Wednesday, October 6, 2010

inspiration: advanced style

this weekend, i was walking down la rue charest on a sunny afternoon, and an older woman caught my eye. she was a waitress leaning out of a window, speaking with a friend. her hair was bright white, except for a streak of neon pink and a dash of purple. on her left upper forearm, there was a small tattoo of a little unicorn's head in black and white. i was in awe. i find it so incredibly refreshing to see older women not get trapped into those boring "how to dress at 40, 50, and 60" scripts that all too many "women's magazines" promote, but at the same time can you blame those who do subscribe to that ideology?

just by taking a quick look at mainstream fashion magazines, we see that the message is overwhelming the same: you are either dressing too young or dressing too old, especially if you are over the age of 30. since you are no longer simply a sex object (with the assumption being that you are a hot sexual nubile young thing in your teens and twenties, but when you're in your thirties you are either a mother, wife, or career woman, or better yet all three!) then you're not really worth looking at or pandering to. advertisers will try and sell you the idea that if you buy our clothes, you will look as young as our models, you will relive your youth, etc. etc, because aging/being old is so completely horrible.

of course, there are exceptions to this boring sexist ageist script. every once in a while fashion magazines turn the attention on their own, like grace coddington, and the runway history makers like linda evangelista, naomi, and kate. but even while purporting to celebrate women of "all shapes and sizes," we all know this is a joke. even with articles hidden in the back, or one editorial that celebrates an actress or singer who is in her forties, older women are constantly being erased or worse, policed. year round, we see that their covers (think of elle, vogue, allure, etc.) feature almost exclusively women in their late teens and early twenties on their covers. the exception, of course, is made when they publish their "age" issue, which now shows skinny, blonde, white women in their 30s! how revolutionary.

gwyneth paltrow (37), uma thurman (38) and kate moss (34) grace the covers of the vogue "age" issues (age when they were on the cover)

but back to my love for the style of many older women i pass on the street, at thrift stores, at the grocery store. one of the main reasons i believe fashion magazines don't pay attention to older women on a regular basis is because they know most of them simply do not give a shit anymore. clearly this is not universally true, but for the most part i think it is easier for younger women to put all the emphasis on their appearance and to buy into the scripts fashion magazines sell them because they are the target audience. they are being pandered to, they see themselves, or at least someone they could aspire to look and/or dress like all the time so it is easier to buy into those illusions and fantasies. based on what many older women have told me, and the conversations i've had with them about fashion and clothing, you often have a better idea of what you want, like, and need which makes it all the more simple to not give a shit about what a fashion magazine has to say about your choices.

seeing this stylish woman this weekend was not the first time i have loved the style, demeanor, and fashion of a person twice, or perhaps even thrice my age, and it's a question that has been on my mind lately. my friend anne-marie has been expressing frustration at ageism in the fashion and beauty industry. around the same time, jezebel posted about a german magazine called brigitte which recently stopped using professional models, and now often posts the age of the "real" women participating in their photoshoots. last but not least, hellovagina was posting some amazing photos of stylish older ladies on their tumblr.

but honestly? the fashion blogging world isn't much better than the fashion magazine industry when it comes to representing older women. anyone who takes a quick glance at fashion bloggers will see that it is a relatively homogenous group; almost entirely white, mostly female, relatively thin (at least falling into the "straight" size category), able-bodied and young. 14 (including tavi) to about 30 years old, max. there are a lot of factors that could lead to this (it's a new technology, youth-target audience, etc), but i'll leave it at that seeing as this post is not about deconstructing fashion bloggers or even criticizing them. rather, i want to call attention to how, in some ways, the fashion blogosphere has created at least a small space for us to call attention to and celebrate stylish older women.

to cut to the chase, here are some pictures of some particularly stylish and savvy older women.

iris apfel

chantal thomas (loving everything except for the shoes)

lynn yaeger

some photos from one of my favourite street fashion blogs, hel-looks.

all from hel-looks

and i even found some from a few of my favourite photographers:

photos by diane arbus

the critic, 1943 by wee gee

even the most recent CocoRosie video indulges my love:

as my wonderful friend iris says, "i don't plan on my twenties being my most fashionable decade."

the wonderful helen mirren.

but before i go, i want to make one thing particularly clear if i haven't already; i want to celebrate older ladies style, not police them. i feel like the only conversations we have about older women and their relationship to fashion is how to look more youthful, how to hide the fact that they are older, etc. but i like to think that most of the women whom i posted photos of are the kind of women who say fuck off to those rules. they are the ones who have gotten to a point where they simply do not give a fuck what a fashion magazine has to say about their choice of clothing, or their bodies, etc.

