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From Advanced Style: Older and Wiser by Ari Seth Cohen

I’m in love with the work of photographer and author, Ari Seth Cohen. He’s the creator of Advanced Style, a project devoted “to capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set.” Inspired by stylish seniors with attitude, Ari searches out older people who embrace a style all their own and photographs them for his blog, books, and documentaries. He features people who “ live life to the fullest, age gracefully and continue to grow and challenge themselves.” His mission is to show us that we can be stylish, creative, and vital at any age and to celebrate life.

I love that Ari captures these gorgeous creatures on film, but who I really love, are the people he photographs. At a time in life when many women feel invisible, these fashionistas let their freak flag fly, and dare to express and represent themselves by the way they dress. These adventurous men and women have turned their appearance into an art form. Since I’ve learned of his work, I’ve aspired to be just like his subjects when I grow up, and really go for it. Show my sparkle.

Women who have a great sense of style, always catch my eye. At one of my favorite Indian restaurants, I kept seeing an older woman who was stone cold fabulous. Her hair was always perfectly coiffed, and outfits stylish with expressive colors and lots of leopard print. Every time I saw her, she was put perfectly put together, with a style of her own. I couldn’t help but notice her. We smiled at each other every time, recognizing a kindred spirit. One day, she walked up and introduced herself to me. We told each other what we’d been thinking, “Love your style!” I found out during the introduction, that I’m friends with two of her also stylish daughters, sealing the connection forever.

I’ve always like style. When I was in high school, I worked at a store in Twin Lakes Shopping Center called The Model. It was mostly what I thought of as “old lady” clothes. The women who worked during the day fit that image to me, wearing gold pointy-toed Elfin slippers when their feet hurt from standing all day, fighting over customers and commissions. I thought of them as fashion sharks, and stayed far out of their way, watching and learning how they made sales.

It was one of the most interesting jobs I’ve had, and I met some colorful characters there that I’ll never forget. Like the woman that worked down the hall at a shoe store, who showed me the gun she carried in her purse while we were in the dressing room once. I met Claudia, a statuesque, dark-haired exotic, yet sophisticated woman, with a great sense of style. Even though she was a bit older than me, we became friends for a short time, and had fascinating conversations about what she’d seen and done in her life. Having just read Breakfast and Tiffany’s, talking to her felt like I was living in a Capote novel, until she flew away, like Holly Golightly, to another adventure.

The most fun part of the job for me was helping women get out of their style rut. I’d help them pick out clothes they would have never picked for themselves, as an “experiment” to try something new. While I admit, sometimes I added in some pretty ridiculous outfits. But it was mainly to help them see how less ridiculous something else was, that would have been out of their comfort zone before the clown suit – and a little bit to see what I could get away with. You’ve met me. I’ve gone on since that time, to take friends shopping to help them find their unique style. It’s always such a fun adventure, playing fashion show and dressing them like life-size Barbies. It sure makes people feel alive and a bit sassier, to make changes and glam it up a bit.

Don’t lose your sparkle.

Too many of us stop caring how we look as we get older, with some preconceived notions of what getting older should look like. I think that’s how we become invisible. Just like Ari’s models, go the other way. Let age embolden you to adorn yourself with individuality and creativity and stop caring what other people think.

Curate your own look.

If you love it, wear it. I enjoy seeing kids on the street, whose moms let them pick their own clothes. They’re always so fun and imaginative. They draw my eye right away. Maybe it’s just me, but these are the kids I want to hang out with. So much fun! We’ve been collecting what we love for a long time. Find new, fun ways to put together what you already have, to create your own unique style. You don’t have to go crazy. If you don’t like to draw attention to yourself, take baby steps and add just a little flair, like an accessory you love.

You look as good as you feel.

Confidence looks good on you, so clothes that makes you feel confident and beautiful are always the right choice. I used to buy clothes just because they fit me, but now I like to put the “hell yes” ploy into play. If I try something on and it isn’t “hell yes!” it’s “hell no.” If something doesn’t make you feel fabulous when you try it on, chances are it is not going to get any better at home, so leave it there. If you aren’t feeling it, that garment is just not your friend and doesn’t get to live in your closet.

Throw out the “rules.”

What is too many accessories? When should you stop wearing white? Does this make my butt look too big? Who cares! Free yourself from fashion slavery, and wear whatever you want. If it feels good, wear it and show the world who you really are. And really - Is it a matter of life, or death, to add just one more accessory over the line?

Broaden your horizons.

Because sparkle really comes from the inside, a big part of staying vital, is continuing to learn and grow as we age. That’s why one of the slogans for the Finishing School for Modern Women is, “Not because we need finishing, but because we’re never finished.” Work to stay relevant by paying attention to what’s going on in the world. Try something new. Make friends with people younger than yourself. Travel to places you’ve never been before, in your own backyard and beyond, whether you get there in person our through a book.

Do something new.

It’s nearly time to put away the shorts and get out the sweaters. That makes it a perfect time to transition into something new and jump out of a rut. Go try on some new and unexpected clothes or jewelry. If you’re stuck, stores like Lucinda’s have style consultation services, to give you advice to help you change your style. Go to a salon or makeup counter and get a makeup lesson to update what you’ve been doing. Talk to your stylist, and explore a new hair cut or color. If you don’t have a stylist, most salons give free consultations and estimates. Remember, it’s only hair and will grow back.

If you’re a fan of makeover shows, like the original What to Wear, Queer Eye, or 100% Hotter, you know that a new look can change a life. There are lots of people whose profession it is to help you look – and feel better. Don’t wait to be nominated for one of these shows. You deserve to live your best life right now, no matter how your body has changed over the years.


Headmistress Jill

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