UPDATE 8/27/13: The IF’s latest: Count Your Blessings–Prayer Beads!
While on assignment at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology’s Shoe Obsession, I crossed paths with reporters and bloggers but none captured my attention more than two women of a certain age who were dressed to the nines! According to their business card, they are The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas.
“We have a look, an approach and a philosophy that’s just a little bit different and sets us apart…we say let’s go for it!
Let’s celebrate! We love looking like this!”
WOW! I had to get to know more about them. Valerie and Jean separate their day jobs and their fashionista adventures, so they don’t use their last names or talk about their professions.
Before going off to an antiques show, they graciously carved out some time to chat. With a twinkle in their eyes, hearts of gold and unabashed zest for style, they shared a whole lot of fashionista wisdom on a chilly March morning in New York…
EYE: Why the name Idiosyncratic Fashionistas?
VALERIE: If you think about it, there still isn’t a good word for women of a certain age. We’re not the old ladies or the old bags or the frumpies. For people who say weird things you can say Mrs. Malaprop, or for an old maid, Miss Haversham, but what is there for us? The closest thing for us is Auntie Mame, but we aren’t going to call ourselves the Auntie Mames, so why not?
JEAN: We have a look, an approach and a philosophy that’s just a little bit different and sets us apart… idiosyncratic because we have a message.
EYE: And, what message do you have?
JEAN: Let’s go for it! Let’s celebrate! I love looking like this! We meet people who say, “Ohhh, I could never do that!” Our message is NOT that you have to do this. We are just saying that if you are happy with your look, embrace it. If not, then find out what does make you happy!
Once you figure out what you want to look like, the rest is easy. Everything else is just noise. You just focus and find it in your price range and size. Find your voice, which is a hard thing for some women.
“That’s not to say we break all the rules; it’s just to say
that we come from an open-minded period.”
EYE: Can you define women of a certain age?
VALERIE: No. Women of a certain age define that themselves.
JEAN: Valerie is right because we meet people and say we do a fashion blog for women of a certain age who are not in your demographic but your mother or grandmother would love us. Some of the young kids already know us, and we are amazed that we are on their radar screen.
EYE: How did you meet and how did the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas blog come about?
VALERIE: Initially we dressed up to do it; we like dressing up! When I first saw Jean she was wearing a fabulous hat. [I don’t think she’s ever worn jeans!] After inviting her to a museum show I was doing, I thought we’d go our separate ways and have brunch sometime. We did and she was dressed to the nines.
That was great because I enjoyed dressing up to the nines, too. We found we share many of the same interests. People would always see the two of us and ask if there was a party and ask if we are designers. And that’s why we started the blog because so many people said, “Do you blog?” “You look so great!!”
JEAN: And we decided to go for it. We are self taught and stumbled through it! We figured if we could do it, anyone could do it! We are not high tech at all. Dressing wasn’t the end of it. We were dressed to DO something like visit a museum, or see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, or a lecture at FIT…
We take advantage of the city and go to as much stuff as we can and experience as much as we can. I think we have more fun exceeding the fun quota that should be legally allowed for any one individual. I am having a blast. So until it isn’t fun anymore, I’m in!
VALERIE: Although we are starting to get attention, that wasn’t our original point. When we started the blog, it was to say look what older women can look like.
EYE: Is there a person or event that has influenced your style?
JEAN: Alexander McQueen. He is timeless….
VALERIE: Not a single somebody. We grew up in the 60’s, a very iconoclastic period. The 50’s had cinched waist and wide skirts, etc. But the 60’s were about “why do I have to look like that?” “Why can’t I wear that topless bathing suit?” It was a break-all-the-rules period.
That’s not to say we break all the rules; it’s just to say that we come from an open-minded period. Kids today have no idea what kind of stuff we saw in the 60’s. They have no concept outside of tee shirts and blue jeans.
We grew up in a period that you’d have a bolt of cloth and make five dresses out of it and five people would wear it. Today they won’t make it unless there are a thousand copies. So the 60’s was seminal. It remains in our mindsets.
JEAN: The 60’s were also the start of mini skirt and Twiggy and the British Revolution. It was more global. There was also more media covering fashion like New York Times and Washington Post.
There was a freedom to choose to look like Cher or Wallis Simpson, a freedom to have your own look. You could have long hair. You could be a hippie. You could live outside the norm.
VALERIE: You could wear a mini skirt or a maxi skirt and no one would say, “That’s not the style.” You’d make your own.
EYE: Did I read that one of you made a turban from leggings? Really?
