The Age of Style

Samantha Doane-Bates poses for the camera, her body turned sideways to show off the intricate details of her blouse but her face still finding the light of the studio. After a few shots, the photographer signals for her to move into a new pose, and Doane-Bates does so effortlessly. She’s a natural.

Samantha Doane-Bates

Samantha Doane-Bates

And she’s 69.

People often think of modeling and fashion as a young woman’s game, but Doane-Bates and Sue Davidson, 72, are proving that it doesn’t have to be. Both are professional models who do advertising shoots and fashion runway modeling.

“I want people to know that we live past 70,” jokes Doane-Bates. “And I’m still working full time. I love it!”

Davidson, an interior designer at Bittner’s, said she’s thought about modeling for years and was recommended by someone at work.

Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, Davidson said she watched her older sister, Jeanne Merrick, move to New York and become a successful model and actress.

“I had a bigger interest in interior design,” she said. “Since my girls are gone (from home), I can now do both. They’re not conflicting at all.”

Davidson said her flexible schedule at Bittner’s makes being a model much easier. She can get away for shoots or fashion shows if needed.

Doane-Bates, who lives in Lexington, also has a flexible career as a past-life regression therapist, so she’s able to set her own working hours and go to photo shoots and auditions. She was an actress in New York and Los Angeles before she had children, and now is getting back into it. Modeling is something new to her, too.

It was a phone call that got her on board. “She said ‘We’re looking for someone with curly, silver-white hair,’ and here I am!” she said. “So it was really fun. Just a fun, fun shoot for a hair product that’s in development.”

In recent years, the demand for older models has grown, said Kathy Campbell, director of Heyman Talent in Louisville, which represents both women. In the past, the only calls she would get for older models would be in the health care industry. But now, requests are coming in for healthy, active seniors for all sorts of fields.

“The demographics in general are changing. We’re getting more requests for the older demographic in advertising,” Campbell said. “The general public wants to see themselves reflected in advertising and editorial. So, we’re always kind of looking for fresh faces to add to that demographic in models and actors as well.”

Sue Davidson

Sue Davidson

Advertising isn’t the only market for senior models. Fashion has begun to notice that older adults want to look and feel beautiful, too. Photographer Ari Seth Cohen has a blog, AdvancedStyle.blogspot.com, that focuses on the fashion and beauty of older women. His blog spawned a recent book of the same name.

Davidson, who has always loved fashion, cites Cohen’s book as an inspiration. She is taking runway and posing classes at Heyman Talent, and said there is a connection with fashion and her career in interior design.

“They’re both very visual,” she said. “It’s very much a part of what I do. The way I dress and how I present are very important in design. Any trend that moves in clothing is either followed by design or design leads the way. The colors and trends are very much the same.”

Both models said they get very frustrated with the way older women are presented in print.

“I would look at fashion magazines and they would say, style for 20, 30, 40, 50+ then they got to 60+, and I just kept getting annoyed,” Davidson said. “Where do we go to still be fashionable? It’s the expectation of what a grandmother is, that we are not. I want people to be aware that women over 70 want to be fashionable, too.”

Doane-Bates agreed. “You’ve always seen silver-haired older men looking dapper. But you never saw older women,” she said. “Twenty-five years ago, you wouldn’t have seen me model anything. That’s such an interesting statement about society and about how women are treated.”

Catalogs and fashion magazines are slowly coming around, but there is still a disconnect between the visual display and the consumer, Davidson said. “Don’t present me with someone 16! I’m 72. I’m not going to look that way and I’m not going to dress that way – although I’m pretty snappy!”

Fashion designer Iris Apfel – who is 95 – is still putting out new fashion lines is proof that fashion doesn’t just go away as we age. “I don’t see anything wrong with a wrinkle. It’s a badge of courage,” she famously said.

“I think that we’re just having to rethink what aging looks like,” Doane-Bates added. “Some of the most beautiful photographs I’ve ever seen are of Native-American women in black and white by Ansel Adams. And the lines in these Native-American faces are just stunning!”

Both models said the job is fun. Doane-Bates recently did a campaign for a race track in Lexington that’s adding slot machines. Her friends saw her and said, “I didn’t know you were a model!”

“There were just all different types of people that they assembled, and I was the older one,” she said. “There was this picture of a man sitting at a slot machine with a silver-haired woman behind him. I might have been the mother they were taking out to the slot machines! It’s fun, you meet interesting people.”

Davidson laughs about the young girls in her modeling classes.

“I’m taking a runway class with six young, skinny girls,” she said. “It’s hilarious! Chris Kaufman is the teacher, and he is so awesome. He said that in the practice that we do that we would walk four miles in heels! My foot hurts; my hip hurts.”

And the other girls in the class? “I think they think it’s kind of funny.” VT

Hair by MADE Blowdry Boutique
Makeup by Bethany Hood
Fashion from The Willow Tree