''How I look is to do with my identity, and the fun of it, it's nothing to do with looking younger': Articulating style and ageing femininities in Fabulous Fashionistas'
In September 2013 the TV pages of the UK press went into something of a tailspin following Channel 4’s broadcast of ‘Fabulous Fashionistas’ on Cutting Edge. The film followed the stories of six women, with an average age of 80, who had rejected the cultural imperative to relinquish their interest in style and sartorial pleasure as they aged, to instead continue to pursue distinctive wardrobes and the gratifications of clothes shopping. Evidently this account of ageing women refusing to disappear into the background struck a major cultural chord, and the very fact of a group of women at this time in their lives being given a dedicated show on national TV was widely noted as striking, memorable, unfamiliar television.
In this paper I will examine the reception and significance of Fabulous Fashionistas, drawing on analysis of the film itself, its UK media coverage, and original interviews with director Sue Bourne and two of the film’s subjects, Sue Kreitzman and Bridget Sojourner. Many of the film’s ‘stars’ bear witness to the uncommon experience of becoming recognised ‘public figures’ as older women; that is, at precisely the time in their lives that women are expected to forego their (already delimited) voice and any claim to being a subject of interest in the public world. I examine the powerful tension at stake here, in that it is precisely by continuing to abide by the standard script of femininity in some respects (cf a devotion to one’s appearance), particularly within the contemporary postfeminist zeitgeist, that they gained their ‘15 minutes’. Yet they did this so energetically and thoughtfully that they have come to fulfil an activist function, in which Kreitzman’s adage - ‘Don’t wear beige: it might kill you’ - has become a pithy rallying call for ageing women to resist the pressure to fade into invisibility. Finally, I ask too, what are some of the challenges for academics trying to speak to/for the experiences of older women by analysing such texts, while simultaneously advocating for the need to give greater public recognition to the voices of older women themselves.
Deborah Jermyn is a Reader in Film and Television in the Department of Media, Culture and Language at the University of Roehampton, and Co-Director of the Centre for Research in Film and Audiovisual Cultures.