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Jane Caro: How 50 got suddenly fashionable.

When I was young (approximately a million years ago) 50-year-old women were old and sad. About the only time they appeared in the media was as the butt of mother-in-law jokes. You remember them? Some male comedian (often knocking on the door of five decades himself) would bring down the house by saying “Take my mother-in-law….no, really, take her…I’ll pay you….”

Hilarious!

Well, whatever happened to mother-in-law jokes? They were everywhere when I was young. They were the staple fare of male comedians and virtually all comedians were male then except Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. Then those jokes just disappeared. One day they were thigh slapping, the next day anyone telling mother-in-law jokes suddenly revealed themselves as a relic, a man past his use-by (poetic justice, when you think about it). Nothing dates quite as rapidly as old jokes.

Post menopausal women had always been old jokes … until suddenly they weren’t.

So what happened? Why is it now not just acceptable but fashionable to be female and 50?

Partly it is the way the Baby Boomers change everything as they move through the decades of their life (I was born in 1957 so I am a tail-end Boomer). When they were young in the ’60s and ’70s, the western world experienced what was called a “youthquake”.

You can see the change just by comparing the fashions of 1963 and 1967.

1963:

1967:

In 1963, you couldn't tell whether a woman was 15 or 40. They all dressed in middle-age appropriate gear; twinsets, pearls, little hats, gloves, low heels & demure knee length skirts. By 1967 fashion was designed to flatter the young. Skirts skyrocketed to upper thigh the better to display lithesome young legs. Hair was long, straight & uncoiffed. Make-up created a Bambi-like appeal; large, exaggerated eyes and pale lips. Curves were out and the gangly adolescent shape of Twiggy was in. Older women either had to look silly, or give up on fashion altogether.

The boomers have changed more than clothing as they moved through life. As boomer women left education and wanted opportunity in the workplace in the '70s, feminism (then called Women's Lib) roared back into life. The '80s with their power suits and big hair were all about dressing for success. And so on through the decades. As Boomer women had children, feminism went a little quiet, but it has come back louder than ever before now those kids have grown and left home.

Boomer women have no intention of fading gracefully into the background as their mothers & grandmothers did. And why should they? Men over 50 never have. Older men have always dominated the powerful positions in society. Older women, while still not as prominent at board meetings, cabinet tables or front benches as their male peers, are nevertheless insisting on their right to fully participate in life. This determination by Boomer women to remain at the centre of their own lives may irritate some, but it is proving impossible to resist.

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First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama and First Lady of Daytime TV, Ellen Degeneres are both over 50. Image via @ellendegeneres.

Thanks to those battles they fought in the '70s, Boomers are the first generation in history where the majority of women earned their own money for most of their lives. Their mothers were much more likely to rely on the generosity (or not) of a man allowing them to keep a little of the 'housekeeping' to spend on themselves. But when the pay packet is in your name, you can spend it as you choose and that gives you real power. This ability to spend our own money on ourselves, combined with the extra time we have now our children have grown, has super-charged this generation of consistently revolutionary women.

Not to mention, of course, the huge surge of energy that comes from not getting periods anymore. You have to be a woman over 50 to understand just how much headspace is liberated when your body stops being a life support system for other human beings. We recover some of the freedom and energy we last had when we were nine. Once, older women poured their excess capacity into their grandchildren. Now, we are putting it into ourselves. This energy is very seductive.

Social media has also played its part in changing the way women over 50 are perceived. No-one knows how old you are in cyberspace. If your voice, your opinion, your wit and your comments resonate, you get an audience and followers and with them comes a new kind of power.

Women of all ages have taken to social media with gusto. It has given them unmediated access to the public conversation for the very first time. Their voices, their experiences, their concerns cannot be trivialised, shut down and dismissed the way they used to be and advertisers and media proprietors are scrambling to catch up. Look at the number of on-line publications aimed at women, including older women and how successful they are. It's as if a cork has suddenly come out of a bottle and social media has unlocked an audience (and a market) that no-one (aka no blokes) had ever noticed before. It's as if the blokes thought that if they weren't interested in older women, no-one else would be.

What they forgot, of course, is that just like all human beings, older women are very interested in themselves.

Jane Caro.

The more fortunate of us have money, time, energy and we are healthy and fit. We know what we like and we know what we want. We have found our voice and it's loud, insistent and sometimes angry but it is also witty, funny and wise. We have changed the world forever throughout our lives and we have no intention of stopping now.

No wonder we're fashionable.

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