed jeans, Lyn Slater projects a kind of swagger pretty rare among her peers. A professor at the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University, with hyper-chic side gigs as a model and blogger, she is known to a wider public as an Instagram idol.
Sure, she is 64, a time when some women her age are feeling pressed to close up shop. But if you are Slater, that is not going to happen.
On Accidental Icon, her influential Instagram account, she tends to vamp in an eye-catching mashup of designer clothes and consignment store finds. Her following, hundreds of thousands strong, skews young, she said, and is responsive to her sass.
“I flaunt it,” she said. “I’m not 20. I don’t want to be 20, but I’m really cool. That’s what I think about when I’m posting a photo.”
She is not alone, There is a whole chorus of like-minded contemporaries and women in their 70s and 80s, who are taking on matters of aging with an audacity – and riveting style – their mothers might have envied.
Married or single, working or not, and most often grandmothers, these women are asserting their presence on Instagram, intent, in the process, on subverting shopworn notions of what “old” looks and feels like.
“These women are ambassadors of age,” said Ari Seth Cohen, the creator of Advanced Style, a popular street style blog, two books and a film documenting, in his words, the “fashion and wisdom of the senior set.”
“The idea of what these older women look like has changed,” Cohen said. “If they were stylish in their youth, they will still be stylish now. They continue to be who they were.”
Posting on Instagram reinforces a sense of solidarity that may have been missing elsewhere in their lives. “Some of these women don’t live in big cities. For them, Instagram can lead to long-distance friendships, real-life encounters, dinner parties and other events that combat isolation and foster a sense of community,” said Cohen.
That online community encompasses a surprisingly youthful contingent. On Instagram, many of Slater’s followers range in age from 25-35. “Young people don’t seem to have the same bias that older people do,” she said. “They don’t like categories – they deconstruct all these historical groupings like gender. That’s why some of them identify with my posts. The people who support me, follow me, hire me – they’re all young.”
In an apparently more hospitable climate, designers and advertisers have begun to acknowledge a more mature market, pushing a concept of inclusion to extend not just to race and ethnicity but also to age. Maye Musk, 70, models for Concept Korea and is featured in Harper’s Bazaar; Yasmin Le Bon, in her 50s, strikes poses for Armani; and at 65, Isabella Rossellini has returned as a face of Lancome, the beauty brand that dropped her 20 years earlier.
Slater was quick to monetise her account. The Spanish retailer Mango hired her for a 2017 campaign, “A Story of Uniqueness.” She recently appeared in a commercial for a pharmacy, which uses unretouched models of varying ages. She is featured in a music video with Charlotte Gainsbourg and has been approached by several literary agents to turn her posts into a book.
But Slater does not want to be ‘colonised’ exclusively with women her age. “Every woman should be able to open a magazine and see herself there as part of a mix,” she said.
On her account, Silver Is the New Blonde, Jan Correll, 60, a consultant in technology sales, has attracted an assortment of labels, including a lingerie line. “Marketers know that women my age have the money to spend,” she said.
She added: “I decided to use social media as my platform, my little piece of real estate, my outlet for talking about this point in my life where I can do what I want.”
Privacy is a concern as well. “Men reach out all the time,” said Correll, who has been married for 43 years and is a grandmother of four. “Sometimes it scares me. I’m constantly deleting their posts.”
Adams, 63, who turned to Instagram to show off the jewellery she sells, makes no references in her posts to her gray hair. “I don’t feel as if I’m trying to play the old card,” she said. She would rather be judged on the particulars.
“I was a punk and before that I was a hippie. Now I’ve merged the two cultures. I’m part of the Germaine Greer generation. But in the world of social media, I’m simply lumped with all the over-60s.”
“We are not going to be little old ladies sitting in a nursing home with blue-rinsed hair,” said Jenny Kee, @Jennykeeoz, a 71-year-old Australian artist and knitwear designer. “Or if we are going to be in a nursing home, we’ll be there with our health foods and our great sense of style.”
Kee ascribes the enthusiasm of girls in their teens and women in their early 20s to a wish-I’d-been-there mentality. Among her special champions, she said, is her 13-year-old granddaughter, an ardent fan of ‘60s rock, especially the Beatles. “We lived in extraordinary times,” Kee said of the period when she came of age.
“These girls know that, they know what we lived through. They envy us.”
On her Instagram account, Kee has joined forces with Romance Was Born, a label led by a team of designers in their early 30s. “I am their guru and mentor,” she said. Together they will present a collection during the couture shows in Paris in July.
The Elastic Generation: “Age no longer dictates the way we live”
The observation that young girls have an open appreciation of the older women and their values is echoed in the Elastic Generation, a 2018 J. Walter Thomson survey of 55- to 72-year-old women in England. “Our collective understanding of what later life looks like remains woefully outdated,” Marie Stafford, the European director of the JWT Innovation Group, wrote in her introduction. “Age no longer dictates the way we live. Physical capacity, financial circumstances and mindset arguably have far greater influence.”
A woman in her 50s, then, “might be a grandmother or a new mother,” the study goes on to say. “She might be an entrepreneur, a wild motorcyclist or a multi-marathon runner. Her lifestyle is not governed by her age but by her values and the things she cares about.”
According to the Elastic Generation study, women over 50 are still greatly underrepresented in proportion to their spending power.
Also overlooked is their social media savvy. Eschewing stereotypes, 73 per cent of the Elastic Generation participants “hate the way their generation is patronised when it comes to technology,” the report says. Six out of 10 say they find tech “fascinating,” according to the report, and many of those may actually be more competent using tech than their younger counterparts.
What’s more, they have a demonstrable earning capacity, many working well into their 60s and 70s, others reinventing themselves to embrace new forms of entrepreneurship.