A new TV documentary on Britain’s BBC4 has been tickling people’s fancies across the pond and stateside. “Fabulous Fashionistas” features six women of advanced years who share a love for style and a “screw that” attitude to the standard dictates of age.
Audiences in the U.K. have embraced the documentary’s message that when it comes to aging with attitude, style – whether it’s costly designer, handicraft or thrift shop find – is a crucial part of the package; you can’t be walking around in baggy beige, which is what one of the Fashionistas calls “the color of death.” Sorry!
The documentary doesn’t just tell us about six seniors’ style choices. By the end of its 45 minutes, these women are much more than clotheshorses – just as they’re much more than “old.”
“It’s not about money or looking younger,” one of the six says. So, what is it about? “Having an identity beyond old lady.”
The documentary makes a strong case for age being what you make of it. But one lone critic, blogging in the Guardian, has taken issue with it. “Fabulous Fashionistas,” Michele Hanson writes, has simply picked something that these women have done all their lives – being stylish – and called it remarkable because they’re old. We wouldn’t have made a big deal of it if they were their younger selves, and so isn’t that ageist? Why can’t we get used to the idea that someone can be an “old woman” and also a person who is interested in style? And is an older woman who’s not interested in style – never was, never will be – any less of a remarkable person?
The fact is, these six women break with the stereotype in many ways. We learn that when Jean Woods’ husband of 56 years died, she applied for a job at Gap to make ends meet and ward off loneliness, and then switched from that job to a new one in a fashionable boutique. “Just because you’re 71 doesn’t mean you’ve stopped being able to converse with people and hold down a job,” she says.
Gillian Lynne, the 87 year old choreographer responsible for “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera,” has been working nonstop since the ’40s. She says she loves her life because she loves her job – and loving life keeps her living. “You mustn’t allow it in,” Lynne says about age. “The minute you give an inch, it will take a mile.” She had just recovered from a serious bout of pneumonia.
And let’s face it, when you’re feeling invisible, the message that you don’t have to agree to fade into the background is inspirational. Just read the comments under Hanson’s blog post. Then take a look at the
documentary trailer taster, below, and judge for yourself. (A DVD of “Fabulous Fashionistas” is available by clicking here.)
What’s your view? Share it in the comments below.