Dress, masculinities and age

It is hard to think of a group further from ideas of fashion and dress than older men. In this study I want to explore if this is, indeed, the case. It is true that older men are largely disengaged from the discourses of fashion, which they perceive negatively as being associated with women and gay men – two groups against which hegemonic masculinity is constructed. But older men too have to get dressed on a daily basis, make choices how to present themselves to the social world, respond to cultural meanings around dress and identity, and in the ways that these intersect with age. In this study I want to explore how dress operates in the lives of older men, exploring day-to-day practices to see what these tell us about the changing experiences and valuations of age. 

This study is the third and last part of an exploration of the role of dress in the constitution of age. My first study focused on older women (55+) exploring how their experiences of age were articulated and resisted in clothing choices, published as Fashion and Age: Dress, the Body and Later Life. A second study looked at dementia and dress, showing how dress was relevant even for these frail elders. This final stage extends the analysis to older men (55+).

This research examines the potential role of consumption in reshaping the experience of later years. How far, and in what ways, are men drawn into new ways of performing age? What role does dress play in the negotiation of masculinities? Consumption culture presents both new opportunities and new demands, imposing new forms of governmentality. I aim to explore the tensions raised by these demands, that are familiar from work on women and anti-ageing, but less well explored in relation to men. 

My project will also analyse the views of the clothing industry. In the earlier study of women, I interviewed the design directors of a number of mainstream clothing retailers, exploring the ambivalences and barriers they faced in addressing the older market. In this study I plan to extend that analysis to men, exploring how dress is – perhaps – re-imagining and reshaping the ways in which age and masculinity are performed. In parallel work with my colleague Professor Shinobu Majima, using data from the UK Family Expenditure Survey, I will analyse changing patterns of clothes shopping over the period from the 1960s to today, exploring the way this market has evolved and the parallels and differences between men and women.

This work is part of a wider shift that is occurring in age studies, represented by the emergence of cultural gerontology. This represents the impact – somewhat belated – of the earlier cultural turn in the social sciences that has had the effect of widening the scope of age studies, both in terms of the range of its subject matter and the theoretical approaches that are applied to it. Topics like dress, with its connections to questions of identity, performance, governmentality and subjectivity, are part of this.

Professor Julia Twigg
University of Kent