As far as red carpets go, this has been an outstanding week for (famous, wealthy) women over 50. And it’s only Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, Demi Moore, 61, Calista Flockhart, 59, Naomi Watts (55, and recently married to Billy Crudup) and Diane Lane, 59, staged a coordinated media takeover when they stepped onto the red carpet at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for the premiere of Feud, a retelling of Truman Capote’s scratchy relationship with the group of 1960s socialites he called The Swans. As a tribute to Capote’s famous 1966 Black and White Ball, they all dressed head to toe in monochrome. Widespread attention assured.
Is it a coincidence that this display of sophisticated glamour occurred in the same week that Nicole Kidman wore a slashed and scooped Versace dress reminiscent of (although if anything, more revealing than) the Versace safety pin number that a 29-year-old Liz Hurley wore to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994?
The same week too, in which we’ve seen repeated sightings of 76-year-old Glenn Close, weaving her way from one front row seat to another at the Paris couture shows. On Monday it was Dior, where she was a guest of honour alongside Kristin Scott Thomas, 63, the latter looking more regal, in black velvet, than many reigning queens. On Tuesday, Close was at Armani Privé, where she was joined by 51-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow.
A demographic that has so often been shunted to one side as they mature has been anything but invisible. You might almost assume that so many sightings within a few days are not a coincidence but rather a potent gathering of steam.
And you might have a point. Where there used to be an obvious dwindling of roles for actresses over 40, there is now a much juicier supply. Feud: Capote vs. The Swans has been created for the streaming service FX by Ryan Murphy, a showrunner renowned for salacious dramas that provide rich psychological pickings for actresses of experience. Scott Thomas, meanwhile, seems to have been having the time of her life in Apple TV’s globally acclaimed Slow Horses, in which she plays a senior MI5 spook.
Where there are older actresses, there must be clothes to dress them in. Witness the many long-sleeved jackets in Armani’s Privé show. Jewelled, beaded and often in translucent nude or pastel chiffon or mesh, they twinkled seductively while providing the degree of coverage that Close favours.
No millennial himself (he is approaching his 90th birthday this year), designer Giorgio Armani remains one of the kings of red-carpet dressing. He dressed five big names at the Golden Globes alone, including Leonardo DiCaprio and relative youngsters Amanda Seyfried and Margot Robbie.
At Tuesday’s immensely long show, one can see why: there is something for everyone, from elegant, embroidered, semi-sheer floor-length evening coats that flutter over midnight blue satin trousers and tunics, to classic red-carpet fare like his strapless dresses, and far more revealing chiffon gowns with transparent, wispy, lace bodices.
Some of them were just as daring as the Versace approach, although they were on young models. The combination of Kidman’s dress and her age, inevitably, provoked debate, although it seems to be growing more tepid as we become used to preternaturally well-preserved older women clearly still at the height of their power.
Kidman is still something of an outlier here, with an unwrinkled complexion that has, over the years, inspired both admiration and ridicule for its perfection (she denies having any radical surgery done).
Clearly she doesn’t look or dress the way 56-year-old women did until recently, and that can feel unsettling and unreachable for anyone who doesn’t have access to luxury fashion designers who can sculpt a body with seemingly teeny, random wisps of fabric – let alone the cadre of beauty services required to maintain Kidman’s porcelain skin and physique.
But no question, she’s a bellwether for how standards are changing – a “serious” actress who also positions herself as a sex symbol. Close, another serious actress from a slightly earlier generation, had to fight not to reveal much skin when she starred in Fatal Attraction and Jagged Edge, two of the 1980s biggest erotic thrillers – because if she had, her seriousness would have evaporated. So far so different. But where Close is not so different from Kidman is in the lengths she has gone to preserve her good looks (and to showcase, by attending these fashion shows, that she is still stylish).
So this is what this week demonstrates: we celebrate older women provided they conform to certain expectations and are seen to be working hard to “look after themselves”. None of this necessarily improves the visibility of older women in other lines of work, but it is a gradual reset of sorts that’s bound to alter how we perceive ageing.
Meanwhile, back to clothes: at the Feud premiere, the dresses were grander and more structured than Kidman’s, more focused on accentuating toned curves than revealing naked flesh. As with Armani Privé, they prove there is more than one way to dress glamorously whatever your age.