Style

Because You Can: The 90-Year-Old Ingénue

A master class in dressing fearlessly from our favorite Fairy Grandmother.

Image via Into the Gloss

In a culture that equates youth with beauty, aging (as in, becoming officially old and wrinkled) doesn’t offer too many privileges. But one thing that’s sort of great is that as you age, a certain level of eccentricity becomes almost expected of you. The giant handbags, fussy shoes, and nutty jewelry that would mark a younger woman as Sort of Weird (in a good way, of course) seem perfectly natural—even adorable—on a woman of a certain age. Becoming An Old is a blank check to try out all the batty combinations that younger women are often shy to wear. And there are plenty of older women out there who are exploiting that to the fullest: embracing their eccentricity, subverting the belief that older women should quietly fade away, being loud and dressing as weird as they damn well please.

Blogs that feature stylish older ladies, like Advanced Style, have made it easier than ever to be inspired by the geriatric set. These women are a daily reminder that old is beautiful—and even better, that it’s everyone’s right to define beauty for themselves. Here we pay tribute to my favorite of all the old-lady icons, the fabulous, irreverent Iris Apfel. The interior designer, style icon, and self-described “geriatric starlet” has carved out her own sartorial place in the world. Getting old isn’t for the faint of heart, as they say. So let’s sit at the feet of this well-heeled, idiosyncratic old broad and see what she has to teach us about being fearlessly ourselves, shall we?

Any woman who describes her style as getting “better with age, like an old cheese” gets an A+ in my book. Apfel is legendary for mixing haute couture and vintage clothes with chunky costume jewelry and her giant round Mr. Owl specs. And this woman is as witty as her clothes. I recently saw her speak at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a certain editor-in-chief of mine, and Iris had the audience rolling with lines like “If you put something on and it doesn’t look good, the fashion police aren’t going to come and take you away. And if they do, you might have some fun in jail.” Can someone make this lady my guardian grandma already?

One of the things I love most about Iris’s style is her ability to look eccentric, fascinating, and colorful, and mix about 100 different kinds of prints, without ever looking anything less than perfectly elegant. This takes an eye. She also plays with proportion in this brilliant way that looks classic instead of crazy. Like tell me you wouldn’t wear this outfit right this instant:

Even though Iris herself is what they used to call monied (I saw her name on a plaque at the Met, I’m guessing those don’t come cheap), she’s a sensible lady who revels in cheap fashion, and understands that you don’t need money to dress well. She’s a dedicated thrift-store shopper (like, actual Salvation Army thrift stores), she refuses to pay more than $15 for a pair of jeans, and although she has a collection of expensive jewelry, she also loves to wear necklaces made out of weird plastic toys and old candy wrappers. Sadly, I could not find a pic of the candy wrapper necklace, but the deer antlers are pretty wacky too:

As Iris puts it, “Price has nothing to do with style. Sometimes the least expensive things are the most amusing and witty, and if you put them together with things you have in your wardrobe, you get a smashing new look.”

Even if you don’t put on 20 pounds of jewelry in the morning, or accessorize with parrots (YET…), I still think we can look to Iris for some style schoolin’. Here’s what she taught me:

1. More is more. If you like something, like plastic bangle bracelets or beaded necklaces, wear 20 of them. Every vintage store has plastic bangles at the jewelry counter for a quarter or two. Or go to street sellers who sell what they call “ethnic” jewelry (you know, the same ones selling Genuine Chanel Purses and wafting Nag Champa onto the street) and pick up some thick bejeweled cuffs. See how many you can stack on one arm. Mixing different colors and thicknesses is good.

If you get really into this look, you can start splurging on some vintage bracelets made out of Lucite (a clear acrylic) or Bakelite (an early plastic used in jewelry in the ’20s and ’30s that people go nuts collecting). You can find a dealer at many antiques stores that specializes in them. Here in New York, there’s a store called This ’n’ That Collectibles that is literally STUFFED with insane vintage jewelry. I want to shop it with Iris like it’s a candy store. There’s also good ol’ Etsy, which is also a great source for my latest obsession: LUCITE BUG JEWELRY! It was trendy in the ’20s and ’30s, and I think it is the absolute height of badassery to have little iridescent beetles and long-limbed spiders marching around your arm. Like how incredible would these look stacked up your arm?

