Far more than just bits of fabric we use to cover our bodies, the clothes we wear and the ways we combine them convey a great deal about our personal tastes, lifestyles, perspectives and values, not to mention our society’s broader cultural mores.
And, as many popular makeover shows on television have shown us, it’s possible to radically transform our views of ourselves simply by changing how we look on the outside. The thing is, it generally takes a third party to help us do this — someone with style expertise or a singular vision who can see us in ways we cannot see ourselves and shift our approach to style and beauty.
It’s logical that we would want our clothing purchases to make good economic sense and cast our bodies in the best possible light. But our clothing choices inevitably beg other questions: To what degree are we obscuring our true nature by following conventions and trends launched and reinforced by designers, manufacturers and retailers? And to what extent should we fall prey to society’s views that a well-worn body is one that should be covered up or made to live in decidedly unhip or dated garb?
At a certain point, we all begin asking ourselves if our clothes are making us look older or younger than we feel and if the ways we express our need for comfort make us seem stodgy or belie our vitality.
A Multigen Clothing Swap
In a gripping new photographic project called Spring-Autumn, Asian photographer Qozop prompts us to consider all these issues through juxtapositions of two images depicting a Millennial with a parent or grandparent.
The left-hand photo depicts a young Asian and an elder, each dressed in their own garb; the right-hand one shows them in the same pose wearing the other’s clothes. The fact that in Asia many elders still wear traditional garb throws the issues of age and its relationship to what we wear into stark relief.
“As an Asian society, our cultural beliefs are often reflected in our dressing,” says the photographer. “Fashion (other than wrinkles) is one of the best telltales of how old a person is, or what generation they hail from.”
Take a look at these images from the Spring-Autumn project.
In western cultures, the ‘telltales’ of age in clothing are perhaps more subtle than those in Asia. but they are still present. In a Huffington Post 50 piece entitled “10 Things You Do That Make You Look 10 Years Older,” half the items the writer warns of are fashion-related, from elastic waist pants to ‘comfort shoes.’ Next Avenue, too, has addressed the fashion concerns many 50+ readers have about their necks, upper arms, and feet.
One key point that Qozop wants to make with his project: “People should be able to wear what they want and have fun with clothes regardless of their age.” I couldn’t agree more.
Looking at his depictions of the veined bare legs of an elder wearing a younger relative’s shorts and sneakers or above-the-knee dress made me want to cheer out loud. Each generation has a great deal to teach the other about body acceptance and notions of ease and beauty.
“Some were so comfortable in their new getup that they joked that they wanted to remain in that attire for the rest of the day!” says the artist. Fortunately, we will likely see his project expand. He’s now soliciting new participants through his Facebook page.
But the messages of his images go far beyond matters of appearance and comfort; they also veer into more metaphorical terrain.
By asking the subjects to put themselves in a different generation’s shoes for a time, Qozop sparks empathy — in them and in us. Younger viewers can’t help but think about what it feels like to be older, to move through the world in an elder’s skin. Considering that we need to massively reshape our environment and create a host of products that can accommodate the changing needs of older age, this is an important and positive gesture.
More Accurate Older Age Suits
Still, we need to equip those in charge of implementing these changes with a far more accurate understanding of the physical limitations and burdens an aging body imposes. To that end, the MIT AgeLab, which was created to come up with practical solutions “that improve people’s health and enable them to ‘do things’ throughout the lifespan,” devised a special suit called AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System). It simulates the motor and visual flexibility, dexterity and strength of persons in their mid-70s. Professionals in a variety of fields wear the suit to gain an understanding of the physical challenges of aging before developing products and services that cater to them.
German designer Wolfgang Moll developed GERT, another age-simulation suit that various enterprises have been putting to use to refine their understanding of older-age impairments. Barclays Bank has used the suit to increase employee sensitivity to the impediments their elderly customers face.
Qozop’s photographic project, AGNES and GERT all represent critical moves in the right direction. Yet, however effective they are in cultivating understanding and empathy, they can only go so far in shifting our attitudes. Now, if we could only come up with a way to step inside the wise minds and rich hearts of our elders. Then we’d really have it made.