Home >Magazine >The Fabulous Gray-Haired Swimsuit Model On How She Got Her Start

The Fabulous Gray-Haired Swimsuit Model On How She Got Her Start

She didn’t step in front of the camera until her early 50s, but now Gillean McLeod is one of a growing number of “older” models. Here she offers inspiration in bathing suit season.

Middle Aged Models: Gillean McLeod Slays After 50 | NextTribeEditor’s note: Gillean McLeod is a luminous gray-haired model that we can’t help but look up to. That’s why we’ve deemed her one of “The Pushers”—women who are pushing themselves in new directions and toward new passions that might be off the beaten path. She pushes us to take a leap of our own, and we hope she does the same for you.

When a fuss is made over a photo of a woman in a bathing suit, it’s usually because there’s hardly any bathing suit and the woman is young and perky in all the right places. But last year a black-and-white picture of a woman in a one piece got gobs of attention because the shapely woman in the photo was 60 years old and not wearing any makeup. And, to the surprise of everyone but women like us, she looked fabulous. Long, flowing gray hair. Toned arms. A hint of cleavage. Expectations about age and stereotypes about women over 50 got turned on their head that day.

The gray-haired model in the photo for H&M magazine was Gillean McLeod, who grew up in London and came late to the modeling game. For years, her career has been as a stylist, working mainly on print advertising campaigns. Then at 52, several decades past the expiration date on most models, she started posing for the camera and ended up as the swimsuit sensation several years later. As we head into swimsuit season, Gillean is an inspiration. Own your body! Even when it’s covered only by a small piece of spandex.

You had a successful career as a stylist before your modeling took off in middle age. Can you explain how you got into styling and what you like about styling?

Prior to styling I worked for Michele Lamy, when she had a clothing line in downtown Los Angeles.  It was not in a design position. I worked in administration.  Stylists would occasionally appear to pull clothing for shoots, and until that time I had no idea that there was such a job, and I found it fascinating.  Several years would go by before I called a woman I had known from London days, and she was gracious to give me a start, as an assistant.  From there

I kept at it, working on tv commercials, joining the union, Local 705.  Once I had gained more knowledge, it was time for me to get my own work.  

How did that H&M shoot come about?

Middle Aged Models: Gillean McLeod for H&M | NextTribeA friend got me into modeling when I was 52.  There were a few modeling jobs before H&M. In fact, just a few months before H&M, I was in two Uniqlo campaigns.  It was very exciting for me to do those, as finally I was in fashion ads.  Of course, I know so many people in the business, and the casting directors here in Los Angeles have been so supportive of the change in my career.  H&M came about through my then new agency in NYC, Iconic Focus.  It was a few weeks after signing with them that the job was awarded to me.  The photographer was Will Davidson, and he didn’t want me to have any hair or  makeup for the shoot, so we went right to it in that black bathing suit, and the rest is history!

Why do you think that photo attracted so much attention?

Gosh, I’ve asked myself that a million times.  A 60-year-old woman in a bathing suit.  I swim often and have done so my whole life, so the idea of being in a suit wasn’t daunting.  Maybe because it was such a well-known company, and the photo was cute?  

I sort of take pride in not doing Botox or any of that face stuff. That look just seems so forced and strange to me. I am happy with the way I am.

What kind of modeling have you done since then? Are you still working as a stylist as well?

There have been some fun campaigns since then: Living Proof for hair, Aquis for their wonderful towels, Nordstrom, a beautiful Banana Republic Spring campaign, a few magazine editorials, and now three spots for Kohl’s.  I’ve met some very talented new photographers, stylists, and hair/makeup artists.  Styling is still my bread and butter.  If a styling job confirms, I book out of the modeling agencies.  It’s good to keep my best styling clients, and I enjoy set life very much. Last month saw me in San Francisco for eight days on a styling job for BMW, then to Milwaukee to model for Kohl’s, then back to LA for a job styling for a clothing brand.  A lot of fun! And this weekend I am headed back to Milwaukee for another modeling spot.  

How do you feel about how women over 50 are normally represented in the media?

Long ago, women 50 and older were over and done with.  Not now.  Long before I came along however, there were many older beautiful women in ads; Yazemeenah Rossi and Marian Moneymaker come to mind.  I’m one of many women working at this age, so personally I am not changing anything.  Our generation suddenly seems to be in demand, and you can see this in ads on the runway, and with all the new agencies who cater to our age.  Grey, Iconic, Mrs. Robinson etc.  And we are not in demand for just the more conservative ads. We are portrayed in fashion, couture—think of the amazing Carmen Dell’Orefice who is still working in her 80s—and clothing campaigns.    

What kind of beauty routine or special treatments do you do to keep looking so healthy?

Middle Aged Models: Gillean McLeod for H&M | NextTribeMy beauty routine is minimal, at most.  I do go for a facial once a month, as I like to keep my skin clean for camera.  Other than that, good moisturizer, clean products, lots of oil.  I do eat well and a lot, and I love chocolate.  I loathe sunscreen.

I sort of take pride in not doing Botox or any of that face stuff. That look just seems so forced and strange to me. I am happy with the way I am.

Any special fitness regimens?

Pilates is one of my favorites.  I have a reformer at the house and use it daily.  Plus, I love hiking and walking. I go  swimming a few times a week. It’s fun to change it up, a routine gets boring. I’ve always been in pretty good shape, but I make more of an effort now.

At this point in life, it’s obvious that our bodies change, but accept it and do what you can to stay fit.  Eat well. Don’t criticize yourself. Move!

I read that you weren’t wearing makeup in that photo. Is that so? Do you often go without makeup?

Will didn’t think I needed any makeup, so it’s true.  That day I didn’t even have on moisturizer as I had assumed wrongly that there would be makeup applied on set.  I hardly wear makeup:  a little tint to keep the elements of LA off my skin, lipstick, sometimes mascara. But then if I go swimming the result is raccoon eyes, so usually not even mascara.

Any advice to readers about staying youthful?

Honestly, it’s a state of mind. I hear people in my [fitness] classes talk about how old they feel, and I think why do you say that to yourself?  Or complaining. Just change the channel and go out for walk.  At this point in life, it’s obvious that our bodies change, but accept it and do what you can to stay fit.  Eat well. Don’t criticize yourself. Move!

A version of this article was originally published in May 2017.

By Jeannie Ralston


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Find your tribe

Connect and join a community of women over 45 who are dedicated to traveling and exploring the world.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This