Over 80 and beautiful

That phrase was never an oxymoron, but lately I am noticing ever more beautiful elders.

This one I've even met: she's Kay, mother of my dear friend Susan. Is she not a goddess? Let's parse her style so we can emulate it: everything she's wearing could be worn by her daughter, also a beauty. There's no "little old lady" insipid pastels, no jewelry acquired before cars had seatbelts, no orthopedic shoes.

Best of all, that smile, and a presence suffused by joie de vivre.

Kay, age 89

Kay's ensemble is absolutely of the minute; I think that's the key to her chic.

The entire ensemble

Now that's a good-looking family!

Like mother, like daughter! Here's Kay with Susan, 60ish. Both wear vibrant colour and modern, bold jewelry– the same look flatters each generation. (I'm beginning to catch on that as I age, I could leaven my habitual neutrals with colourful accessories.)

People who refer to certain clothing items as "old lady" might meditate on these shots, and for good measure, consider this photo of her grandmother, kindly provided by Rubiatonta, originally posted on her blog Rubi Sez. Another elegant elder, she is 98 and, according to Rubi, able to make a racy double entendre with the best of them.
Rubi's grandmother

Mrs. B in Marni

Above, the ultimate in octagenarian chic, the renowned British fashion merchant Joan Burstein, "Mrs. B", over 80, in a Marni tunic, part of a fabulous feature showing what she wore for a month, in British Vogue. (Thank you Josephine, aka "chicatanyage", who writes the blog Chic at Any Age for posting the link to this.)

Mrs. B's earrings

The bags! The jewelry! If Mrs. B is your model, better start saving now.

There are women like this in every community, and don't for a minute think they don't care about how they look anymore.

A commenter pointed out on The Sartorialist that the elders shot by Scott Shuman were dressing snappily before we were born. Calling them "adorable" or "cute" (as other commenters had) infantalizes, neuters and diminishes their substance.

There is certain behaviour I have observed in a few elder women, an eye-batting coyness, a reversion to adolescent giggles and flirtatiousness. (I suspect this is a coping mechanism for loss of independence). But the vast majority of elder women are not cute.

La voie lactée by Geneviève Cadieux 

A final image: the sultry red lips of this mature woman hover over Montreal.

"La voie lactée" by Geneviève Cadieux sits atop Le Musée d'art contemporain; a version will appear in the Paris Metro at Saint-Lazare. The lips belong to her mother, a family friend; we will see the piece when it is installed in October. 

I applaud both cities for choosing this celebration of authentic age, with its distinct beauty and for once eschewing the easy allure of the unlined face. 


Anonymous said…
Thanks for this post. At 62 I'm already weary of references to 'old lady' or 'nana' style - there's absolutely no reason why women of my age and much older should be dowdy or dated. I've been following the daily updates on UK Vogue on the marvellous Joan Burstein's wardrobe - she and your friend's mother certainly offer lots of useful pointers to all of us who believe style has no sell-by date. Rosy
Anonymous said…
That woman is so chic, she is wearing a print that I would consider risqué and modern. My own mum us 89 and I think quite beautiful too though very reserved in her clothing but then again last week we went out and once coats came off- we were wearing exactly the same!
I do think it's alright to refer to certain things as old lady however, even my mum would use that term, it can accurately define a style of dress.
Anonymous said…
I would love to see tips and commentary on makeup for women, let's say, 65-70-75-80. There's been a lot of advice on blogs for the 50+ woman, but 15 to 20 years older for many woman means makeup that needs to be able to work well with thinning lips, facial lines, and general loss of pigment in brows, etc. Many of us are staying slender, dressing in modern clothing, and have chosen to age "naturally"...but that doesn't mean we don't want to use cosmetics.
Susan B said…
Great pictures and so inspiring! I love the bold looks on these women. I love how they've eschewed the insipide, "dainty" styles and pastels that are so often foisted on older women.
Darla said…
Inspiring! It is refreshing to see a photo of an over 80 woman who is stylish. So many resort to clown clothes in an effort to beat off the frump factor. This lady gets it RIGHT!

Darla (over 70 herself)
These photos are wonderful inspiration. Style is forever, why not?
Anonymous said…
Anonymous, the reason there are no makeup tips for those over 55 is because demographically 50 is the new 90. You are automatically dumped into the geriatric category when you reach this milestone and some of us will remain there for more than 40 years.

And yes times really did change. All you have to do is watch movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood pre 1962 say and you will notice that in restaurant or nightclub scenes at least half the actors will be over 60, the directors, writers, hairstylists, makeup artists were often older as well.

If you can watch TV and flip channels and see 1 woman over 65 every 3 hours then you begin to see yourself as invisible as well. The women you describe are not the norm, they are women who have managed to cobble together their own style with no outside direction. The fact that you have to single them out for special mention speaks volumes.
emma said…
Wow, Mrs. B rocks it! So does everyone else in those bright colours. Love the b/w geometric print - a great use of pattern. I love prints & always have to be on my gaurd from choosing the "wearable art" variety. Much as I like it, I think it says "I'm wearing this so you'll know I'm interesting...and artsy". I want to be more subtle than that. Like these women!
Duchesse said…
Anonymous@7:09: There are in fact two reason why some women of this age look dowdy and dated, that I want to point out:
1. Reduced finances: Check the median income for women over 75 where you live, I am sure it will be sobering.

