What Older Women Can Learn from Iris Apfel About Fashion… and Life!


Before 96-year-old
Iris Apfel made a splash on social media just over five years ago, hardly
anyone had ever heard of her. Today she is almost a household name among
fashionistas, influencers, and lovers of life.

Apfel’s personal
fashion style is based on the concept of “more is more” and, clearly, she lives
up to that.

As a former textile
and accessories importer, Apfel fell in love with the colorful and bold ethnic patterns
and accessories she discovered in the many countries she visited throughout her
career. They became the inspiration for how she adorned herself and her

But it is her
personal wisdom about life, as well as her style, that is equally colorful. She
talks straight from the hip and doesn’t sugarcoat her advice. Perhaps that’s
why she has come to where she is at this stage in her life.

We know
authenticity when we see it, and she definitely lives authentically. Here are
some of her quotes. Maybe you can relate.

Have Fun with Style

“Life is gray and dull; you might as well have a little fun when you dress.”

Well, maybe she was talking from the experience of
living in New York which can be sooty, literally, and somewhat intense. But I
think we know what she meant, metaphorically.

You cannot escape the vicissitudes of life. They
come to all of us, regardless of our station in life. But we can bring some joy
to our environment, for our own pleasure and for all who have the pleasure to
see us. And that brings us to…

Black and
White? I Don’t Think So!

“Color can raise the dead.”

Amen, sister. In order to stay vibrant and visible
we must escape the comfort and monotony of drab clothing. In some social
circles, wearing black 24/7 is considered sophisticated. Iris considers it a
lazy cop out, and so do I.

If we look around us at the natural world, what do
we see? Color!!! The changing colors of the sky, the floral outbursts in the
spring, the turning leaves. Why not celebrate the Creation by reflecting it?

That doesn’t mean you have to ditch your neutrals.
But you certainly can bring some color into your wardrobe. Do it for yourself

Dress for Yourself

“You have to look in the mirror and see yourself. If it feels good, then I know it’s for me. I don’t dress to be stared at, I dress for myself.”

This is fundamental. I constantly remind clients in
our age group that regardless of how bad a day you are having, regardless of
what you are facing, if you make the effort to pull together your attire, fix
your hair, maybe add a little makeup, then every time you pass a mirror you
will say to yourself, “Well, things can’t be all that bad, I look pretty good

It can actually change your brain chemistry!

Be the
Authentic You

“Most importantly, you have to be yourself, be who you are and take time to be open and honest with yourself…

… If you don’t know yourself, you’ll never have great style. You’ll never really live. To me, the worst fashion faux pas is to look in the mirror, and not see yourself.”

The greatest fashion truth is just that. If you
are dressing for some version of the person you think you should be, what the
latest fashion is, or what other people expect of you, you will never feel
comfortable in your clothing. There will always be a disconnect – and people
will know it.

Whatever you are “selling” – your beliefs, your
product, your enthusiasm, yourself as a partner – the more you embrace your unique self, which includes your personality as
well as your features and coloring, the more believable you will be, to
yourself first, and then to everyone you encounter.

And the more you will attract honest people. As
another great philosopher/author advised, “To thine own self be true.”

Shop to Your
Liking – and Your Wallet

“There’s different shopping in Paris than there is in Istanbul, but
they’re all wonderful.”


“People with a lot of money don’t dress as well as people who have to
make do, who have to be inventive.”


 “I’m the walking advertisement for
discounted shopping.”

I put these three together because they are
related. Iris always wears very fine textiles and often expensive clothes. If
you can’t make it to Paris or Istanbul, you can certainly make it to your local
thrift stores, flea markets, church bazaars, etc. and find some great hidden

Because of the Kon-Mari craze, there are bargains
to be had on some fabulous clothing from high-end labels. The reality is that
these items are usually made from better fabrics and have better construction.

If recycled items just don’t appeal, take some
clues from what you see of the higher-end in those establishments. They can
inspire you to find something similar that is new. As for inspiration…

Look for Joy

“I am inspired by everything around me… I’m just inspired by being
alive and breathing and meeting people and talking to people and doing things
and absorbing what’s happening. I think if more people did that, there would be
better fashion. “

“I love to dig and search and find. And if I’m shopping… if it’s a
piece of fabric, I listen to the threads. It’s not intellectual at all. The
price is nothing. It’s the emotional content: I have to feel it in my gut.”

Oh yeah! If an article of clothing doesn’t elevate
your mood or make you feel joyful in some way, don’t buy it. That even goes for
basics like black pants, a winter coat, or even comfortable shoes.

Maybe the joy is just that the item fits perfectly
and every time you wear it you know you look pulled together. Maybe the joy
comes from the way the color brightens your face and makes your eyes sparkle.
Or maybe it comes from the fact it is divinely comfortable.

Shopping is an emotional exercise, ultimately,
regardless of how much you may approach it as a pedestrian one: “I need a new
white blouse… I need a good jacket.” Give yourself the pleasure of making it an
enjoyable exercise.

Hair and Shoes
Are Your Number 1 and 2

“If your hair is done properly and you are wearing good shoes you can get away with anything.”

Yes! Apfel says that when she is at home she is
usually in jeans and a tee shirt. But you can bet she has done her hair and is
wearing great shoes. It’s something that a lot of celebrities understand too.

You’ll often see them dressed down, but they have
a great haircut and good quality shoes, whether sneakers or sandals or heels.
And it’s a very hip way to stay current.

It shows that you know what is good, but you’re
not overly attached to what others think. You can be comfortable, but you are

Know Your

“It’s better to be happy than to be well-dressed.”

This is my favorite quote from Iris. Happiness
reflects outward. Happiness is infectious. Happiness means recognizing and
understanding your situation regardless of what it is, making the best out of
it, and enjoying what you have.

You can’t put a price tag on that. And, it’s a
motto by which Iris has lived all her life. If we all just lived that one bit
of advice the world would be a better place.

What do you think of Iris’ style? Do you have any more favorite quotes from her? Have you considered changing the way you dress since you have learned about her approach to fashion? Please join the conversation!

Photo: Magnum

Let\’s Have a Conversation!

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