Fashion has long valued youth above all, despite evidence that most of its customers – certainly those who can afford designer labels – are well beyond their first score of years.
But there are signs that the tide is turning as the over-50s demand to see themselves represented and celebrated, encouraged by the rise of 50-plus social media influencers who showcase their selfies alongside the teens and 20-somethings, finding an audience that welcomes their authenticity.
Designer labels including Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Preen, Celine and Saint Laurent have all recently included older women in their campaigns or on the runway.
Let us not get carried away – there are still very few over-50 top fashion models, but there is progress as the industry wakes up to the fact that shoppers come in all ages (and sizes). This is how three Yorkshire models got their big break...
Julie Lowery lives in Sheffield and is in her early fifties. A full-time fashion and lifestyle model, she has featured in campaigns for Wella Hair, Harley Davidson Apparel, Boots No, Oil of Olay and Kaleidoscope. Previously, she worked as a veterinary nurse, travel courier and beauty therapist, and was a volunteer special police constable.
“My modelling career began, rather unusually, at the age of 32. Friends had encouraged me but I lacked confidence. As I entered my thirties, I began to grow into myself.
“I sent over a couple of snaps to Boss Model Management. They asked me to an interview and took me on their books that day.
“I did shoots for Marks & Spencer’s magazines, Littlewoods, QE2 cruises, Hotter Shoes and many household names. When I reached 40, my career went up a notch. I worked on worldwide campaigns for Wella Hair and Harley Davidson, one of my favourites, travelling to the US to shoot biking clothes in Death Valley.
“I modelled for FHM magazine at 45. My body image has always been fairly balanced. However, I saw myself as a larger model (size 10/12) and felt the intimidating pressure to be thinner on many occasions. Sometimes the criticism and rejection from agencies and potential clients based purely on your size can bring you to tears and it takes guts to wipe away the hurt and crack on with the next shoot. I learned that you cannot be everything to everybody and you must own your own look to embrace and use to your advantage.
“To start a career as a model I recommend looking at the British Fashion Model Agents Association, www.bfma.fashion. Having a great agent to guide you and push you to clients is still a fantastic way to begin and grow a career.
“Be prepared to make sacrifices, travelling thousands of miles a year alone, sleeping in hotels, carrying heavy bags, doing your own hair and make-up, smiling when you’re exhausted. Have positive energy and be reliable, likable, keen - all while looking great. It’s worth it.”
Julie is represented by MOT Models, www.motmodel.com, 01442 863918
Deborah Hirzel, 51, from York, has been married for 29 years and has three children. She lived in California for 13 years, and worked as a dental assistant. She has modelled for Klass Clothing, Mappin & Webb and Visit England, and is the current Classic Miss British Isles.
“Although modelling was suggested to me in my teens and 20s, it wasn’t something I really considered until it unexpectedly happened in my mid 40s.
“In 2013 I was a semi-finalist in Specsavers Spectacle Wearer of the Year which led to a shoot in York. I loved being in front of the camera. A friend asked me to model in a charity fashion show. I got involved with She Loves York. This led to signing with an agency and I started modelling at designer fashion shows.
“In 2016, I got my first commercial advertising job for Nestle After Eight. It remains very special to me. When the kids were amused to see a large image of their mum in the supermarket, I thought, wow, can I call myself a professional model now? I was 47.
“As I approached 50 I signed with more agencies and started getting more work. No two jobs are the same. I have dressed up as a postal worker, bartender, waitress, played a mum, a daughter, a care worker and a patient. I have worked in TV dramas including Victoria, Gentleman Jack and Downton Abbey, National Treasure, Strike and Emmerdale. Last year I was scouted for a national beauty competition. I am the first ever Classic Miss British Isles (45+).
“I consider modelling a full time job now. There is a lot of rejection in this industry. I don’t think I could have handled that when I was younger but it really doesn’t bother me now. I am what I am.
“My advice for anyone wanting to be a model would be to get a good agent. Be prepared to work really hard. People think it is a glamorous job and it can be, but alongside are very long days, lots of travelling, early starts and last minute bookings requiring you to change all your plans. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Deborah is represented by Face Model Agency in Leeds on 0113 245 8667 or email: [email protected]
Born in Castleford, Annie Stirk, 70, lives in Brandsby, North Yorkshire, and has been married for 48 years to Ken. They have two grown-up children. She was a TV food stylist and presenter before running her own food PR business. She has modelled for York Fashion Week, Copper & White and Meatless Farm.
“I retired at 67. I realised I missed the creative buzz. I spotted an advert on Facebook - models wanted, no experience required, send a photo. We had recently been to a Gatsby night in York where we had to dress the part. I took the obligatory selfie. It seemed to hit the spot, amazingly securing me a place on a photo session at a studio in Leeds. I took along three different outfits, did my own hair and make-up and ended up with my very first portfolio of shots. The agency gave me lots of start-up tips and I had access to upcoming modelling opportunities. The team at Hearts Boutique in Easingwold saw the photos and invited me to do some modelling. I absolutely loved it and was hooked. Fashion and fun – a seductive combination.
“As a late starter it’s a combination of keeping your eyes and ears open and doing research to find an agency which would represent a mature silver model. I also source my own work and via photographers Andrea Denniss at Pink Lily Photography and Stevie Cockram at Brussels Street Studio Leeds.
“The big one for me this year is the Leeds-based Meatless Farm campaign. It’s a light-hearted and fun national advertising campaign. I am appearing as my alter ego Granny Annie on billboards across the UK.
“When you are new to the business and naïve, beware of being taken in by organisations which tout themselves as agencies but are really just shop windows. A proper model agency will not ask you for any money upfront.
There is a huge market out there for using mature models and I am keen to see more brands, products and services being brave enough to profile 50, 60 and 70-plus women in their advertising. Real consumers want to see real people.”
Annie is represented by Julia at Stanley’s Model Managementin Derby and Alan Sharman in Birmingham.