adv-06 adv-06

Ageism in Fashion Media: A pilot study to understand the prevailing research gap


Katie Gill and Abu Sadat Muhammad Sayem*

Manchester Fashion Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK


1.0 Introduction

The World Health Organisation (WHO) concurs that ageism is the most normalised of all prejudices and seldom challenged in the same manner as racism or sexism (WHO, 2020). Normalised is contextualised to refer to discriminatory practices seen in employment and health services for older members of society. McGuire et al. (2007) suggest that ageism is normalised through the evidence of invisibility of the older viewpoint within society; typically found within practices which seem less obvious at excluding the cohort. It could also be assumed that ageism is further accepted as normal by the cohort potentially having the inability to challenge due to their assumed unfamiliarity with technology or political power. This evidence backs the reasoning for further understanding if institutional ageism is seen in fashion media and the corresponding effects it has on purchasing decisions. This research project investigates the link between age representation in fashion media and the corresponding effect it has for female consumers’ purchase intentions.

2.0 Literature Review

Contemporary literature on ageism in society; the grey market and age representation in fashion was reviewed to establish a link between society, economy and emotion to understand whether ageism is an issue that needs more attention in the fashion arena. Carrigan (1998) theorises the grey market as the cohort of 50 plus consumers who differ from their predecessors with their spending habits. The grey market seemingly disengages from the normative expectation to socially withdraw following retirement – continuing to engage in social activities and spend more on personal life. This cohort is continually analysed throughout the review to contextualise the view of spending from an older consumer.

2.1 Ageism in Society

Hirsch (2020) and Twigg (2013) suggest a clear link between age discrimination seen in professional industries and negative perceptions of self-worth because of ageing. Their research specifically investigates the scrutiny of women in media publications, evidencing the natural result of ageing of physical appearance to set doubt in employers and colleagues in the ability of such women. This institutionalised ageism can seemingly absorb many aspects of life for the ageing population – leading women specifically to losing power within their professional life (Twigg, 2013). Lewis et al. (2009) suggest that naturally ageing processes can be directly linked with negative perceptions of body image. As a result of fashion media prevalence, natural changes occurring in women with age are considered as negative attributes due to their omission from media, such as grey hair or wrinkles. This literature creates a direct link of negative self-perception occurring directly from a lack of representation in media. If ageing women are exiled from media, consumers will see little reason to believe their bodies are deemed acceptable.

2.2 The Grey Market

Jones (2015) suggests that the grey market demonstrates enhanced consumer spending with a comparable lack of targeted media from fashion. By failing to appeal to this consumer group; brands could be inappropriately targeting the wrong consumer demographic who have spending habits to quantify likewise attention from fashion media. Whilst the SunLife (2020) study has provided a foundation of research into representation of the older consumer – it has further developed gaps in the understanding of when misrepresentation of women in fashion begins. Given that the research primarily focuses on the over 50s population, study needs to be focused on the evidence to suggest this and whether misrepresentation begins earlier.

2.3 Age Representation in Fashion

Arnett’s (2020) research suggests that at present, older models are seen to be used as publicity stunts or marketing tactics. Such media stunts rarely develop into meaningful changes in the inequality the modelling industry faces. Contrastingly, Wash (2020) stresses the commercial viability of an older model due to their consumer relatability. This implies a disjunction between marketing which the consumer wants to see yet is not provided with. The review however draws attention to brands which have succeeded organically using age representation. Codinha (2015) investigates fashion luxury brand, Celine, casting Joan Didion within their marketing to project the sophistication of the brand. Radiating emotions of creativity and recalcitrance, the American writer was reflective and relatable to the Celine customer.

2.4 Literature Review Summary

In summary, the literature review has developed key holes in the current analysis of the connection between ageism and fashion. Whilst studies such as ones performed by Chang et al. (2020) and SunLife (2020) provide integral quantitative data into both the prominence of ageism and the misrepresentation of women in fashion media – literature has been difficult to obtain detailing whether ageism has a further implication on purchasing habits. It can be seen through brands such as JD Williams (2020) that age representation has an uplift on consumer spending choices but would be beneficial to understand this on a larger industry scale. A further area of study would focus on understanding whether ageism starts at 50 like much of the literature harmonises. Another development of research would focus on whether ageism effects the way consumers spend. Both identified topics must be considered to effectively expand the debate surrounding ageism in fashion.

3.0 Methodology

A survey was conducted to assess the significance of ageism in fashion media and the corresponding effects it has on the purchasing power of consumers. The survey was conducted through Google Forms and completed by 100 participants (Women over 35 years old. In addition, an ethics application was completed to ensure ethical consideration of the research.

4.0 Results

This research focused on the impact ageism has on purchasing decision to dig deep into the economic impact ageism can have on brands who are not perceived as age inclusive. Figure 1 represents to what extent participants agree they felt represented based on where they shop. Figure 2 shows the brand categories the participants feel excluded from shopping with.

