Communities

These Older Women Will Forever Change the Way You Think About Fashion

by Isis Madrid

September 11, 2014
A few of the filmmakers' favorite subjects

Street style is really nothing new. From Berlin to New York to Mexico City to the suburbs, regular people have long been hopping out of bed, adorning themselves in clothing that make them happy, and peacocking down the street. But modern street style culture, like its refined older sister high fashion, is yet another victim of Western culture’s obsession with youth—young women in particular.

Our male gaze-driven society has made sure to hammer home the idea that women only have value up until their first wrinkle appears. The images that bombard men and women daily carries a subtle message that aging means you should defer to earth tones, bring down the hemlines, and generally make yourself invisible.

Ari Seth Cohen, the inspired blogger behind the wildly popular Advanced Style website-tuned-book and Lina Plioplyte, director of its brand new feature-length incarnation, find that notion to be utterly ridiculous.

“The average woman is so beaten down and so indoctrinated and besieged. Everywhere she looks there are pictures of sweet young things,” 93-year-old style icon Iris Apfel, the subject of a 2005 exhibit at the Costume Institute, tells Plioplyte. “[They’re] wearing these gorgeous clothes and all this makeup and everything else. Now, how could you possibly look like that?”

There's always time to live it up in New York

Plioplyte, 30, and Cohen, 34, met at a coffee shop shortly after having both moved to New York City. She, originally from Lithuania, and he, a student from San Diego, struck up a charmed friendship that day. Cohen mentioned to the budding filmmaker that he was interested in starting a photo blog about elders with style and the journalist-turned-documentarian volunteered to make short videos of the ladies he was training his lens on.

“I’d like to pick their brain about style,” Plioplyte mused at the time. Six years, one book, and an inspiring Kickstarter campaign later they have a movement on their hands.

Equal parts fashion documentary and empowering punk manifesto, Advanced Style has humungous heart. Plioplyte and Cohen followed the lives of more than a dozen sartorially bold New Yorkers over the age of 60 for the film, eventually whittling the pool down to seven captivating subjects. Plioplyte made sure to portray the inspirational women as real people—not hackneyed archetypes.

“Being 30 sometimes I’m still like, ‘Oh no there’s another wrinkle!’ Seeing these women flaunting their experiences on their faces—their freckles and wrinkles, their wisdom. Everything tells a story,” Plioplyte explains over the phone. “Every day means something and growing old is a beautiful thing and a privilege.”

Tajah Murdock

From 67-year-old DIY queen, yogi, and newly-in-love Debra Rapoport, who thrifts and personally constructs all of her eclectic pieces, to 81-year-old Jacquie "Tajah" Murdock, original Apollo Theater dancer and current—legally blind—Lanvin model, these women refuse to give in to ageism.

“These are real women who are actually not perfect,” Plioplyte says. “I needed to show them as real individuals.”

Tziporah Salamon, 62, darling of the New York fashion scene and a favorite subject of renowned street style photographer Bill Cunningham, asserts that she still can’t seem to land a job as a restaurant hostess due to her age. Salamon also wishes to marry a man with children one day, since she has none of her own. “The hats, the bags, the shoes, the jackets, all of that. They were my children,” she explains with barely a hint of regret.

Boutique owner and all-around firecracker, Lynn Dell, 81, is particularly candid, devilishly confessing past marital infidelities while fixing lunch for her blind husband of 61 years in the next room.

Nonagenarian Zelda Kaplan, a classy lady who believes “good style improves the environment for everybody,” traveled around the globe seeking out cloth for her tailor-made ensembles for years. Her particularly touching storyline is one that you’ll have to see for yourself to appreciate.

Perhaps the most active and electric of the gang is 94-year-old redhead Ilona Royce Smithkin. A tiny Polish woman who fashions her trademark fake eyelashes from clippings of her own hair, Smithkin has a gigantic personality and appetite for life. She is an accomplished painter and teacher, cabaret singer, and world traveler who says she only came into her own “about maybe 12, 10, 13 years ago.” She didn’t used to be so comfortable in her skin.

Joyce Carpati

“I would call myself now an artist,” she declares to Plioplyte. “At one time I had no self confidence and I did not think that I could do anything. But seeing so much art around and seeing what I can do and what I’ve learned and represent, I am an artist. And I’m a teacher.”

But don’t think that loud ensembles, zany patterns, and over-the-top accessories characterize all of the featured women’s individual styles. Eighty-year old Joyce Carpati, a trained opera singer and retired magazine industry professional who pioneered a place for women in the business, tends to stick to a few classics—pearls, Chanel, and a “good suit.”

“Ladies, life gets better. It’s up to you. Don’t think about aging,” she advises. “Just go ahead, look good and enjoy the moment.”

Advanced Style opens in select U.S. cities on September 26th.

All photos by Ari Seth Cohen

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These Older Women Will Forever Change the Way You Think About Fashion