Comment: Gloria in excelsis greyo
The recent wave of over-80 models should inspire us to look at the elderly in a new, positive light and embrace the process of ageing, writes Lori Anderson
Getting older ain’t for sissies. Thus spake Iris Apfel, who at 91 is surprisingly our latest style maven. Sunny Mann glasses, a smear of Norma Desmond red lipstick and a couture wardrobe from which she has donated 900 pieces to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, this is a women who is as stylish in her 90s as she was in her 20s. We only have to peek into her Manhattan apartment, which was recently featured in Architectural Digest to know her eye has not been clouded by age. And she’s not a one-off.
Women are supposed to be invisible over 40, but it is hard to miss these new doyennes of style for whom the most apt phrase is “everything old is new again”. They are not grey ghosts blending into the background, but women (and men as well) who believe that how they look defines how they live and how they want to live well until the day they exchange their Diane von Furstenberg dress or Savile Row suit for a fetching shroud and toe-tag.
If the Paralympics inspired us to look upon the disabled with brighter, better, more compassionate eyes, then the recent wave of over-80 models and last week’s “Grey Best Dressed List of 2012”, which included Giorgio Armani, at 78, Bryan Ferry at 66 and the original gap-toothed ingenue, Lauren Hutton, now 68, should inspire us to look upon the elderly in a new light. Thank God, because in 20 years, it will be us.
While many of the aforementioned are wealthy, by the time anyone picks up their pension they will already know that money doesn’t buy love or style. The coolest looking oldies are to be found on the average street and have been elevated to a form of cyber stardom by a hip new website called Advanced Style. Lanvin’s latest model, Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock, 82, a former dancer at New York’s Apollo Theatre, was discovered by Ari Seth Cohen, the site’s founder.
“I started the blog to inspire people to look at ageing in a new light. I was best friends with my grandmother and have always had an affinity for older people. Before starting Advanced Style, I noticed a lack of inspiring and positive images of ageing and I wanted to show that there are so many wonderful things that come with age.”
The plan is now to expand the website into an inspirational feature-length documentary that will take the message of Advanced Style worldwide.
Last month, Glasgow was host to the eighth World Congress on Active Ageing, which saw scientists, experts and enthusiasts spend five days at the SECC highlighting the most up-to-date research on physical activity and its benefits to the old as well as debating the best way to adequately tackle the exclusion many OAPs endure. The organisers described it as: “A celebration of diversity and inclusion in active ageing.” Scotland can take pride in the fact that personal care for the elderly is free, while in England and Wales those with homes or savings valued at more than £25,250 will be charged, but in other ways the manner in which the old are treated is deeply depressing.
Last week, The Scotsman published a chilling report that almost half of elderly people in care homes are routinely sedated for the convenience of staff. The report by Dundee University and NHS Fife found that two in five elderly people in care homes were taking anti-psychotic drugs compared with just one in six still living at home. The authors have called for a systematic review every six months on all elderly people in the nation’s 911 care homes to ensure that there are compelling medical grounds for their medication.
Dr Colin McCowan, deputy director of the Health Informatics Centre at Dundee University, one of the authors of the report, said: “Some elderly people are taking these drugs to make it easier and more convenient for people to manage them and for them to cope.”
Today, if a crime is committed against a gay person or a person of colour, it can be classified as a “hate crime”. The elderly, of whatever sexual orientation or hue, could never be described as a minority, but do they deserve less protection? Why do we not impose harsher penalties and sentences on those who prey on the elderly?
I appreciate that I type as a daughter of a 90-year-old woman and that my views are unlikely to pass into legislation, but I’d happily see those who attack and beat the elderly skinned and dipped in vinegar.
The elderly should be better treated, accorded more respect and found ways to enrich their lives by using the skills they have accrued throughout their lives. Nothing is more liable to boost the spirits, increase happiness and all-round vitality than the feeling of being of service, of being needed.
If there are indeed trends in charities, with certain ones proving more popular and liable to hog the limelight, those that involve the elderly are not among them. When was the last time you can remember one of our perma-tanned, booby constructs knocking back Peta to take to the stage in support of Age UK?
The irony is that, for entirely selfish reasons, we should all be doing more for the old for the simple reason that if we can improve how they are treated, then we ourselves will benefit from the promise of a brighter tomorrow, for we are all living longer.
In May, the accountant PwC published a report that calculated that children born today will still be expected to work in some form or another when they are 85, on the grounds that they can expect to live until well over 100.
This may sound horrific to many, but as long as the work is tailored to our ageing frames, it can have tremendous benefits as remaining cognitively active helps to fend off dementia, which is already costing Britain £18 billion a year, a figure which is expected to rise to £50bn, according to Professor Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School.
So what has a stylish wardrobe got to do with this? There will be those who consider style to be inconsequential to the wellbeing of the elderly, but they couldn’t be more wrong. As my friend Dani always says: “Clothing is not just clothing. It is who you are, who you have been, it is who you want to be. It is the expression of your thoughts, your intentions, it is the memory and attitude you wish to leave in your wake.” To be well-dressed makes one feel alive and engaged with the world.
When my time comes, I intend to join them in gilding the lily, I have even coined a new motto: Gloria in excelsis greyo.
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