'Idiosyncratic Fashionistas' Prove Style Has No Age Limit
Authentic style is a reflection of who you are, not what trendy magazines or Madison Avenue claim you should be
This article originally appeared on SeniorPlanet.org.
Valerie and Jean were pretty busy having fun during September’s New York Fashion Week. They partied, modeled, watched models, partied some more and then blogged about it.
On Sept. 3 the duo — also known as the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, after their style blog — were named among the 50 most stylish New Yorkers by the fashion-empowerment site StyleCaster, which organized a party and a street-style photo shoot.
The two seem to be negotiating their blossoming fame with a mixture of OMG breathlessness and the perspective that comes only from having a few decades behind you. They attribute the recent spate of attention to the increased visibility of their blog, which they started in 2009.
Although they’ve been dressing up for as long as they can remember, it was blogging that earned them invitations to events where they rub shoulders with the likes of Vogue editor Anna Wintour — and her acknowledgment at the Met’s Costume Institute Gala last May was a sure sign of arrival.
Valerie and Jean like to say they are “aging with verve,” which is the opposite of doing it gracefully, the buzzword of the moment in aging circles.
I caught up with the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas in between their 9-5 jobs and their after-work Fashion Week escapades. Always colorful and entertaining, Valerie (at right in photo) had twisted her ankle just before Fashion Week and is pictured with her medical boot decked out in pink ribbons.
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Barbara Aria: Your blog has spawned a sizable following. Who’s reading it?
Jean: A lot of non–Fashion Week establishment types follow us — older women as well as younger women and guys. They get that being older isn’t a death sentence and that we have fun doing what we’re doing. Older women are not invisible. Rules are made to be broken. You don’t need to follow fashion.
Valerie: Reading us, people get permission; they get validation. They see there are people doing what they want to do. Women are in danger of being square pegs in round holes. We don’t get negative comments. All we get is people who say, “Where did you get that?!” We’re almost a psychological outlet for older women. Younger women say, “I don’t have to be afraid of getting old now.”
Jean: For people who are interested, we show them what you can do with funky little things.
Valerie: We model how you can play with your clothes. We made a pair of matching hats with a can of red spray paint.
Jean: We’re showing that we’re not home knitting or sitting in front of the TV eating bonbons.
What about people who aren’t interested? How important is style?
Valerie: I have no head for math. I have a head for color. But it’s not for everyone.
Jean: We were on TV and I caught some negative comments, like, “Who do you think you are? Sit down and shut up.” If I had negative feedback all the time in a small town, it would be really hard. But there are women who’ve given up. That is not healthy. If you don’t take care of the outer, you’re not taking care of the inner. I do keep things in perspective though.
Valerie: It’s worth noting that Jean sailed through menopause and I did not. I did the Michelin-woman thing and I had a closet full of clothes I couldn’t wear. It does a number on your self-image when you don’t look like the person you remember.
Jean: You’re not going to turn back that clock no matter what you put yourself through, physically and mentally. So you might as well relax and celebrate what you are.
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Have you been “fashionistas” forever?
Jean: I started reading Vogue when I was 13. We lived through the ’60s with the hippies and the ’80s with the shoulder pads. It gives you a historical perspective, so you don’t make the same mistakes again. We met at a vintage clothing show. Valerie was curating — she was a Japanese-textile curator in a former life — and she approached me with an invitation to her show.
Valerie: Jean had that look about her: a middle-aged woman who understands what textiles are all about. We celebrated the opening night and had a list of things in common, including the desire to wear clothes that interest us. You can’t go naked — you have to be dressed — so you might as well like what you’re wearing. It has to have something quirky about it. We didn’t come of age during the Eisenhower Period. We’re of the Carnaby Street generation. It was a whole revolution in thinking.
Jean: I lived downtown and in ’77 I moved to SoHo. It changed my life. Punk was hitting and the galleries were starting. It was vibrant.
Can you give us some style tips?
Jean: If you’re wearing a statement outfit, please figure out what statement you’re wearing, not what someone on Madison Avenue tells you to wear.
Valerie: Most of those statements say, "This is safe to wear."
You both wear a lot of vintage …
Valerie: Fashion is not made for us. Karl Lagerfeld doesn’t look at us when he makes his creations. There are a few niche designers who are good for women of our age, but by and large, they don’t want to know about you if you’re bigger than a size 0.
Jean: When you get to be in your 50s and 60s, the red-carpet dresses don't cut it. They’re so form-fitting, it’s absurd. We find designers who create for real women, things that will move. But we do high and we do low — we go to H&M, too.
Valerie: H&M is working on a budget and that means they make it boxy. Half of my dress wardrobe is made of shifts — they hide all the things you want to hide and they move fabulously. And you don’t have to pay $1,000 for it.
Jean: We wear long tube skirts under the short dress.
Valerie: We mix it up. These days, it takes a lot of time and money to dress strictly in vintage, as well as a singularity of purpose. It’s possible to do, but difficult. I don’t think I own a single complete outfit from any one period, although I would love to. We mix and match new with old. That removes items from their usual context, which revitalizes the way people look at them. Think Mick Jagger with long, loose hair wearing an Edwardian velvet jacket, a shirt with lace cuffs and a pair of jeans. So we might wear a new outfit with a vintage hat, for example, because the hat’s color or shape blends or contrasts well with the outfit. The edge comes from some element of surprise in the hat that is impossible to reproduce now.
Jean: One of the things we try to get across to people is you have to find your own look: what colors work, which materials.
Do you shop online?
Valerie: I shop online. I go to eBay because I’m looking for second-hand things. I stick with designers I’m familiar with because that way I know the size will fit me. If it’s cheap, you have the freedom to put it back into the universe – give it to a thrift shop. Etsy has been a wonderful resource.
Jean: I like flea markets. The thing with vintage, though, is that you need to see what condition it’s in.
Valerie: The nice thing about flea markets is that you go into one small room and if they have it, they have it. If they don’t have it, they don’t have it. You get a wonderful mix in a very short amount of time. I look for textures on the rack.
Tell us about “aging with verve.”
Jean: “Aging gracefully” is an expression from my childhood. It seems to imply it’s time to fade into the background. For people who like the background, that’s fine, but we’re not done. We have things to say and things to do. We’re having a good time and we want to go out with verve.
Barbara Aria is the director of SeniorPlanet.org.
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