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Iris Apfel: Giving the Middle Finger to Ageism

Several weeks ago, fashion celebrity Iris Apfel died at the age of 102.

Many have talked about her eye-catching outfits, her personality, and her eyeglasses, to name a few. But one thing that’s not talked about enough is how she gave the middle finger to ageism.

She called dressing for one’s age “stupid.” Rather than doing that, she said that “if a woman has her own style and knows who she is, she doesn’t have to dress for being 60 or 20 or 90.” Sure, there were guidelines that she thought were practical for older women to keep in mind, but most of all, she wanted people to be happy with how they dressed, rather than following any guidelines.

She brought attention to how fashion designers “[are] all entirely too youth-oriented.” Related to that, perhaps her biggest beef was how many of the clothes in the fashion industry are made for 16-18 year-olds, clothes that sell “for thousands of dollars, and the kids can’t even afford them. In America it has been proven that the bulk of spending money is in the hands of women between 60 and 80, so it’s so stupid.” The overarching theme of this gripe is her understandable and rightful belief that the fashion industry neglects older women—a large segment of society, given that many baby boomers are retired at this point.

She griped about the ageism with the models that the fashion industry turns to. As she said: “And why they use these models who look 15… How can an older woman relate to a little kid running up the and down the runway? You can’t.”

And the best part about her was that she lived out her own advice. She didn’t worry about dressing for one’s age. She helped give older persons representation in the fashion world. She dressed in a way that made her unapologetically her. And she bucked the trend that glamour need be associated with youth. These were all among the ways that Iris Apfel gave the middle finger to ageism.

Rest in power, Iris Apfel.



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