Advanced Style: Fashion as Creative Expression at Any Age

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.

— Coco Chanel

Creativity has many outlets. Some people love to paint, while others go crazy for pottery-making, dance, or photography. And then there’s the art of fashion — ready and waiting to be embraced by bold souls brave enough to wear their creativity on their sleeves. While it’s easy to get caught up in the industry’s darker side (from its unhealthy depiction of women to its consumerist, materialist underpinnings), fashion itself can be pure creative expression, enabling us to shape our identity however we wish.

Unfortunately, our culture tends to view fashion as something relegated to youth culture. As we grow older, magazines and media forbid us from wearing most styles, from having fun with fashion, and lay out rules for using clothing as a means to mask our age. And yet, the truth is that fashion is a creative medium incredibly suited to old age. As we grow older, we tend to place less importance on what other people think; similarly, we’re more sure of who we are, and thus more courageous in our choices. The adage that youth is wasted on the young holds true when it comes to clothing: in practice, fashion is best suited to a mature body, mind, and spirit.

woman in runway show
Fashion is often seen as the domain of youth — but Advanced Style is changing that.
Image source: Ed Kavishe/fashionwirepress.com via wikimediacommons.org

That older people can be fashion-savvy is not news to photographer and entrepreneur Ari Seth Cohen. A longtime fan of stylish older women, Cohen started the colorful blog, Advanced Style, back in 2008 by taking casual photos of older women and men (over 60) around New York City whom he found fashionably inspiring. Looking for a way to feel more connected to the city’s innate wisdom, both his eyes and camera lens were drawn toward the documenting the older clothes horse crowd: “I started Advanced Style to put older people in the spotlight and to show that creativity, vitality and spirit advance with age.” To his surprise, the blog quickly gained a loyal fan-base. It now commands a healthy following and has inspired a documentary of the same name.

In the trailer for the uplifting film, a bevy of upbeat older women fills the screen, decked out in stunning garments and outrageous jewelry. Ironically, their magnetism has little to do with their outward appearance; instead, it comes directly from their lively personalities, overflowing with positivity and fresh perspective. To convey their inner beauty, Cohen says, “I like to go beyond style, so that I can hear what motivates each person to be so active and vital.” If nothing else, these wise women encourage us to view fashion light-heartedly, as something in which to revel — at any age. As one of the women featured in the film enthuses:

“I think it’s fun to dress up. It’s an exercise in creativity. Sometimes you’re in a funk, and you put something on and twirl yourself around and bingo!”

silhouette of Coco Chanel
A wealth of fashion advice and timeless quotes, Coco Chanel reminds us that “in order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”
Image source: Marion Golsteijn via wikimediacommons.org

Cohen’s initial admiration for advanced style came from the time he spent with his fashionable grandmothers as a child: “I spent most of my childhood with [my maternal grandmother] watching old movies and looking through her drawers and her yearbooks, and seeing all these women dressed up.” From his affectionate photographs to the sincere documentary, Cohen’s ongoing affection for his subjects is clear. In this fun piece, he shares tips from a 99-year-old woman named Rose on how to live stylishly, in all senses. A few of her pieces of advice include: “Never look back. Always look forward,” and “Don’t be afraid to tell your age, that’s silly. Be proud of your age.”

As a creative medium, fashion crosses boundaries in ways that most others don’t: it puts us out there for all to see, come night or day, rain or shine. By nature, fashion bridges the gap between the extraordinary and the mundane; where daily life meets the elements of design. During our aging journey, clothing can become our favorite partner in crime, or something we fight against. As the impeccably stylish ladies and gentlemen from Advanced Style reveal, fashion is a friend forever — a gateway to creative expression and freedom from cultural constraints.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.

— Coco Chanel

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one make a significant transition, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you examine available options and select a course that is right for your family. Contact us to find out more.

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Institute on Aging

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