All from Kolos Studio on Etsy.

2. Play with proportions. Wear a little cropped sweater with a floor-sweeping skirt. Your specs can cover half your face if you want (have prescription lenses put in a big pair of ’70s sunglasses). If you like necklaces, wear the biggest or the longest ones you can find. If you can’t find ones you like, make your own. With some dental floss, big wood beads and a lobster clasp from the craft store, you can slap together this look in no time:

(Also note that Iris is wearing identical jewelry on each arm for a perfectly symmetrical look. Little touches like that delight me.)

3. Seriously, screw $200 jeans. The only way I’d buy $200 jeans is if they came with a $300 bill in the pocket. My favorite jeans are thrifted high-waisted Levi’s, and some $20 bootcut cheapies I got at Uniqlo. If you’re looking for skinnies, Forever 21’s $10 jeans are my go-to. They last forever and go up to size XL. You don’t need to spend much more than your allowance to find awesome jeans, Iris and I swear to you!

4. A sense of humor is the best accessory. Iris once described herself as “very much alive and just walking around to save on funeral expenses.” When asked what she loves about her equally adorable husband, she said, “he was cool, he was cuddly, and he cooked Chinese, so I figured I couldn’t do any better.” Like style, humor is one of the best defenses against invisibility. And, you know, if you don’t want to get all politicky about it, they’re both just fun too. Whether it’s how she gets dressed in the morning or how she describes herself, Iris is always spirited, always irreverent, and she just keeps saying her piece and defining herself, for her own sake, every day. And she is honestly one of my heroes for that.

If you want more Iris, this is the BEST INTERVIEW with her. There’s also a documentary coming out about her, by Albert Maysles (who knows an eccentric style icon when he sees one), and you can watch the promo for that at Advanced Style. Trust me, this is a fascinating, hilarious, firecracker of a lady that you will want to spend lots of time with. Be my fairy grandma, Iris? ♦

44 Comments

  • missblack September 13th, 2012 3:14 PM

    oh God I CANNOT WAIT to be a Crazy Old Lady. I’ve been stocking up ideas forever, like how I’m going to have a million rocking chairs in my house and wear crazy clothes and have long white witch hair and frighten all of the little children that I can and I just….I can’t wait.
    I will definitely be taking ideas from Iris Apfel, haha.

    Little&Trivial

    • Izzy September 13th, 2012 3:31 PM

      YES. I am doing that too!

  • Miss Erin September 13th, 2012 3:53 PM

    Old people are literally the best thing ever.

  • moonchild September 13th, 2012 4:07 PM

    OHMYGOD. She is my life. Seriously, I LOVE advanced style! and THOSE GLASSES! :D

    Gwen
    http://under-a-bridge.blogspot.com/

  • Emilie September 13th, 2012 4:50 PM

    her and her husband. And the bug cuffs!! I want!

  • Susann September 13th, 2012 4:54 PM

    That lady truly has a lovely style and she rocks that jewellery! Hope I can be a little like her when I hit that age.

    Fashion in Pepperland

  • RainingMiceAndMen September 13th, 2012 5:09 PM

    The only thing that could make her better is a bunch of cats running around. I want to be her when I become an Old Lady.

  • MissKnowItAll September 13th, 2012 5:13 PM

    HOLY SHIT I LOVE OLD PEOPLE.
    MY NEIGHBOR IS 93 AND SHE HAS THE COOLEST HOT PINK HAIR AND SHE HAS LIKE 39 PIERCINGS.
    I WANT TO BE HER ONE DAY

  • MeetJaclynTheDancingMachine September 13th, 2012 5:31 PM

    It’d be great to listen to an Iris-inspired or handpicked-by-Iris Friday playlist!!

    Iris Overload, please!!

    • Jenn September 17th, 2012 6:18 PM

      YES! I second that motion for Iris Overload!

      • Cutesycreator aka Monica September 22nd, 2012 2:36 PM

        Thirded! I feel like Iris has really great taste in music.

