Jan. 19 2011 10:24 AM

How to grow old with flair and no apologies

“I’m not depending on fashion because what I do is very individual and this is mine and I enjoy it. That’s all. Nobody else has to like it as long as I look in the mirror and—Ah!— this is me, you know?"—Ilona Royce Smithkin, 90 years old

Without making an itemized list of my various physical and psychic ailments, I’d like to offer this thought on aging: It’s sucky. And just to get in the proper frame of mind for writing about how much I’m not enjoying it, I decided to employ the writer’s version of method acting and listen to some smooth jazz for a bit. That’s right. The words you’re reading have been strung together with country-club-foyer music as inspiration.

“Why smooth jazz?” you ask.

Because smooth jazz is like the McRib and Kathie Lee Gifford: It reminds me that there are things more dreadful and way less stylish than the inability to read a menu in dim light, standing-induced jolting knee pain and the eventual and permanent retiring of all high heels. Be still my heart.

Now, some things can be tackled. Like, when your daughter insists on repeatedly counting your forehead wrinkles, you can create bangs. Or when the Almond Roca and bourbon you consumed during the holidays permanently affix themselves to what was once your waistline, you can use an elastic hair band to button your pants (big shout-out to my once-pregnant friend for that tip).

But “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind and Fire re-mastered as a piano-and-trumpet convergence by someone named Kim Pensyl? That’s a travesty that can’t be fixed with a nylon zip tie. Becoming irrelevant is small potatoes compared with that, and it is this knowledge that keeps me positive in a fake-it-’til-you-make-it kind of way.

In my efforts to shrug off my disdain for aging and come to terms with the inevitable, I started searching the internet for inspiration. Obviously, I’m not the first woman to go down this path, and there isn’t very much originality in dreading—or worse, complaining about—the aging process. I knew there was something out there that would stir my aspirations. I simply had to find it.

And find it I did. After suffering the usual plethora of mommy blogs (blech and double blech), I turned to my favorite fashion blogs, most of which are aimed at 20-somethings. But it was through these ladies and a complex labyrinth of links that I struck gold—or rather, Bakelite—when I stumbled across Advanced Style.

Hosted by Ari Seth Cohen, a young street photographer in New York City, Advanced Style is devoted almost entirely to the stylish older woman (though Cohen includes some very dapper men, from time-to-time).

And by “older” I mean “senior.” Cohen has a tab at the top of his home page called “I’m proud to be __ years old,” and all of the stylish women featured on that page proudly claim more than 80 years each. Not only that, but they also make being old look way more fun than any of this “prime of our lives” bullpuckey.

Cohen’s site is filled with wonderful photographs of vibrant, relevant women of very diverse and yet similarly concrete individuality. Most recently, he’s teamed up with a videographer named Lina Plioplyte of Teenage Peanut, to make videos of these women, shorts that are both inspirational and indescribably moving.

One of my favorite stylistas is the oft-featured and wildly bohemian 90-year-old Ilona, who has an insatiable thirst for color and no time to fret about age. She has short, bright-orange hair, the clippings of which she used to make a set of fabulously long false eyelashes that she’s worn like a trademark for 40 years.

“I’m in very good relationship with them, just like with my body. I talk to it. I say, ‘Now listen: I’m very nice to you, be nice to me,’” she says in her video.

We should all be so kind when we talk to our bodies.

Jean and Valerie of Idiosyncratic Fashionistas were recently launched to international fame after Cohen featured them on his site. During their interview, Jean extends an arm stacked with red and black Bakelite bracelets and squeezes—between fingers also adorned with Bakelite rings—Valerie’s homemade stress ball necklace. Their motto is “Growing old with verve.”

And then there’s Debra Rapoport, an expert thrifter with a pink streak splashed through her asymmetrical white hair. She takes us shopping in her video and tries on a black leather dress that zips down to there and up to here. She throws an orange boa over the top (“Nothin’ like an orange boa! You know how I love orange! Orange is neutral”) and the ensemble instantly underscores her magnetic personality. With all this, plus a body to die for, Rapoport is gorgeous, sexy, smart and wonderfully au courant. I want to be her when I grow up. Scratch that. I want to be her right now.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Advanced Style—The Best Website Ever Invented—is what you will not find: Women puffed up by collagen injections or boob jobs; women attempting to deny age; women wearing labels for status; women following rules (you should see the number of 60-somethings wearing skirts above the knee). You will not find Kathie Lee Gifford here. You will not find smooth jazz.

But, someday, if I’m lucky and if I stop my whining and really take to heart the message the ladies of Advanced Style are sending, you may find me.

Write to aaryn@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.