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February 27, 2021

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Fashion gives Chinese elderly spring in their steps

LI Ling stood at the center of a runway stage and waved at the audience along with other gray-haired models, mostly aged above 60, with radiant smiles on their faces.

Applause burst out as if it were a show of the Paris Fashion Week. “Fashion is not just for young people,” said Li, 80.

As the leader and instructor of the part-time modeling team in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, Li has led hundreds of senior citizens to the runway during the past 13 years.

China’s elderly population is increasing rapidly. As the nation’s economy continues to grow, the elderly are expecting a better quality of cultural life, and thus various enriching activities are emerging.

Among such fancy activities, modeling has become a trend popular with the elderly. Some gray-haired models are even challenging the stereotypes in the fashion industry, a circle once unfriendly to old people.

“But the change did not happen all of a sudden,” Li said. In the 1980s, the country’s fashion industry was still developing at a slow pace, and most Chinese deemed models with high-end designer clothes as people from a different world.

Li began her modeling career in her early 50s. Before that, she worked as a telephone operator in a local factory.

Her first foray into fashion was when she went to Shenzhen on a business trip in 1989. She was invited to watch a catwalk show, costing her nearly two months’ salary. Much like other audiences, Li found it hard to understand and focus on the show. “The wooden platform was simple and crude. And the show was confusing, as we did not know what to watch.”

She was, however, amazed by the beauty of the models and their walks despite all confusion.

Since then, she yearned to be on the runway and finally got a chance by signing up for free modeling classes offered by the Gansu provincial song and dance ensemble in 1991.

She started from the basics, like walking, standing, and making poses. Later, she was selected among the first batch of fashion models in Gansu and won regional modeling competitions in Xi’an and Beijing.

As time went by, she realized age brought a gradual decline in her energy level. So she retired from the front stage and started devoting more time to imparting modeling classes at a university for seniors.

Every Monday morning, 64 students, most of whom are older than 50, arrive for the class, all wearing black leggings and high-heeled shoes.

For Zhang Chunlan, 70, the class is her happiest time of the week. “My family supports me as well. Modeling with my peers teaches me to be confident and take good care of myself,” Zhang said.

More and more elderly people in China are pursuing refined lifestyles. Grandpas in suits and grandmas with make-ups have become popular fashion icons on social media, reflecting the diverse needs of the silver-haired group.

“Time will change our appearance, but it will not change our positive thinking and attitude toward life,” Li said.


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