Advanced Style: Ageing doesn't have to be drab

You don't have to be 20 to take the fashion world by storm. A new TV film celebrates the fabulous style of over-60s –and Chloe Hamilton watched them strut their funky stuff

"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me." The first two lines of Jenny Joseph's famous poem, which lists the rebellious things Joseph plans to do in her old age ("learn to spit", "press alarm bells", "gobble up samples in shops") used to be pinned up in our bathroom when I was a child. I think it was my mum's way of reminding herself not to slide dowdily into old age. Maybe she, too, plans to don a red hat and learn how to spit when she gets older.

It is this kind of devil-may-care, wear-it-and-be-damned spirit that's celebrated in Advanced Style, the blog that celebrates New York's most glamorous grannies by documenting the fashion choices of those aged 60 and above. It also runs through the glorious new documentary of the same name that the blog's creators have just released. It proves, beyond doubt, that women don't have to be a size zero or a twentysomething to take the fashion world by storm. The film follows the stories, not to mention outfits, of mature women in the city, in an attempt to show, just like Joseph's poem, that ageing doesn't have to be drab.

Inspired by a grandmother who instilled in him a love for classic movies and vintage fashion, photographer and film-maker Ari Seth Cohen began the blog when he moved to Manhattan, photographing senior citizens after realising that they pounded the city's wide pavements as though they were on a fashion-week catwalk.

"Growing up, I never thought that being older was different," says Cohen. "I've always felt an affinity with older people because of my grandma. I'm drawn to people who have a strong sense of personal style, regardless of their age. I chase people with grey hair down the street if I like their look!"

Following the success of the blog, Cohen started to film the Advanced Style ladies going about their day-to-day lives. Soon, short clips of video snowballed into the feature length documentary that charts the success of the blog and its stars. By the end of the film, three of his posse have visited Los Angeles to appear on a chat show, two have been selected for the latest Lanvin campaign, and Cohen has organised a pensioner flash-mob fashion show in the middle of Manhattan.

lona Royce Smithkin, 94, the oldest fashionista lona Royce Smithkin, 94, the oldest fashionista Charmingly, the clothes provide a springboard for the women's anecdotes. We learn about 82-year-old Joyce Carpati, who first acquired a taste for fashion when she trained as an opera singer in Milan aged 16; Tziporah Salamon, 64, whose tailor father survived the death camps by sewing Nazi uniforms; larger-than-life Lynn Dell Cohen, 81, whose husband bought her a little clothes shop off Broadway to keep her from flirting with other men; and 81-year-old Jacquie Murdock, who was one of the first dancers to perform at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

The health issues surrounding ageing are addressed in the film, although somewhat fleetingly. One could argue that the difficulties facing older women are trivialised; cast aside to make way for another shot of a silver-haired vixen striking a pose in Central Park. We visit Ms Cohen in hospital after an operation, but hear more about the outfits that she wears to her rehabilitation sessions than about the gallstones that put her in them.

However, Ilona Royce Smithkin, the oldest fashionista, makes no bones about her limitations, saying she doesn't make long-term plans.: "I have very limited time," she says, joking that "I can't buy green bananas any more!"

Until recently, the art teacher, who cuts her bright ginger hair herself, fashioning the trimmings into rather startling eyelashes, didn't reveal her age, telling her students that she was "between 50 and death". Now, however, she's proud of her 94 years. "It took a long time to get there," she says.

Whether you're a fashion lover or not, the film is inspiring and makes you look forward to growing old disgracefully.

Like the woman in Jenny Joseph's poem, the stars of Advanced Style embrace old age with a self-confidence that comes only with experience. Not only do they use fashion to create a dialogue between young and old, and challenge the way we look at the elderly, they do it all in full make-up, strings of pearls and Louboutin heels. Now, where's my red hat…

Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This highly successful business...

    Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - Bedfordshire - £30,000 + Excellent package

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + Bonus, Pension, 25days hol, PHC +: Ashdown Group: ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Engineer - Fire Security Systems - OTE £60k

    £27500 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating in the South East pri...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn