Pal of Miley Cyrus and wearer of Discount Universe, Baddie Winkle is the latest in a line of ‘advanced style’ icons to make waves amongst the fashion community and in the world of social media. Iris Apfel, Linda Rodin (face of The Row pre-fall ’14), Daphne Selfe (dubbed the world’s oldest supermodel), and Winkle have all caught the eye of both the media and the public; fronting campaigns, inspiring style, and spawning films and exhibitions.
Looking particularly at Winkle and Apfel, their eccentric, unapologetic personal style is at the forefront of their appeal. So why are we so taken with the idea of advanced style?
It’s not an easy time to be young. Our government’s generation benefited from one of the strongest economies in recent history, promptly fucked it up, and is now actively discriminating against the young in a bizarre turn around, whereby they’ve decided we’ve never had it so good despite the fact that we seem to be disproportionately paying for the mistakes of those who’ve gone before us. We pay over the odds for degrees that barely get us on the first rung of the ladder. We work for free. We’re more connected than ever, yet we’ve never been so lonely. We’re cash poor and time poor. Owning a home feels like a pipe dream, and retirement will probably come around the same time as our death certificate is issued.
So perhaps Winkle, Apfel, and their ilk represent a freedom that we crave. They have the benefit of a lifetime of experience behind them; they’ve been through the ups and downs of youth; they’re firm in the belief that their lives are their own to live, and they are free of ridiculous hang ups like whether their thighs do or don’t touch, and whether their bum cheeks are peachy enough. These women have got where they needed to be in life and now they can concentrate on doing, and wearing, whatever on earth they feel like.
I first became aware of Iris Apfel when images began circulating of her sat in her sumptuous apartment, swathed in layers upon layers of heavy looking jewels. I was thrilled when my boyfriend commented, “that’s what you’ll be like when you’re older”. To me, she represented wisdom, glamour and a sense of confidence learned over a lifetime.
Of course, being older isn’t necessarily any easier than being young. Apfel has referred to her new found popularity as a ‘lifeline’, rescuing her from a sharp decline in her social life after she retired. But whatever the reality, these women characterise visions of our future selves; future selves who have overcome any present struggles and are reaping the rewards.
Whilst Apfel, now the subject and star of a documentary film, has her own unique style; unswayed by current trends, Baddie Winkle is very much ingrained in trend-led youth culture, with her granddaughter responsible for much of her styling and overall image. If Apfel represents experience and a staunch refusal to care what others think, then perhaps Winkle illustrates a link between the old and the young that we fear we’ll lose. She proves that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean being shunned by the young; you can still be relevant, and that’s reassuring. Some peoples’ attitude towards her can be patronising – ‘aww look at that cute old lady dressing up’ – something many people are guilty of when speaking to, or about, older people but on the whole, people have been happy to embrace Baddie Winkle, tie dye, tracksuits, sequins and all.
The fashion industry certainly has a strange relationship with ageing. It designs for young, lithe bodies despite them being far removed, financially speaking, from the demographic they seek. It frivolously flocks to the next big thing and worships the new and the young, yet you don’t have to delve very deep into the industry to find older icons who are widely respected for their wealth of experience. In an industry where 25 year old models are considered to be pushing it, Anna Wintour, Zandra Rhodes, Vivienne Westwood, Anna Dello Russo and the like are positively ancient, but their careers have weathered the storms of youth and their reputations are enduring.
So will this fascination and appreciation of the older generation continue? The rise of advanced style comes from the same place as the push for different ethnicities and body types to be represented in the media; people simply want to see something different. And as long as people keep wanting to see something different and, importantly, need to see that their future doesn’t have to dissolve into a bleak, beige wilderness, then advanced style will have a place. Whether it stays at this level of popularity depends entirely on whether we accept the older generation as a valid and permanent part of the fashion landscape, or brush them aside to make way for the next bright young thing.