2. Mobility: In the 80s, often mobility is decreased. Even if a woman has only a cane or walker, it is still much harder for her to go out shopping. Yes, there is mail order, which can help enormously, but many, like my mother, still prefer to actually see and try the clothes. Other health issues, like arthritis and osteoporosis make fit difficult.

2. Bourbon&Pearls: Funny story! Why join age and sex to form a derogatory term, though? Dowdy or frumpy seems more accurate to me and does not put a woman or her age down.

3. Anonymous: OK! Cliniqu make very good products for 60+ skin:
- Almost Lipstick: emollient, semi sheer
-City Block: a sheer, moisturizing protector with a slight tint
- Brow pencil to subtly enhance brows
- and take care of the teeth, whitening is a good idea but not to the unnatural blinding white stage.
The white-haired Madame of "La Voie lactée" (a great beauty and model) does not in fact wear that deep red IRL. She wears discreet mascara by day and a neutral shadow for evening.

unefemme: Susan in fact sent me a photo of her mom with another family member dressed just as you describe-so yes, that look is still around, too.

seeyouthere: Darla, I see little of the "clown effect" (but know what you mean.) I more often see zero makeup or effort. I once amused myself in church with my mother trying to find one woman wearing any eye makeup.

Pattti: Thank you. I am inspired myself, at 63.

Anonymous@ 9:44:I wouldn't know how many elders are on TV- I do not own one. However, I see plenty of them in the community, due to the demographics.

re" "you have to single them out for special mention": I could, if I had the time (and skill) to photograph local elders on the street, find many more examples of 80ish men and women who take care with their appearance.
Perhaps one sees what one focuses on.
Duchesse said…
emma: I am so with you on the trap of "wearable art". See my post
Duchesse said…
Anonymous@ 7:29: Sorry for typos, that is of course "Clinique". I have found both Clinique and Estee Lauder offer good in-store makeup sessions for elder women.

Perhaps other readers will kindly add their recommendations.
Patty said…
Another wonderful post. I always notice a certain lady at church who must be in her 80s who always looks fabulous. She does not wear elastic waist pants - my pet peeve as women age. I think color is essential as you age. My mom is killer in fuchsia and purple, while MIL is always in tan and navy which is not at all flattering.
laurieann said…
Wonderful photos. I am immediately drawn to Kay's short, natural hair, her dark eyeglasses, scarf and sandals. All simple but effective in sending the message that here is one strong, fun, independent elder who is interested in life. Kay would be a great person to have at a party.

I have followed Mrs. B for several years now and always enjoy how she puts herself together.
Duchesse said…
Patty: As a neutral-loving dresser, I take your point. I plan to keep my neutral palette and add colour with scarves and jewelry- But Mrs. B's deep-coloured prints are calling to me. I'm saving that Vogue feature forever. She has a a robins' egg blue croc bag that lifts any neutral; I will maybe be able to afford a leather version.
Duchesse said…
laurieann: Kay is exactly the person you sense. She was widowed in middle age. Her daughter told me that she re-engaged with life by "accepting every invitation she got".

She also benefits, as does Madame (the lips) from having a stylish daughter who lends a hand in her shopping forays.
Jill Ann said…
Love the way these ladies look! One commenter referred to "clown clothes" worn by some older women in an effort to stand out. I see that on the "Advanced Style" blog, which has many pictures of stylish elders, both men and women; but some of them, IMO, are not stylish but just over-the-top. They are interesting and fun, but not at all stylish in my view.
Susan Tiner said…
I learn so much from your blog!

The women all look wonderful. Beautiful.

I also liked reading your post about "wearable art." I have a friend who keeps encouraging me to shop at an arty boutique but I refuse to go until I've developed a coherent style because a) I'm too impressionable right now -- the twenty-something salesperson would sell me the wrong things, and b) I don't see the point in shopping for "interesting" pieces until the core is in place. How would I know what you're complimenting/accenting?
Duchesse said…
Jill Ann: The author of Advanced Style admires different effects than I do; some of his of his subjects are even in the realm of anti-goals for me- while other readers really like his posts. I applaud his purpose of providing visibility for elders.

Susan Tiner: Hold your ground! With your sewing skills you can make a top in an interesting print and see how you like that before investing in "wearable art" (a term that always rouses my suspicion.)
Anonymous said…
Another great post, with lots of food for thought...

I agree with you about Advanced Style--I like that he's focusing on older women, but far too many of them look absurd.

On "art to wear"--my personal opinion, as a sewist, as that much of it is badly fitted. With a little more design/fitting care, it can look fabulous.