  • TheNarcissisticGinger September 13th, 2012 5:44 PM

    LOVE this :) Iris makes me smile just looking at her. She kind of makes Betty White look miniscule. But Betty’s still awesome. Just not as awesome as Iris. But still pretty awesome.

  • EveyMarrie September 13th, 2012 5:50 PM

    Iris Apfel IS my spirit animal. Seriously, I’ve been in love with her forever and this article is solidfying it haha <3

  • FlowerPower September 13th, 2012 6:15 PM

    I love Advanced Style, so this post I loved as well! It’s makes me feel so delighted when a see an “older” woman embracing her style. Just because your older doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style! I commend Iris for pouring her heart into her wardrobe, and not caring what others think. I’ve recently been trying to do that for myself.
    http://chicagolooks.blogspot.com/2012/09/caroline.html
    (as seen here haha, I was sick that day so that’s why I look like a raccoon with a cold)
    this goes for anyone who embraces their style, not just older folks: you rule.
    ~Caroline~

  • Yayo September 13th, 2012 6:19 PM

    Oh. My. Gosh. I’ve always been certain that life after youth isn’t worth living (to the extent that my goal in life is to stay in full time education for as long as possible). But this SERIOUSLY making me want to be old. She’s like… amazing.

  • Grrrl Life September 13th, 2012 6:25 PM

    I seriously love this woman. So frocking cool. Like, why isn’t this my grandma? Lots of love for Iris!

  • Shannon September 13th, 2012 6:29 PM

    Oh, she may be “old” on the outside but she looks free and happy and YOUNG to me! :)

  • filmfatale September 13th, 2012 7:40 PM

    I love Rookie, and I love Iris Apfel, but whenever anyone talks about fast fashion or Forever 21 or $30 jeans I just think about the non-monetary cost of those clothes. Like the human rights violations at sweatshops run by Target (http://www.ecouterre.com/walmart-target-hanes-macys-linked-to-jordan-rape-factory/). Or the amount of water that goes into making the cotton for those cheap dungarees. Or the waste that comes from buying cheap clothes made from polyester, which doesn’t biodegrade.

    It’s a tough issue, and the fact that most green living is so expensive makes it even harder. One of the best things we all can do, even on a budget, is to buy used — you can get $30 or under jeans on Etsy or at your local charity thrift shop. Fashion can be fun, and I fear that by pointing out the ethics inherent in fast fashion I’m being a buzzkill. But being aware of these things and making your own clothes or buying used can help make a small dent in the problems in fast fashion.

    (I’m writing this after taking some antihistimines, so I hope I’m not coming off as incoherent…)

    • Anaheed September 13th, 2012 7:52 PM

      Nah, you’re not being a buzzkill (or not any more than we are all buzzkills at Rookie!). We take those issues really seriously and have talked about them here and will continue to. But we also always keep in mind that our readers don’t have disposable incomes and that it is disrespectful to them to tell them to just buy really expensive shit if they want to be “good people.” You know? I don’t think we’ll ever get the balance exactly right — in fact we don’t “balance” so much as zig-zag wildly between those two poles. So, thanks for providing some tiny bit of balance.

      • filmfatale September 13th, 2012 10:42 PM

        I hear you, which is why I mentioned thrift shopping. I’m sure Iris would approve of $15 or under used jeans at your friendly neighborhood Goodwill. :P I just went back and checked that I specifically mentioned thrift shopping in my response…and I did! Twice, even. Not everyone has the budget for an all-Feral Childe wardrobe (speaking from personal experience here), and buying from your local thrift is respectful to readers on a budget, respectful to the Goodwill, and respectful to the earth. Everyone wins.

  • northernground September 13th, 2012 7:55 PM

    slhjgkvahsydfuigkdsaf YES. i’m obsessed with her/advanced style. you guys feature the best stuff!

  • Juli September 13th, 2012 8:26 PM

    I love Iris Apfel! A woman on the bus yesterday was totally the dark-haired version of Iris Apfel. No joke! She was wearing a gigantic plastic chain necklace and had tulle and chiffon practically dripping off her shoulders! I just thought: now there’s a woman!

  • Ben September 13th, 2012 8:34 PM

    i LOVE those bracelets! Insects are so fascinating and beautiful! i have a dead moth collection and my brother just gave me one he found today! I need bug jewelry!

