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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder


advanced style quad dogwoof documentary

“There is no time limit to anything,” said then 94-year-old Llona Royce Smithkin.   “When you look good, you look good.”

Smithkin is one of six women featured in Advanced Style, a documentary released in 2014.  The women, ranging in age from 64 to 95, define their approach to aging with their eclectic personal style and “vital spirit.”

It’s that spirit and in-your-face, “Take that” approach to aging that puts a major dent in the common belief that older women (and men) become invisible—that classy, often flamboyant style belongs solely to the young.  (Now I know some women who like being invisible.  They enjoy [or so they say] weaving in and out of their daily lives without being “seen.” Tell that to the “stars” of this documentary who dress for the “theater of life every day.”)

With their red boas and dyed hair to match, bright mustard dresses and coordinated turbans, boggles the size of New York, “Robin Hood” hats, false eyelashes, giant sunglasses, these fashionistas take their style to the “nth degree.”

And these women are not alone.  When they traveled to showings of the documentary around the country, older women who were dressed to the “nines” showed up and strutted their stuff. As the director of the film, Lina Plioplyte, said, "We met Advanced Style ladies everywhere!  In Phoenix, there are three ladies in the movie theater who stayed after the film screening who were like, ‘Yeah, even in here, everybody’s in sweats and tank tops.  And here we are dressed up in feathers and we have fun with it’  So no matter where you go, there is that amazing woman who puts herself together every day.”

So many aging women dread the wrinkles, the crepe paper skin, the sagging muscles.  They throw out their sleeveless tops, form-fitting dresses and pants, colorful costume jewelry and go, as a cousin once told me, “elastic.”

“What the hell is ‘elastic?'” I said.

“You know, elastic waistbands.”

The woman was in her early 50s and had already thrown in the towel.

Admittedly, I refuse to wear anything sleeveless.  My arms, once muscular and toned, now look like my grandmother’s.  I remember looking up at her underarms and the remnants of her triceps hanging like laundry on a clothesline, vowing that I’d never have sagging arms like hers.

Things change.

But maybe I should spend a day hanging with the women in Advanced Age.  They’d pooh-pooh my insecurities and show me by example what coming into “one’s own” means.  There is beauty in aging, they’d tell me.  Just look at us.

And they are beautiful.  Fashionable.  Self-confident.  Enthusiastic about the present and the future.

Zelda Kaplan passed away in 2012 at the age of 95 after collapsing in the front row of a New York Fashion Week show.  There was nothing more fitting than going out in style.


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