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 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…
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