On color as we age--yep, more, please! I like the concept of columns of color. Neutrals are tricky for me, especially as I am blonde, blue-eyed and amazingly pale. (I have an "Oregon tan," these days.)

Oh, and I'll check the Clinique eyebrow stuff. My eyebrows have decamped for parts unknown...
Jean S said…
anon @ 1:52 was me. This is what happens when you're up in the middle of the night w/a headache: You're stupid the next day... sheesh.
SewingLibrarian said…
I spent evenings last week with a group of women in their seventies and early eighties. They talked about how hard it is to go shopping. I think what they meant is so many stores cater mostly to younger women, and it takes time and energy to suss out garments that work for older women. Kendall Farr talks about this in her book (and it seems aimed at the 40-60 age group), so imagine how much harder it is for those in their 80's. One of the women I was with is tall, thin, beautiful with white hair, but her clothes all look like they are from the 1980's. She actually looked younger and more modern in her capris and "Vacation Bible School Volunteer" tee-shirt that we were all wearing.
materfamilias said…
What wonderful examples you've pulled together to inspire us with.
Unknown said…
Great post. Love the bright colour Kay is wearing. Thanks for the mention very much appreciated. On second thoughts maybe Mrs B can carry off all the jewellery. Perhaps one less bangle but my taste tends to be fairly minimalist when it comes to jewellery. We had our 85 yr old neighbour over for dinner in France and when she finally said "goodnight" at about 2.00 am. my husband commented that he never thought he would see the day (or in this case night) when an 85 yr old had more stamina than him. She is also extremely chic and elegant whenever I see her. Hope to be posting some more beautiful octogenarians when the pics come over from France.
Let us all champion looking beautiful in our own unique way, having fun with fashion and enjoying life at whatever age.
Duchesse said…
Jean S: You are so right about some of those arty clothes fitting badly. Other times they are just not well thought out, too many embellishments, the look I call "walking craft show".

Sorry about your headache, and it reminds me of another point: if one does not feel well it's hard to care about appearance, and not many women over 80 are free of some kind of ache or pain.

Sewing Librarian: I had an aunt who turned to me in a shopping mall parking lot, grabbed my wrist and said "I an desperate for clothes"- and she was a size 8. Someone needs to seize this market, and they do not all want Applesed's.

materfamilas: Thamks and see chicatanyage's comment below- more to come.

chicatanyage: We will all be awaiting those photos. Love the story of your friend. I can do that too but need a massive nap in the afternoon to pull it off!
Duchesse said…
Deja Pseu: Read your comment by e-mail but-as sometimes happens- it is not showing here yet. Your reference to "the clothes they foist on us" made me think. Are you seeing the same error as I am, the clothes either impossibly young (short skirts especially) or boring (e.g., Appleseeds) for elders? Some of the makers my mother and her friends depended on (Mark, Fore & Strike was one) went out of business.

Who is going to come forward and serve this ever-growing market?
Lynda said…
Duchesse, For years I've been wanting to let my hair go grey, but was always talked out of it.
"Oh, Lynda you are going to look old" For heaven's sake, I am 72! And today, I read in you wise blog, "authentic age". That is what I want to be, my "authentic age" in my hair color, my clothing.
Thank you so much for making me see the light.
Happiness to you and your family in Montreal. My mother was so proud to be French Canadian. Her ancestry was traced to a little town in France, but she insisted she was Canadian from Montreal.
Duchesse said…
Lynda: I am here to encourage that authentic expression, so it is gratifying to receive your comment; thank you. I'll post a little on Montreal tomorrow.

I'd say 72 is time to do what pleases you.
You know looking at these images of fabulous gals I might rethink my black and white basics.

What a splendid group of fashionable elders!
Anonymous said…
Many splendid examples of stylish women who never forgot that people are watching. Thank you for the links to several blogs that are new to me.
Duchesse said…
hostess: You could lift Kay's example in the first photo; I know I will.

Terri: Glad to provide and thanks!
Mardel said…
What a fabulous post and inspiring women to emulate. I'm going to go check out the links next.
These women are inspiring! Have you ever read Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach? For some reason, I think you might like it!
Duchesse said…
Carmie: Have not read and just added it to my Wish List; thank you!
Anonymous said…
Although I admire beautiful older women, I was angered by the opening paragraph which applauded "no orthopedic shoes". At age 77, I have purchased a pair of orthopedic shoes, not by style choice but by necessity as I wish to be able to walk. Can I expect to never be considered acceptably stylish again? I could sit in my elegant chair in elegant shoes all day and never attempt leaving my home, but I choose to offend the style conscious by walking about in shoes I am able to wear.
Duchesse said…
Kay, at over 90, is *at a party* not walking.

Orthopedic shoes are usually quite ugly. They do not "offend" me; they are what they are: like support hose, walkers or canes, an aid to mobility. Since you are not only anonymous but don't post a picture of your shoes, who knows what you have?

You might be interested in the shoes sold at Labortoire Pouliot in Montréal (and probably sold elsewhere).

More unappealing than any shoe is being a peevish elder.

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