For all those who are tired of seeing style and fashion presented solely as a young woman’s game, behold Advanced Style.
Out in May from PowerHouse Books, this collection of street-fashion photographs of the over-60 set is a joy.
Although few of the subjects photographed on the streets of New York City reveal precisely how old they are, they offer lessons in confidence and style that women of all ages will appreciate, which is exactly why Ari Seth Cohen started Advanced Style, the blog that inspired the book.
Among the stylish figures in the book is the elegant and refined Rose, age 100, pictured in a paisley caftan, Hermes belt and oversized beads. Her credo? “If everyone is wearing it, then it’s not for me.” Alice, posing in a men’s tweed jacket, jodhpurs, boots, fingerless gloves and a silk scarf, says, “Fie on women in sneakers and sweats.” Then there’s Debra, in electric-blue sunglasses and brocade pants, who approaches getting dressed like an art project and says, “Tomorrow is another day and another look.”
Cohen combs the city looking for elder style on the street. “It’s fun to hang out outside the Carlysle Hotel,” he says, which is where he snapped a photo of actress Elaine Stritch wearing one of her signature menswear-inspired looks. “But I don’t spend too much time on the Upper East Side because a lot of the women there have had a lot of plastic surgery.” Advanced Style
is about embracing one’s age, not fighting it, he says. “In society, women are told to back down from fashion as they get older, and they become invisible. I got an email from one woman who said her grandkids were embarrassed by the way she dresses. … She showed them my blog, and they changed their minds.”
He has learned that there really is no such thing as age-appropriate dressing. The book features its fair share of traditional houndstooth suits, silk scarves and sensible shoes, but it also has women in artsy hats and colorful turbans.
“Some women think fashion should be more proper, others don’t care at all. If someone is comfortable and confident, that’s what matters,” Cohen says. “I like to have a mix of eccentric and elegant in the blog and book, because I’m attracted to both extremes.”
Cohen grew up in San Diego, where he spent many afternoons with his grandmothers, Bluma and Helen, watching old movies, trying on clothes and going through scrapbooks of photos showing people dressed to the nines.
After he finished school, he set his sights on New York City with an eye toward meeting Mimi Weddell, the 93-year-old model, actress and hat enthusiast whom he had admired from afar after seeing the 2008 documentary film about her life, Hats Off.
He wrangled an invitation to tea. “She wouldn’t give me cookies, but she offered me brandy,” he remembers of his first meeting with the late Weddell, who was a health enthusiast. “Everything she told me about life and style inspired me.”
Cohen began to notice other stylish older women on the streets of New York, “a wonderful city for older people to live in,” he says. And he asked to take their photographs.
Surprisingly, most were not offended. “I have never been shy to go up to people, but I did have to learn my approach. I tell them I’m photographing women 60 and above, and since most of them are 80 and above, they are flattered,” he says.
He started the blog as a response to what he saw as a lack of representation of older people in the media. “Everything I found in my research poked fun,” he says, “which was different from what my eyes were seeing on the street.”
The blog has been a boon for Cohen, leading to freelance work for AARP magazine and exhibitions of his photographs at stores and galleries in Europe. He’s currently working on an Advanced Style
film, which he hopes to complete this summer, and another book, this one more focused on health and lifestyle for the over-60 set.
So at the tender age of 30, how does Cohen feel about his advancing years?
“We all are going to get older. It’s not about me looking forward to it, it’s about me being OK with it,” he says. “I’ve learned how to live my life more fully from the women I have met who are 100 and still doing Pilates. I have a new sense of freedom and have learned to let things go and just accept myself.”