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

By Andrea Pflaumer June 29, 2019 Beauty

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 surroundings.

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 first.

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 today!”

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 treasures.

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 self-aware.

Know Your Priorities

“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

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The Author

Andrea Pflaumer is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, Shopping for the Real You, and an e-book, She’s Got Good Jeans. She has been a regular contributor to Sixty and Me for more than five years and blogs from her home in the San Francisco Bay area. Her most popular online course is Discovering Your Inner Style: an Adventure in Dressing Authentically.

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