Fashion's Very Senior Moment
It goes far beyond TikTok's Coastal Grandmother — but where's Hollywood?
When it comes to celebrities, fashion seems to be having a “senior moment.”
I started thinking about this last week. First, the Dame herself, Helen Mirren, was on the cover of People magazine, fronting their annual Beautiful Issue. “DON’T CALL IT BEAUTY, CALL IT SWAGGER! The stunning Oscar winner, 76, on defying expectations & making life a surprising adventure,” the coverline blared.
Over at Glamour, Jane Fonda, 84, graced the online cover of the now all-digital magazine, six decades after her first time fronting the publication when she was just an anonymous model in 1969. In the accompanying interview, she tells fellow actress Yara Shahidi, “If somebody had told me that, at almost 85 years old, I’d still be working as much as I am and feeling as good as I do, I wouldn’t have believed them. At that time in my life, I doubted I would live past 30. Just thinking about that filled me with hope. I didn’t give up. I kept going. I tried to get better. I did.”
Meanwhile across the pond, as they say, another Dame, Joan Collins, 88, joined Moschino designer Jeremy Scott for the book launch of his eponymous Assouline monograph Moschino alongside Olympic diver Tom Daley, 27.
Stateside, actress Jean Smart, 70, made her much anticipated turn starring in the second season of Hacks for HBO Max as down-on-her-luck Las Vegas comedian Deborah Vance who always has the last laugh.
Not to be outshone by the women, the Oscar-, Emmy-, BAFTA-, Olivier Award-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, 84, modeled pre-Fall 2022 styles for luxury brand Loewe’s latest ad campaign, also released last week — alongside a younger cohort that included Kaia Gerber, Josh O'Connor and HyunA. (And it wasn’t even his first time pitching fashion, he’s previously appeared in ads for Brioni and Prada.)
Mirren’s cover shot is a symphony of grays, with the star’s silvery hair slicked back, and she is attired in a gun metal mesh top by Lever Couture that swoops and swerves, looking like something from the Star Wars costume department. I guess it’s to emphasize her timeless appeal, but it kind of looks like she has darted in from another galaxy.
But, hey, she’s never been busier it seems, as the story reminds us that this year alone, she has four new projects — including The Duke, the Shazam! sequel, Golda and White Bird: A Wonder Story. And her comments about redefining “beauty” as “swagger” to be more inclusive strike the right note.
But asked what her reaction was when she heard about the cover, she predictably answers the question about her reaction to being chosen for the cover. “I was absolutely sort of gob-struck, as we say in England. And [at] my age! So, I was amazed.”
Why should she be amazed? Look, with a 55-year career to her credit and still going strong, she deserves the plaudits. But clearly, she’s an exception to the way Hollywood usually treats aging actresses.
Exhibit A: As the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media reported in a survey Women Over 50: The Right to be Seen on Screen, “Just 1 in 4 characters who are 50+ are women, a serious inequality in the representation of older adults in film and television. Moreover, 50+ women who are on-screen are commonly cast in supporting and minor roles and are less likely to be developed as characters in interesting ways.”
Collaborating with the NextFifty Initiative, an advocacy group for Americans 50 and over — who make up almost half the country’s population — the findings further revealed that adult characters in entertainment also rarely explore issues of race, LGBTQ status, disabilities and gender.
And, it goes on, they often fall into stereotypic “tropes,” including “The Sage” (a mentor to a younger character); “The Cranky Old Person” (grumpy and unwilling to change or adapt to the world around them); “Dirty Old Man/Woman” (an older man or woman who preys on younger characters but it is shown in a comedic way that makes it seem harmless); and “The Old Maid” (frequently surrounded by her cats or birds, of course).
Then there’s the “The Age Gap.”
In a convention as old as Hollywood itself, male leads were most frequently paired with romantic partners that are much younger. Look no further than golden age superstars like Audrey Hepburn (in her gamine 20’s, she was consigned to playing against Fred Astaire, 58, in Funny Face; Gary Cooper, 56, in Love in the Afternoon; Humphrey Bogart, 53, in Sabrina; and later in her early 30’s, with Rex Harrison, 56, in My Fair Lady.)
More recently, Maggie Gyllenhaal was told at age 37 in 2015 that she was “too old” to star opposite a 55-year-old leading man and Ben Affleck, 48, was cast opposite Ana de Armas, 32, in Deep Water. Though they also had an off-screen relationship, they eventually split up, reportedly over their plans for the future given the different places in their lives, the Hollywood age formula held fast onscreen.
Actresses are also often called on to play characters much older than their years, the classic examples being Sally Field playing Tom Hanks’ mother in Forrest Gump at age 47 despite being only 10 years older and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate despite being only six years older than Dustin Hoffmann. Or consider the more recent Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, where singer and actress Cher was cast as the mother of Meryl Streep, who is just four years younger.
Maybe that’s why the “Coastal Grandmother” needs a second look.
You’d have to be living under a rock — preferably a boulder smoothed by nearby ocean breezes and warming sun — to have not heard about the latest fashion trend that everyone seems to be writing about these days.
From CNN to the New York Post, and every even vaguely style-related publication, the pile-on seemed to peak last week, including: “The ‘Coastal Grandmother’ Rises in All Her White-Linen Glory” (WSJ); “What is the 'coastal grandmother' trend? Stylists Break it Down” (the Today show); and “It’s Looking Like a Coastal Grandmother Summer” (Fashionista).
Incredibly, it was a non-senior, TikTokker Lex Nicoleta, 26, who first coined the problematic phrase, kind of accidentally backing into what became a viral moment (the hashtag #coastalgrandmother has an astounding 28.9 million views on the platform) when she first described her own personal style as "somewhere between a character in The Matrix and a coastal grandmother."
