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As Lovely as a Model -- at Age 80


Have you seen this fall's women's-clothing catalogs? Looked at the models? Those lean and beautiful women. Of course, they're all young.

Aren't they?

Not any more. Take a look at the latest catalog from "Tweeds." Flip through the first few pages. There she is.

An 80-year-old woman!

That's right. She's 80! And this isn't some shocking Benetton advertising outrage or a cute Madison Avenue rendition of "Dressing Miss Daisy." No. Instead, it's serious modeling. Tasteful. Professional. Intended to sell clothes.

The woman jauntily leans on an umbrella and models a stunning black V-necked sweater with matching pants. Italian merino wool. The sweater's $49, and the pants $59. They're also available in gray, heather and charcoal.

It's a full-page picture of her. She stares out at us apparently without makeup and certainly without pretense. Her hair is white and wispy. Her neck is wrinkled. She's unmistakably old. But you know what? She looks great.

Clear eyes. Resolute mouth. A vibrant tilt of her head. She's elegant. At ease. Alive. And interesting. I'd much rather take her to dinner than any other model I've ever seen.

I even know her name. It's Mimi Weddel. She's an actress and a jazz dancer. It says so right there on the page next to her picture.

That's another startling innovation in this issue of "Tweeds." It identifies all the models. They're presented as human beings instead of the usual melange of nameless and often anorexic female sex objects.

Marie Reynolds is a wife and mother. She's 47. Sonya Shannon is 36. A computer-art teacher. Deborah Cox is a waitress. She's 25. Julianne Nicholson is a French student. She's 23.

Mimi Weddel is 80. And she's the most beautiful woman in the catalog.

Maybe Calvin Klein has missed the wave. Maybe America is finally shaking off its single-minded erotic obsession with young women.

This ad campaign, however, isn't ideological. This New Jersey clothing company isn't in business to fight age discrimination. It's trying to sell clothes. But its marketing strategy hasn't targeted the elderly. The company sells to women of all ages, and its catalogs still feature a typical array of models -- mainly young women.

Except for Ms. Weddel. Why did they picture her?

"Tweeds" is actually selling a revolutionary new idea -- a woman doesn't have to be young to be attractive or desirable. Vitality is appealing at any age. If you've got it, why not spend a little money to dress it up?

Why not indeed? If you're a handsome woman of any age, enjoy it. Celebrate it. What the hell. Flaunt it.

Meanwhile, we men can appreciate all this ageless beauty. It's around us everywhere. But most of us have ignored it. We've treated middle-aged women, let alone older ones, as if they were sexually and romantically invisible.

Now don't get me wrong. I know looks can be superficial. A pretty face doesn't always adorn an interesting mind or a warm heart. But just as character is fate, so by middle age all our faces begin to reflect our personal qualities more than our genetic inheritance.

For a woman, that transformation usually occurs in her 40s -- at exactly the point when the conventional American culture begins to tell her she's no longer attractive and too old to be worth anything.

Ironically, this is also precisely the point when many of these women are developing wisdom, strength, a sense of independence, new interests, and sometimes even new lovers.

These exciting inner qualities appear in the tilt of a woman's head, the flash of her eyes, and the way she laughs. You can see them in her face -- the unique and beautiful face she has sculpted with her life.

Look around you, guys. Look at these women. They're the ones our mass-media youth-crazed culture tells us are over the hill.

Together "Tweeds" and Ms. Mimi Weddel have put the lie to that peculiar notion.

Tim Baker is a lawyer who writes from Columbia.

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