but don't let me have the final word! who are your favourite stylish older ladies? are your grandmothers particularly stylish? share photos! links!

my three all-time favourite stylish older ladies:

anna piagi
louise bourgeois



nicolette said...

i wish i could force everyone i know to read your blog. you always articulate exactly what i feel in the most clear, beautiful ways possible. lynn yaeger is definitely high up on my list, along with iris apfel.

hannah said...

i've sorta wondered how i will dress when im 20 years older, hopefully something along the lines of mimi weddell ! great post.

julia aka garconniere said...

nicolette: what a compliment! i'm glad to have you as a kindred spirit/mind. it's always nice to know that what i'm thinking isn't completely out of left field, you know?

hannah: it's great that you say you'll dress like hannah in 20 years, she's the oldest person in this entire post!

Lecon de vetement said...

Ive been super into over 50 fashion icons!! They are the ultimate heroes in my book! There are some special ladies walking the streets of San Francisco and Im trying to gather as many pictures as I can! I love them!

jesse.anne.o said...

I can't think of anyone off-hand, which is a little sad. I envy Iris Apfel. I am usually delighted by Lynn Yaeger.

I feel like I usually respond to older ladies who are "dressed up" - in ways that we don't usually get dressed up. Just very classy and tidy and chic.

And I've always loved that Hel-Looks includes people of all ages.

RMJ said...

Those glasses! My goodness, I love the first woman's sense of color and volume.

Anonymous said...

Julia, you are a mystical patron saint of AWESOME. I just caught up on your tumblr and read your response to Jason Tseng's beautifully articulate and smart response to the It Gets Better Project. I definitely share your frustration with the Jezebel commenters... I think maybe the frustration is compounded by the simultaneous feeling of revulsion and the realization that these are people who are supposedly 'on our team.' Sometimes it seems more insidious than an obvious hatred because what can be done about the obscene belief in the holiness of 'GET OVER IT' as a valid way of thinking deeply and critically about the world? I've had a post on Jezebel and the Guardian once, and both times, I really did have to just stop reading the comments because they were beginning to enrage me and suck up what little sense of self-preservation and free-time I still had left in me.

But thanks for being hella smart and being my source for all things good in the blog world.


definatalie said...

I take so much inspiration from women older than I, and hope to find my own style as I mature. I'm about to turn 30 and I had a fleeting thought: "What if I'm supposed to be wearing longer dresses? What if I oughtn't be wearing clothes from Asos?" I thought on it for a second and then realised that I choose what I wear based on a few things: comfort, style, pattern, proportion (of layers, NOT how things suit my body) and colour... amongst a bunch of things. If I were to start dressing in appropriate clothes for my 30s I wouldn't be expressing me, and I wouldn't be comfortable!

My favourite style blogs are Advanced Style and Hel-Looks - but you've already listed them! I wish for more... MORE!

Cheri Pinktrix said...

I love this post! So neat to see these wonderful women dressed so fabulously! I want to be just like them in 2050!

Thanks for the comments on my blog by the way! One day I'll have to head out to Quebec City and I'll get all the advice from you about where to shop. Need that advice for Montreal too one day!

nona said...

God, I hope I ever get to be as cool as these women. Well, I know I'll never be as cool as Helen Mirren. But a girl can dream.

Just so you know, I've nominated you for a One Lovely Blog award! You can find out about it here:

Gina said...

splendid post!

i'd never heard of hel looks before- nifty discovery.
thank you. great words & pictures. :)

notjenny said...

I just stumbled upon your blog from the "My Culture is Not a Trend" tumblr, and I have to say I love it!

I also love this post and think you have stated the issue so succinctly. What sets your style idols apart from the young, thin, white shills of fashion magazines is personal style. Every example you give of an older woman is a perfect example of an individual seeking out pieces they truly love and wearing them - so the clothes become part of them and not the other way around. Those people, old or young, fat or thin, no matter what they wear, always look amazing because they own their looks, not the other way around. Magazines can't sell that, which is probably a good thing.

I've always been fat and while I think a lot of energy has been expended to shame me into wanting to look like everyone else, it's actually been a blessing - I've worked hard to cultivate (through thrifting and sewing) a unique wardrobe and I feel confident in 100% of the things that I wear.

Anyways - wonderful post! I look forward to reading more of your work.

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