Last week, the Guardian online published a list, with photos and commentary, on the 50 best-dressed over 50s. This is a twist on standard best-dressed lists which tend to favor the young and beautiful, who can usually look good in anything:
“[w]hen youth and beauty are taken out of the equation, the best-dressed competition becomes a little fairer, and more interesting…. Beauty fades; style becomes more important….because style over 50 has a depth of character with which no youngster can compete, however good she may look in hotpants.”
This list is ostensibly not about beauty but about style (though many on the list are very beautiful). It’s about finding a style that works for you, and then working it. I can’t say I agree with all of their choices, but I love the fact that they are celebrating people who have confidence in the way they dress and the way they look as they age.
(I also like some of their snarky commentary. On Judi Dench: “Owning the pixie cut since before Anne Hathaway was born”; on Carine Roitfeld: “The only woman on Earth who looks a bit like Iggy Pop, but in a good way”; on Nick Cave: “He always, always has one too many buttons undone on his shirt, but it works.”; on Kirsty Wark: “Proving night after night that, contrary to popular opinion, a woman who knows her Miu Miu from her Mulberry can, astoundingly, still have sufficient brainpower left over to be well informed on other important issues”.)
What really struck me, however, were comments from two women who made the list. The first, from Iris Apfel, age 91:
“No amount of money can buy you style …If someone says, ‘Buy this – you’ll be stylish’, you won’t be stylish because you won’t be you. You have to learn who you are first and that’s painful.”
I think I’m still trying to learn who I am, and hope by the time I get to be Iris’ age, I’ve figured it out and can make it work. (In the meantime, I’d love to sit next to Iris at a dinner party.)
The second comment was from Diana Athill, 95, a literary editor, novelist and memoirist. She had the most sensible, honest insight into style and aging that I have yet heard:
“However old one is, one still feels inside like the person one used to be. It’s a foolish mistake to try too hard to look like that person, but it would be a bit sad to look very much like something else.”
I think this shows real wisdom. I also think this balancing act is one that many women get wrong. I know my fashion misses almost always come from trying to be who I used to be, or from not paying attention to who I am. Style takes confidence and self-knowledge. I’m going to try to take these words to heart, and to grow older with style and wisdom.