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Are you a midster? Middle age is not what it used to be

Middle age has been rebranded, didn't you know?

A meandering camera takes in the location; the Mediterranean, a house up in the hills and a beautiful swimming pool, around which a naked man and woman are sunbathing.

The woman is on her back reading, her slim, toned arms holding the book aloft so it shades her face. Her breasts are high and her long lean body is gilded by the sun. The film is A Bigger Splash and the actress is the incomparable Tilda Swinton,who at 56 looks closer to 30 than 60.

Yes, in Tilda's case it's largely down to winning the big prize in the genetic lottery, and for most, the middle years aren't so kind. That aside, middle age sure isn't what it used to be.

Tilda Swinton, queen of the midsters.

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This is the dawning of the age of the happy-go-lucky midsters, broadly defined as those born between 1960 and 1980, who actively reject acting or looking or feeling their age.

Kate Moss, midster.

You can thank the English for coming up with the term "midster", and unleashing blogs, books and think pieces about this new kind of middle age.


Not all middle-aged people are midsters, of course, but midsters form a significant subgroup of people in their late 30s to late 50s.

I know these people. Pretty much all of my middle-aged friends are hell-bent on not going quietly into that good night, myself included. In the interests of learning more, I rang Dr Bodo Lang, senior marketing lecturer at the University of Auckland and self-confessed midster.

A hot pair of midsters: Amal and George Clooney.

He says midsters' identity is intrinsically linked to being perceived as being radically different to their parents and the latter's concept of what being middle-aged entailed.

"It's about being cool and young," Lang explains, "a rejection of the traditional middle-aged role. The generational differences between midsters and their parents is the biggest it's ever been and the gap between midsters and their children, if they have them, the smallest."

It's a stage of life rather than a particular age, says Mimi Spencer, co-author of The Midlife Kitchen, a book dedicated to feeding the midster.

"We don't just arrive at old age – there is a vibrant, active interesting stage of our lives that is now termed midlife that we are only just beginning to recognise as being a distinct phase of life. It's full of energy and potential, a time to relish not regret."

Nicole Kidman. She's a midster too.

A midster will nearly always be relatively well off, says Bodo Lang. There are exceptions to this rule in terms of creatives who may not have the earning power but hold lots of cool currency and lead the way in terms of trendsetting.

Midsters tend to be educated, are nearly always extroverted, are inherently positive and are strongly attracted to new ideas.

"In midlife, if you look after your health, there's no reason you can't set up a new business, run a marathon, learn a new language," says Mimi Spencer. "In fact you might find with a few tweaks and adjustments you can be in the best shape of your life."

Age is seen as an asset in Karen Walker's advertising.

Midsters care about fashion, looking good and having lovely homes and interesting lives. They love social media because they can curate their lives, expressing their identity with every post, be it a cute designer pet, renovation-in-progress, flea market buy, or heavily filtered selfie. Social media validation is the lifeblood of the midster, just as it is for the millennial.

Finally, they tend to be single or childless. As Bodo Lang is running through this list of midster truths, I'm mentally ticking all the boxes. When he mentions that midsters love getting ahead of a trend, say in house renovation, and posting photos of their bargain finds or new-look rooms on social media, I start laughing.

I buy vintage lighting and every time I snaffle an impossibly stylish bargain it's duly photographed and up it goes on social media, solely so everyone can validate my aesthetic.

I had wondered if the whole idea of midsters had been spawned by cynical advertising executives in order to flatter the middle-aged and encourage them to part with their money. There's definitely an element of truth there, but I don't think it's the whole story. What retailers and marketing experts have done is read the trend very early, and positioned themselves to capitalise on it.

A randomly chosen Vanity Fair (January 2009) with Tina Fey on the cover, a midster icon and a midster magazine if ever there was one, boasts 37 pages of high-end advertising before the content begins.

