History events at the IHR

Inhabiting an ageing body: old age, emotion, and fashion and beauty culture in Britain, 1937-1970

20 November 2012, 17:15 - 19:15

Event Type: Seminar


Charlotte Greenhalgh 


Histories of old age in twentieth-century Britain typically describe the introduction of pensions, the expansion of the welfare state, and advances in geriatric medicine. Yet old age is more than the sum of its welfare entitlements and physical impairments. This paper analyses older women's use of make-up, the place of age in the high fashion magazine British Vogue, and the grooming habits of men and women aged over 60 in order to reinstate some of the pleasure that has been found in ageing bodies and to suggest how mid-century fashion and beauty culture operated in the lives of older consumers. By exploring the changing relationship between older people and this aspect of British popular culture, I assert the historical specificity and cultural construction of the marginality of the elderly and the abjection of the ageing body. I argue that we should ask questions about the emotional experience of ageing more often: in order to complicate the portrayal of old age in political policy and public life and to push at the boundaries of our historical practice. Having described vital connections between self-fashioning and identity, I ask how historians might account for the full spectrum of physiological ageing within affective life. How often does the loss of self-expression and self-control appear in the written archive and how might we interpret the experience?

Venue: Room STB6, Stewart House, Basement

Venue: Room STB6

Stewart House
32 Russell Square
London WC1B 5DN

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