Turns out nobody cared about the former, but everyone could identify with an deceptively sunny fashion statement. Now, Lex is internet famous as the Coastal Grandmother doyenne and quoted left and right in admiring articles while also offering umpteen follow-up TikToks expanding on the theme with titles like “The Coastal Grandmother Starter Kit” and “The Coastal Grandmother Kitchen.”
And she found it at the movies.
“Coastal grandmother is Martha Stewart-adjacent,” Lex explains in her seminal video. “Not fully Ina Garten. Think Nancy Meyers’ chic. It’s Diane Keaton and Something’s Got to Give. It’s Meryl Streep and It’s Complicated.”
(As it turned out, I found myself Martha Stewart-adjacent this week at the book party for author and NYFW founder Fern Mallis’ Fashion Icons 2, her designer interview follow-up, and Stewart, 80, was serving up full Coastal Grandmother with a glam twist, in a blindingly white couture-overshirt ensemble and sparkly fisherman’s knit sweater accessorized with gold platform sandals. She told me she thinks the fashion world, at least, doesn’t marginalize older women. Really? “That never would have occurred to me,” the cossetted lifestyle doyenne said. “If you’re in good shape you can wear anything.”)
But back to Lex. My first thought while watching the video was that the TikTokker’s own extravagantly streaked blonde hair, perfectly airbrushed foundation and heavily mascara’d winged eye makeup seemed somewhat at odds with the naturalistic style she was espousing which is based on linen separates, a white turtleneck sweater and a bucket hat pulled down around the ears, as Keaton donned in Something. But as Lex continued her spiel, I got the idea that maybe her appreciation for the look really wasn’t all about a simple day at the beach.
“It’s the Hamptons. It’s ‘my garden is bigger than your first apartment,’” Lex continued to proclaim, shaking her finger for emphasis. “It’s a light white sweater even though it’s the middle of summer and it’s a five-carat diamond ring passed down from your grandmother. THAT is the vibe.”
Alright, alright, alright, so she’s really wishing for some fancy real estate and a rock on her finger. Whether to the manor born or not, Lex is right in line with director Meyers’ own privileged vision spun in her movies, of wealthy white women in late middle age, divorced from the father of their children, caught in a surprise, and somewhat improbable romance that they never expected at that stage of their lives.
In her defining films of the ‘aughts, Meyers makes us believe in her fairy tales, however far-fetched. In Something (2003), Keaton somehow had to choose between Keanu Reeves at the peak of his movie-star good looks and Jack Nicholson at the peak of his essential, charmingly irascible “Jack-ness”, while in It’s Complicated (2009), Streep was pursued by both her ex, a studly and older Alec Baldwin, and her architect, the jokingly droll Steve Martin.
(Keaton and Meyers, by the way, have had a good laugh about all this.)
Both movies functioned as a fantasy of empowering wish-fulfillment and highly satisfying sex lives for post-menopausal women everywhere, financially independent, and played out against a backdrop of the most unerringly tasteful of homes and bounteous of gardens. And they made a lot of money for the filmmaker.
Meyers’ later-career success with her gauzy take on these life passages in her hit rom-coms came after splitting with her husband, Charles Shyer, also a director, whom she earlier collaborated with on golden ‘80s hits like Baby Boom and Father of the Bride. It will be interesting to see if Meyers varies the formula much in a just-announced ensemble comedy for Netflix that she is writing, producing and directing, her first film since The Intern in 2015 with Anne Hathaway (herself posing as a Coastal Grandmother on TikTok) and Robert De Niro.
It is true that some of the headlines extolling the Coastal Grandmother look have hinted at the less admirable aspects of the trend, or at least its name. Buzzfeed chimed in with, “TikTok Is Suddenly Obsessed with Living Like a Middle-Aged Divorcé.” Thud.
And in this era of an emphasis on diversity, I’ll bet InStyle was probably more than happy when the paps’ pics came in and they could trumpet someone other than a white lady with, “Jennifer Lopez Is the Latest Celebrity to Jump on the Coastal Grandmother Trend.”
Nonetheless, there is also something more than a little demeaning about automatically hanging the “grandmother” tag on women over 50. (Keaton was all of 57 when Something came out; Streep was barely 60 at the time of Complicated.) True, Keaton and Streep’s characters do become grandmothers over the course of the films, but that is hardly Meyers’ emphasis.
And Lex’s sneer at Ina Garten as not quite fitting into the category, even though the food star owns one of the lushest Hamptons spreads around and practically lives in button-downs, seems to imply that that Ina’s obvious enjoyment of the good life as reflected in her jolly size makes her verboten as a fashion influencer.
When I told a couple of people I was writing about the Coastal Grandmother, they asked me, what about her male counterpart? Who represents the Coastal Grandfather?
Some have hinted at Stanley Tucci as a candidate, but at only 61 with young children of his own he hardly seems ready for that moniker yet, even though he’s a professional foodie, as well as an actor with his CNN Searching for Italy food travelogue series, and displays an acute sartorial prowess including a penchant for neck scarves.
It’s even harder to imagine two other male stars hovering around age 60 being referenced as “fashion grandpa”. Something obvious in the abortion debate of the last few weeks is that women, more than anything, are often defined by their maternal status. Men and their paternity? Eh, not so much.
This week, mostly male reviewers have fallen all over each other extolling the on-screen virility of Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick. The star, who turns 60 in July, in his reprise as Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in the sequel to 1986's Top Gun, has been showered with plaudits like “rousing,” “barrier-breaking” and “exhilarating.” Similarly, over four seasons, Kevin Costner, now 67, has propelled Yellowstone as a massive hit for Paramount with his character’s, as The Guardian put it, “hard-nosed neo-Western ethic.”
Safe to say, there’s probably no creamy linen duds and days puttering around the garden in their futures.
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