Though the majority of fashion news coverage sources award fashion icon status to young It-Girls like Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson, they largely ignore the far more interestingly dressed women that I call “geriatric fashionistas.” There is certainly nothing wrong with admiring the looks sported by Hollywood’s A-list, but it is also quite healthy to have a wide range of style icons to count on for inspiration. Growing up, I felt more “Golden Girls” than “Gossip Girl” and always identified more with the supremely wacky fashions of the retirement generation than with young twenty-somethings who seemed to rotate the same selection of hottest trends. As the saying goes, fashion does not get old – and it seems like the rest of us are finally catching up to that fact. Now, silver-haired starlets like Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench receive just as much attention for their sartorial choices as their younger counterparts. For those interested in dressing like an old lady and still looking hip (but not hip replacement!) – it is quite easy to capture the spirit of icons young at heart but not in years.
The first rule that these broads adhere to is to not give a care about what other people say is stylish, trendy or – gasp – age appropriate. Dressing for what people tell them is right for their age is not a thought that crosses the minds of these fashion icons. Helen Mirren routinely wears vampy, low-cut gowns on the red carpet instead of the conservative dresses that her counterparts often sport. Legendary Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief and feminist activist Helen Gurley Brown was known for wearing miniskirts well into her octogenarian years. Remembering that you are never too old, or too young to do or wear anything, is key to these women.
The amazing thing that these older women can get away with is going over-the-top with everything. Iris Apfel is the queen of making accessories into “excess-ories” by pairing simple pieces of jewelry together with ornate medallions, cocktail rings and shoulder-duster earrings. I had the pleasure this summer of meeting Iris, who recently became a MAC makeup cover girl and a handbag designer, at a lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. When asked to describe her personality, she laughed and said, “I am the oldest teenager in the world.” In person, Iris is tiny but shrouds her figure in multiple sweaters and scarves, pairing her signature bug-eye eyeglasses with layers of necklaces, multiple rings on her hands and stacks of
bracelets, bangles and cuffs adorning her 91-year-old arms.
The most important thing for all of these icons is to invest in quality items, no matter how odd or quirky the piece may be. Designer Karen Walker drew from this idea when she teamed up with Ari Seth Cohen, the blogger behind the older lady-centric website Advanced Style, for a line of sunglasses fit for any geriatric fashionista.
Though accumulating timeless pieces is crucial for the older style icon, a sense of whimsy and impulsiveness is important as well. Though most embrace their silver fox status, these women also take the opportunity to experiment with radical colors. Ever seen an older lady with purple or blue hair and wondered why they dyed their locks a color only found in a rainbow? They did it simply because they could! Sorry to belabor the Helen Mirren of it all, but the actress caused a sensation when she arrived at the 2013 BAFTA Awards with a hot pink bob haircut. If you want Helen’s look on a semi-permanent basis, pink up a tube of Manic Panic in the electric color of you choice or try Davines’s Alchemic Red conditioner – it is a hot pink conditioning treatment to enhance color for redheads but dyes lighter hair a lovely shade of cotton candy pink for a few washes when applied. Don’t just go crazy with hair, but experiment with makeup as well. The late Anna Piaggi was known for her heavily-rouged cheeks and electric blue eye shadow, and she was always the best-dressed one in the room.
Try going a bit more daring with your look for a while and join the leagues of Iris, Anna and Helen. You’ll be in good company.