JEAN: Yes. In fact, I put it on YouTube. Valerie had broken her wrist and used a wonderful pair of Marilyn Monroe leggings to cover her cast. I found a hot pink pair with Andy Warhol’s image of Marilyn on them and made them into the turban.
I went through a period of turbans because they are easy to wear, comfortable, pack well in suitcases and leggings are multipurpose. I can wear them as stockings the next day!
EYE: Do you coordinate your outfits?
JEAN: Valerie and I will talk the night before as we did last night. “What are you going to wear? And how about you? I don’t know.” It’s never been “I’ll do this, this and this.” That’s very frustrating.
VALERIE: We’ve never been able to give each other specific answers, but it’s hilarious because we are so perfectly coordinated when we show up. Once we arrived in black and white stripes, and it looked like we coordinated to the nth degree. It was totally random.
JEAN: Today I’m wearing a Kamali hat and Valerie is wearing a Kamali suit. Totally random. And somehow it all works!
“A lot of what we wear is not outrageous.
We put together things that are not in fashion.”
EYE: Your blog has covered subjects other than fashion including a tough one, cancer.
JEAN: We have a mutual friend who had breast cancer and was going through chemotherapy. Her way of handling it was to dress outrageously. She went totally bald wearing big earrings, and scarves, and glasses and bright colors. No wig. It cheered her up.
The other patients, who didn’t want to go to chemo, would look forward to seeing what she was wearing. The nurses who worked in that environment loved to see her come in. It was something to take you to another place. She was a master and recovered. She’s an inspiration.
VALERIE: She took it to the next level and instead of giving in, she fought back. Her style was able to spread that hope and strength somehow.
EYE: Your blog is certainly not predictable.
JEAN: Our blog is different from the typical fashion blogs with a big picture and a couple of sentences. We have soooo much to say. We found our voice. Hahahaha!!!
Jean and I have different approaches to things. We are very different people, but we intersect on so many levels. When we see, experience, or do something, it is not just describing the event but all the stuff behind it. And that sets us apart, a bookish approach.
EYE: What do you want women to know about fashion?
VALERIE: Women don’t have to care about fashion. We don’t care about fashion. We care about style. I can’t worry about not being able to wear my big jacket. What we are trying to do is hold up a mirror, so to speak.
Women do look at us and say, “I couldn’t wear that!” But then they do a double take and say, “ Well maybe I could wear that!”
A lot of what we wear is not outrageous. We put together things that are not in fashion. We take it from 20, 30 years ago, 40 years ago and pair it with something we got yesterday and go for an entirely different look that’s not going to appear in Vogue! Put together what works for your body, and each body is different.
JEAN: You don’t need to look like us. Hold up that mirror. Look at yourself. Do you look like what you want to look like? Are you are sending the message you want? We are looking for the positive focus. We try to encourage people to find what makes them happy.
VALERIE: I would wear heels if I could, but my feet cannot take them. I have to wear round shoes so I look for something as cute as possible.
JEAN: There is a cougar look, which is low-cut and mini skirts. That being said, just because you can wear it, doesn’t mean you should wear it. You also are sending a message. Think about what you are communicating.
EYE: Whom would you choose as the most fashionable of all time?
JEAN: Georgia O’Keeffe was amazing in her approach to light and style. Nancy Cunard is one of my personal favorites because she wore a lot of bangles and bakelite and ivory. A flapper type who broke the mold of the basic socialite, she traveled and was an accomplished writer.
Beryl Markham was an aviator and writer. I admire women who weren’t afraid to step out of the mold.
VALERIE: Hard to say. Each period has a different style of beauty. I can’t pick just one.
EYE: Is there anything about shopping that gets tough?
JEAN: Group dressing rooms are always interesting when you are an old lady because I go, “I’m going to show my wrinkles now young people. Don’t get too shocked! It’s okay. It’s not a terminal disease. They are just wrinkles and it’s okay!”
VALERIE: You, too, if you live long enough, will proudly have them as well!
“I don’t care. I’m healthy. I’m happy.
I am having the time of my life!”
EYE: And what do The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas see in their future?
VALERIE: We thought it would be fun to host a little program touring through museums, shows or events from our point of view.
JEAN: I want to continue sending a positive message: don’t listen to the negativity of getting older, that whole youth culture and having to look younger. Now that I am here, it’s so much fun. If I knew how much fun this would be when I was younger, I wouldn’t have sweated anything.
It’s like age is a number. I am NOT Cindy Crawford. Yes, I have jowls. I don’t care. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I am having the time of my life!
EYE: Your style certainly lifts spirits and common sense to a new level! Thank you, Jean and Valerie, from all generations!