Fabulous Fashionistas

Like most of the rest of the population of the western world (if Twitter and Facebook are anything to go by) my current TV obsession has been Breaking Bad. Having seen the most recent episode, I was searching for something else to watch last night so I went to 4OD and found a documentary called Fabulous Fashionistas, a truly terrible title for such a great programme.

The documentary is about six women with the average age of eighty-five who are stylish in an individual way. They couldn’t be less like ‘little old ladies’ and equally they haven’t tried to turn back time with botox or plastic surgery. They are women who love clothes, who find fun, self-expression and creativity in the things they wear.

Bridget is an activist and gardener aged seventy-five. She sports a shock of white curly hair, usually pulled off her face in a turban or headband, colourful clothes and accessories, and big pieces of silver jewellery. Her only income is her state pension so she shops in charity shops, rarely paying more than three quid for an item of clothing.

Jean is seventy-five and works in a fashion boutique, after her stint in GAP as their oldest employee. She has an angular grey bob with a twenties flapper fringer, and wears magenta lipstick. She buys clothes in Topshop, describes her style as “street” and would hate for someone to say to her, “you do look smart”.

Daphne is eighty-five and was a model and film extra in her youth, later becoming a wife and mother of three. She was widowed at the age of sixty-nine and a year later rediscovered as a model. She is the oldest model in the UK and reminds me somewhat of the fabulous Carmen Dell’Orefice.

Sue is a seventy-three year old American who has lived in the UK for thirty years. As a younger woman she was a celebrated author of cookbooks and also travelled extensively. She published twenty-seven books before she became obsessed with drawing and made the transition to become a full-time artist. As a result, both art and fashion influence her style. She believes that everyone should have colour in their lives and says, “Don’t wear beige, it might kill you!”

Gillian is an eighty-seven year old who still has a busy and successful career as a dancer, choreographer and actor (her most famous productions are Cats and Phantom of the Opera). Consequently she is more supple than many teenagers and looks easily thirty years younger than she is! She married her husband when she was fifty-two and he was twenty-five, and she says that his opinion is the only other one that matters when it comes to her clothing.

Baroness Trumpington is best described as formidable, indomitable, and any other adjective you can think of to describe an elderly aristocratic dowager. She is a life peer and the oldest woman in the House of Lords. Although I don’t agree with her politics, her attitudes to ageing and style are interesting, and she sure can surprise (check out this clip where she gives two fingers to a fellow peer when he mentions her age!). She shops from catalogues as traipsing around the shops is too much of an exertion.

As the documentary progressed, it focussed less on style and more on the women themselves: their attitudes to life, death, love and work. One thing they all have in common is a purpose in life and none of them have ‘retired’ in any sense of the word. For these women, age is something they rarely think about. Gillian says that whenever you give age an inch, “life or illness will take a mile”, and Sue says that “growing old is a privilege and an adventure.” They are fully present in the moment and wring every drop of enjoyment and fulfillment out of it. And none of them give a damn what other people think of the way they dress!

For a woman this was truly inspirational viewing. Firstly, it shows the physical aspect of natural ageing instead of the stretched shiny skin and overstuffed lips we’re all too used to seeing in the media. These women are not well preserved by Hollywood standards but they are all the more beautiful for it. Their eyes sparkle, their faces are animated and you instantly warm to them as a result. It also demonstrates that individual style (i.e. not following trends, trying to look younger, or dressing for other people) is achievable at any age on any budget. Most of all I loved how these women are still embracing and enjoying life, being true to themselves, and not giving a hoot if people snigger at their outfits in the process!

Fabulous Fashionistas is available to watch on 4OD for the next four weeks.

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