Figure 1: To what extent participants agree they felt represented based on where they shop



Figure 2: The brand categories participants feel excluded from shopping with

Key takeaway points highlight the importance of age representative models leading to 86% of participants agreeing to being more likely to purchase from brands using models representative of their age. This key finding harmonises with the work of Walsh (2020) – supporting the notion of consumer demanded age representation due to commercial relatability to the consumer. Building on these findings, there is clear recognition that the majority of participants feel under-represented by fashion media. This signals a clear disconnect which was further developed in research by Jones (2015), suggesting that the way brands speak to consumers may be causing a lost opportunity on a financial basis through a lack of targeted age representation.

5.0 Recommendations & Reflections

5.1 For fashion brands

For fashion brands hoping to use this research findings, there are key takeaways which justify the reasoning to include age inclusive media in marketing to consumers. There is a strong correlation between consumers highlighting they would be more drawn to brands who used inclusive models and the fashion media they engage with. This is a clear indication that consumers of nearly all ages demand age representation to be demonstrated in online shopping media to cause a direct uplift in their engagement with the brand, potentially even increasing the potential to purchase. Fashion brands can further use data obtained throughout the report when understanding how their brand potentially excludes consumers and ways this could be avoided. Throughout the questionnaire, some participants provided detailed insights into how store environment and imagery may be inadvertently excluding potential consumers. Using this work as an example, using age representative models in store environments would draw an inviting approach to those who feel less comfortable.

5.2 For further research

For further research into the impact of ageism in fashion media, in particular by students, there are areas to consider as a result of the experience gained from this study. One of the most intriguing outcomes of the study related to finding that ageism is not only subject to women over 50. As demonstrated by the research, the under 50s category continually felt excluded from parts of retail, or not represented truly. Further research should be undertaken to investigate this, perhaps by undertaking research into a wider demographic, or even expanding to investigate the impact of ageism for men. Despite providing conclusive results, the study has two key reflections which would be useful to improve upon for further study. Firstly, as deduced throughout the results section, whilst the study was effective, it could have been further enhanced to include the disposable income capacity of respondents to give a focused insight into spending power. Secondly, in this study, some of the most valuable analysis was gained from qualitative opportunities participants could provide. In further research this question style would be more prominent throughout the report as this provided key valuable data. Perhaps further research would exploit another research method, perhaps a series of interviews to dig deeper into the prominence of ageism in fashion media.

6.0 Conclusion

In conclusion there is strong a case for understanding how ageism in fashion media can influence purchasing decisions but also a lack of research into the area at present. The research presented is for the first time has investigated the link between fashion media age representation and purchasing decisions. It has demonstrated the true demand for age representation in fashion media, but also the willingness of consumers to engage in fashion should age representation occur. This study has provided key measurable data which can be used by fashion brands to target their representative fashion media to increase their demographic. Not only could this data be useful for expanding target demographics but could also be useful for current brands looking to target ages used in this study to further better their provision. Further investigation into ageism in fashion media would increase visibility of normalised ageism and provide a more inclusive marketplace for consumers.

7.0 References

Arnett, G. (2020) Despite push for age diversity, young models still rule the runway. Vogue Business. [Online] [Accessed on 17th January 2021]

Carrigan, M. (1998) ‘Segmenting the grey market: the case for fifty‐plus life-groups’, Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, 4(2) pp. 43-56

Chang, E-S., Kannoth, S., Levy, S., Wang, S-Y., Lee, J E., Levy, B R. (2020) ‘Global reach of ageism on older persons’ health: A systematic review’ PLoS ONE, 15(1)

Codinha, A. (2015) Celine Unveils Its Latest Poster Girl: Joan Didion. Vogue. [Online] [Accessed on 22nd January 2021]

Hirsch, A. (2020) As a female broadcaster, I know how ‘looksim’ holds women back. The Guardian. [Online]  [Accessed on 16th January 2021]

JD Williams (2019) Meet The Stars of Our ‘We See You!’ Campaign With You Magazine. JD Wil- liams. [Online] see-you-campaign  [Accessed on 2nd February 2021]

Jones, H. (2015) The economics of retirement: the power of pensioner spending. The Guardian. [Online]  [Accessed on 13th January 2021]

Lewis, D. C., Medvedev, K., Seponski, D. M. (2009) ‘Awakening to the desires of older women: Deconstructing ageism within fashion magazines’ Journal of Aging Studies, 25 pp. 101-109

McGuire, S L., Klein, D A., Couper, D. (2007) ‘Aging Education: A National Imperative’ Education- al Gerontology, 31(6) pp. 443-460

SunLife (2020) Retiring Ageism. SunLife. [Online] https://www. [Accessed on18th January 2021]

Twigg, J. (2013) Fashion and Age: Dress, the Body and Later Life. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Walsh, A. (2020) Is the fashion industry ageist? That’s Not My Age. [Online], [Accessed on 12th January 2021]

WHO(2020) Ageing: Ageism. World Health Organisation. [Online] [Accessed on 5th February 2021]