Lauderhill seniors are the model of elegance


Residents from a senior living community set out to prove you can be glamorous and fashionable at any age.

Gert Packman has never looked her age.

During the Great Depression, movie theaters wouldn’t let her in to see some films, because she didn’t look 16. (She was older).

After retiring and moving to Florida, she got skeptical looks when she asked for the senior citizen discount. (She qualified).

At 96, Packman showed a room full of people Wednesday that you don’t have to be young to be glamorous.

She was joined by six other resident-models, all in their 80s or 90s, in an informal fashion show at Forest Trace, a Lauderhill senior living community. The event also welcomed New York author Ari Seth Cohen, who has written “Advanced Style,” a pictorial book on elegance and aging.

The seven models decked out in fashions furnished by Sondro Boutique, sashayed across a ballroom at Forest Trace for an audience of about 75 people.

There were no shapeless shifts or housecoats here — the women wore slim-cut pencil skirts, sparkly tailored jackets and jewel-toned evening gowns. They strutted proudly, showing off their style and panache.

“It’s uplifting,” Forest Trace executive director Campbell Epes said of the show. “The attitude, the power and the strength — it makes you forget the age. You see her and say, ‘She’s gorgeous.’”

Cohen, 31, has long been fascinated with stylish older women. Growing up in San Diego, he spent long afternoons with his grandmothers, Bluma and Helen, who introduced him to the films and fashions of Old Hollywood beauties like Marlene Dietrich.

Bluma always told Cohen he should move to New York to pursue his creativity, and when she died seven years ago, he did.

On the streets of Manhattan, he found older women who reminded him of his grandmothers.

They dressed in furs and feathers, capes and caftans, with animal prints and bold colors. Cohen began photographing them, and eventually, befriending them.

“It was a way to connect with older people,” he said. “I wanted it to be a celebration of age and a celebration of style.”

When “Advanced Style” hit the shelves last spring, Cohen said he got a lot of different reactions.

Older women told him they were glad to see themselves represented in fashion, an industry that tends to forget about women over a certain age. Likewise, younger women told Cohen they weren’t afraid of growing older after seeing the women he photographed.

“I think it’s important not to give up, and I think it’s important to not feel like you have to give up,” Cohen said. “Style, for me, is a reflection of how vital [the women] are.”

On Wednesday, the senior models were a picture of vitality.

Phyllis Ellsweig, 85, donned a bright orange jacket for the fashion show. She usually opts for a more understated look — her favorite clothing shop is Talbot’s — but she said the colorful jacket from Sondro is something she would wear.

“I like to look nice,” the retired psychologist from Pennsylvania said.

Packman sported a black sequined evening jacket and stretch pants that “only Gertrude could get away with,” the announcer said as the nonagenarian sauntered past, her copper hair perfectly coiffed.

The secret to staying young, she said before the show, is mostly in the genes — but it helps to eat healthy, watch your blood pressure, and above all, maintain a sense of humor.

“I’m a free spirit,” Packman said. “My sense of humor has gotten me through. Without that I think I would fail miserably.”

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