The majority is for luxury brand handbags, jeans, perfume, lingerie and sunglasses, all reasonably accessible items. This simple strategy of democratising luxury brands by producing cheaper, often heavily branded items and licensing, has been the saving grace of many a fashion house.

There's also been a noticeable increase in the use of older models and celebrities in advertising campaigns and as fashion muses in the last decade, especially those houses which rely on good sales in their cheaper ready-to-wear and diffusion lines.

Think Karen Walker's use of glamorous older women in her advertising, Nicole Kidman for Chanel, George Clooney for Louis Vuitton and Tilda Swinton for Alexander McQueen.

The more mainstream brands are also all over it. Notable street labels such as Calvin Klein and Gap, renowned for worshipping at the altar of youth, have been featuring older celebrity models in their ad campaigns, as have a handful of lingerie labels.

Of course there have always been midsters. History is littered with people who did their middle-years magnificently.

They barely worked, married well and often, affaired extensively and lived unapologetically – whether that meant being a professional serial wife/mistress, such as Pamela Churchill; shacking up with more than one other such as Vanessa Bell and Australia's Sunday Reed; marrying a fascist during World War II such as Diana Mitford; or in the case of TE Lawrence, deciding to hare off into the desert on a camel in search of adventure.

Creative types have also been refusing to grow old since time began. However, what all of these people, and the legions of others like them had in common in the olden days was money. Either their own, or access to other people's. If you wanted to live a life that was mad, bad and fun, it certainly helped if you weren't encumbered by the need to work a 40-hour shift at your local supermarket.

While midstering remains inextricably linked to affluence, the democratisation of luxury and technology has seen this sector of the population become broader and far more visible than it has in previous generations. We all know them, hell some of us may even be them.

Hi, I'm Kelly Ana and I'm a midster.


Midster decorating

A midster would never buy a complete "look" for a room from a franchise or chain store.

Decorating things midsters say: "If I was going to label my style I'd have to go with eclectic. Everything has a story. I didn't simply decorate
the house. I fell in love with things."

Midster grooming

Fashion, fashion, fashion, fashion. The previous generation's comfortable shoes have been replaced with cool trainers; the shapeless house dress and elastic-waisted pants with beautifully cut sheaths and suits in luxe fabrics and skinny jeans that aren't too skinny or too tight.

Skincare is a must, not just for the benefits but also for that feeling of putting luxury in a jar on your skin. Midsters are on first name terms with their dentists, periodontists and hairdressers.
Grooming things midsters say: "I'd rather give up lunch for a week than go without Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant."

Midster entertainment

Midsters go to gigs, especially if there's a midster band doing a reunion tour. They'll also quite happily go to festivals, be they music, arts or film.

Things midsters say about entertainment: "I went to Glastonbury with my sister's kids this year and had to take drugs to stay awake."

Midster employment

Art, publishing, PR, food, fashion, equestrian, landscape and garden design, retail, television, film, health and fitness.

Things midsters say about work: "I'm writing a cutting-edge trend piece on the reinvention of the middle-aged."

Midster pets

Midsters like pugs, French bulldogs, Italian greyhounds and dachshunds. They're expensive, look good, aren't too big and they say "young" the same way a bichon frise or west highland terrier says "retiree".

Midster parenting

If midsters are parents they don't stress the teen rebellion stuff. One of my friends, in keeping with her cool mum status, didn't blink an eye when her teenage daughter spent a minor inheritance on having a map of the world tattooed across her back.

Parenting things midsters say: "We took the kids out of school for year while we travelled the world volunteering for non-profits."

Midster patron saints

David Bowie, Carrie Fisher and Truman Capote.

Midster role models

Patti Smith, Tilda Swinton, Nick Cave, Madonna, George Clooney, Anna Wintour, Marco Pierre White, Lapo Elkann, Susan Sarandon, Lee Miller, Graham Greene, Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Mick Jagger, Vanessa Bell, Joan Collins, Salvador Dali, Saul Bellow, Vita Sackville-West, Raf Simons and Kate Moss.




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