    • Ben September 13th, 2012 8:40 PM

      also I follow advanced style! some of those people are really cool and this is a nice article! I also love the backdrop today which is from the Alexander McQueen for Givenchy couture “eclect dissect” collection. the idea was a mad scientist who cut up a bunch of different woman and then put them back together mixed up! It’s a beautiful collection! I just wanted to boast all this information that i know from memory cuz i’m obsessed with Lee!

  • GlitterKitty September 13th, 2012 9:05 PM

    I had never heard of this woman before I read this but I totally love her. Go Iris go!

  • Eryn September 13th, 2012 9:14 PM

    I LOVE IRIS! This article is fantastic. People just don’t get much more fascinating than Miss Apfel.

  • ShakespeareRules September 14th, 2012 3:18 AM

    I just adore Iris, she is such an inspiration – and I’m only 16! But seriously, I just can’t wait till I get to 80 years old, it’s going to be so much fun.

  • Krista September 14th, 2012 11:17 AM

    I want to be exactly like Iris when I grow up.

  • M.Rose September 14th, 2012 2:11 PM

    This is so cool! Thank you again Rookie.
    http://fledglingstyle.blogspot.co.uk/

  • limegreensunset September 14th, 2012 3:15 PM

    I LOVE THIS WOMAN.

  • airplanes.books September 14th, 2012 9:27 PM

    it would be RAD to be her for halloween.

  • hillary September 14th, 2012 11:51 PM

    could she possibly be any cooler? i think not.

  • unicornconnect September 15th, 2012 2:42 AM

    Iris apfel is like the most legendary 80 year old ever!!!!!!!!! Her glasses make me smile very time:)

  • Mimi7 September 15th, 2012 5:44 PM

    I love how Advanced Style and Iris make people actually excited about getting older instead being afraid of it. I hope more of fashion goes in that direction soon.

  • julalondon September 16th, 2012 4:47 AM

    I love this and I LOVE HER! Hopefully i will be like her when i get old….but her style advices work for a 21 year old girl as well i think…=)

  • Tasya September 17th, 2012 7:57 AM

    i want to be Iris when I grow up and Iris’s best friend right now

  • carol24 September 18th, 2012 8:10 PM

    I love Iris! Advanced Style is amazing!

  • Katherine September 20th, 2012 1:44 AM

    She is one fabulous lady – I especially like the picture of her from the Grazia Daily. I hope to be as great when i’m older, but I’m held back by the Coco Chanel “take one thing off before you leave the house” mindset.

  • ulana September 23rd, 2012 4:02 PM

    asdfhjkl;hk;!!! I HAVE FOUND MY GRANDMAS LONG LOST SISTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I SWEAR THEY COULD BE BEST FRIENDS!!
    I IMAGINE THEM NOW….
    sitting in a cafe on indian pillows, swapping bangles and drinking exotic teas……

    <<<333333

  • Brittannica September 26th, 2012 1:07 AM

    I think Iris has really great, original person style, which is why I was so dissapointed to read these body-shaming comments by her:

    “Now when I walk down Fifth Avenue in the summertime I just want to throw up. It seems that the fatter and uglier people are, the fewer clothes they wear. The shorts and flip-flops and tight jeans on butts that go from here to Poughkeepsie.’

    She shudders. ‘I always say they should put people in jail for wearing clothes like that. Especially stretch jeans over size 10 [a UK size 14] – they should be outlawed. Ten years ago people were starting to look like slobs in New York, now it’s an epidemic.”

    Source:
    http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG8837000/New-York-doll-interview-with-the-socialite-Iris-Apfel.html

  • Brittannica September 26th, 2012 1:15 AM

    What kind of role model tells us that fashion is for everyone!- no matter your age or wealth but only if your body reflects a narrow definition of beauty.

  • Mary the freak November 18th, 2012 11:34 AM

    I CANNOT WAIT TO GET OLDER TO BE AN AMAZING WITTY GRANDMA.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • simplebutchic December 23rd, 2012 12:29 PM

    Grandma Style is the best style!

    http://simplebutchic.blogspot.com/