There are plenty of stores selling "young fashion." You certainly won’t find shops that pride themselves on offering "old fashion" or just "fashion for grown-ups." Sixteen-year-olds are chosen to show off clothing on the runways. Fashion and youth belong together; fashion’s ideal is either the young man or the young woman. It’s hard to imagine that this was once entirely different. But as recently as the 1950s, fashion was not geared toward youth. In those days, a woman would not have been remotely interested in what teenagers were wearing. "Youth" – that awkward period between childhood and adulthood – had yet to become an ideal for society as a whole. Indeed, the entire concept of "youth" hadn’t even been around that long. Well into the twentieth century, childhood came to an abrupt end: in adulthood.
Two world wars and a cold war, however, did their part to discredit the values of the older generation. The "Youthquake" of the 1960s shattered the supremacy of grown-ups in culture, music, and fashion. Suddenly youthfulness was seen as something wholly positive, while everything obsolete was associated with the older generation. Since then, most people have wanted to be young. A whole industry has emerged whose products serve to gloss over signs of aging. In the process, youth ceased to be a question of age and became a matter of attitude.
The only people not quite willing to play along with this arrangement are the youth of today. One brand in particular realized this when it made a special effort to target the youth market. A while ago, Abercrombie & Fitch openly applied a rather disconcerting "look policy" of only hiring good-looking young people to staff its stores – the "good-looking, cool kids," as the company’s CEO put it in 2013 – expecting them to wear Abercrombie & Fitch clothes exclusively. This overemphasis on celebrating youth has proven a blunder for which the brand has suffered. Sooner or later, youngsters run screaming from such idealizations of themselves. Youth, to the young, is no longer a time of demarcation but rather a time of freedom and experimentation, before they have to devote themselves to job, family, and career.
Youthfulness is no longer a political statement in itself. People today who are young – not just young looking – are not interested in calling attention to how young they are. Fashion is no longer meant to show whether or not somebody belongs to a particular group. It has become much more individual, a hugely important form of self-expression for young people – especially now that each new outfit can be tweeted around the world instantly as a self-portrait.
A lot of brands that project a youthful image have for some time now found their main audience in people in their thirties. In this sense, wearing an outfit that emphasizes youthfulness is the surest way to show just how old you are. Maybe adults will soon come up with the notion of dressing like adults again. They would be alright. After all, today’s grown-ups aren’t the obvious baddies anymore. There’s no need for them to use the so- called "young fashion" as camouflage.