Glam grandmas

Lyn Slater, 64, is a professor at Fordham University with side gigs as a model and blogger.
Lyn Slater, 64, is a professor at Fordham University with side gigs as a model and blogger.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Knitwear designer Jenny Kee (above), 71.
Knitwear designer Jenny Kee (above), 71.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Bold, fun and fashionable: Emiko Mori (above), 94
Bold, fun and fashionable: Emiko Mori (above), 94PHOTO: NYTIMES

Women in their 60s and older are eschewing stereotypes on what ageing entails and charting their own fashion and career paths

NEW YORK • Photographed with a hip thrust forward to show off her Margiela apron dress and modishly frayed jeans, Lyn Slater projects a kind of swagger pretty rare among her peers.

A professor at the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University, with hyper-chic side gigs as a model and blogger, she is known to a wider public as an Instagram idol.

Sure, she is 64, a time when some women her age are feeling pressed to close up shop. But if you are Slater, that is not going to happen.

On Accidental Icon, her influential Instagram account, she tends to vamp in an eye-catching mash-up of Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto and consignment store finds. Her following, hundreds of thousands strong, skews young, she said, and is responsive to her sass.

"I flaunt it," she said. "I'm not 20. I don't want to be 20, but I'm really freaking cool. That's what I think about when I'm posting a photo."

Her brash voice is one in a chorus of like-minded contemporaries and women in their 70s and 80s, who are taking on matters of ageing with an audacity - and riveting style - their mothers might have envied.

Married or single, working or not, and most often grandmothers, they are asserting their presence on Instagram, intent, in the process, on subverting shopworn notions of what "old" looks and feels like.

They are, to hear some tell it, "100 per cent slaying".

"These women are ambassadors of age," said Ari Seth Cohen, creator of Advanced Style, a popular street style blog, two books and a film documenting, in his words, the "fashion and wisdom of the senior set".

His subjects, he noted, are simultaneously reflecting and contributing to a gradual shift in the common perception of ageing. "The idea of what these older women look like has changed," he said. "If they were stylish in their youth, they will still be stylish now. They continue to be who they were."

That observation is echoed in the Elastic Generation, a 2018 J. Walter Thomson survey of 55-to 72-year-old women in England.

"Our collective understanding of what later life looks like remains woefully outdated," Ms Marie Stafford, the European director of the JWT Innovation Group, wrote in her introduction. "Age no longer dictates the way we live. Physical capacity, financial circumstances and mindset arguably have far greater influence."

Chalk up these women's influence to a palpable shift in the wind. Their advent coincides with the stepped-up visibility, and clout, of political outliers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose weathered features loom large these days on theatre screens, to say nothing of a voluble coterie of older women in Congress.

Entertainment legends such as singer-actress Cher, the redoubtably glamorous grandma in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which arrives in theatres later this month, do their utmost as well to spruce up the image of ageing.

In an apparently more hospitable climate, designers and advertisers have begun to acknowledge a more mature market, pushing a concept of inclusion to extend not just to race and ethnicity but also to age.

Maye Musk, 70, models for Concept Korea and is featured in Harper's Bazaar; Yasmin Le Bon, in her 50s, strikes poses for Armani; and at 65, Isabella Rossellini has returned as a face of Lancome, the beauty label that dropped her 20 years earlier.

Also overlooked is their social-media savvy.

Eschewing stereotypes, 73 per cent of the Elastic Generation participants "hate the way their generation is patronised when it comes to technology", the report says. Six out of 10 say they find tech "fascinating", according to the report, and many of those may actually be more competent using tech than their younger counterparts.

What is more, they have a demonstrable earning capacity, many working well into their 60s and 70s, others reinventing themselves to embrace new forms of entrepreneurship.

Slater, for example, was quick to monetise her account.

Spanish retailer Mango hired her for A Story Of Uniqueness, a campaign last year. She recently appeared in a commercial for CVS Pharmacy, a company she admires for its use of unretouched models of varying ages. She is featured in a music video with actress-singer Charlotte Gainsbourg and has been approached by literary agents to turn her posts into a book.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2018, with the headline 'Glam grandmas'. Print Edition | Subscribe