Fashion

Style and Life Lessons To Live By, From 99-Year-Old Fashion Icon Iris Apfel

The world's oldest style icon has just hit 99 years of age the past week, and she's just as stylish as ever.
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The world's oldest style icon has just hit 99 years of age the past week, and she's just as stylish as ever.

"My old hourglass is doing just fine… Sand’s dripping away, arriving at ninety plus nine. Happy Birthday to Me, may I be of good cheer! To give thanks for thriving & surviving one hell of a year!," says Iris Apfel on her Instagram, which has a one and a half million follower count.

The American style icon is known for an eclectic and maximalist style. Ms. Apfel traveled all her life, so she regularly brought with her various handicrafts and unique jewelry, which she often wore in layers: several rows of necklaces and massive necklaces, 6-7 different bracelets, brooches, and more, topped with scarves, feathers, and bright red lips. 

 “I’m not a beauty and I never will be, but I have something much more important. I have my own style, ”she once quipped.

She grew up in Queens, New York, where she frequently spent time with her paternal grandparents in Brooklyn, New York. It was then where she fell in love with fabrics: to entertain the young Iris, her grandmother let her play with scrap fabrics, which came in all shapes and sizes. As a young woman, Apfel wored for Women's Wear Daily and for interior designer Elinor Johnson.

 She is famous today for her eclectic style -- and the whole world can't seem to get enough of it. In 2005, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York premiered an exhibition around her style, titled Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel, the first time an exhibition was centered around a living person who wasn't a designer. She is also the star of a documentary by Albert Maysles, called Iris, which premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 2014. And in 2018, Mattel created a barbie doll in Apfel's image, which makes her the oldest person to ever have a Barbie made in her image.

 

Ahead, check out her style, together with notable life and style lessons by Apfel herself:

On getting old

“I never think about my age. Maybe that’s the ticket. I never think about it — it’s a passing thought. It’s just a number. … I’ve found that work is very healthy for me. I love what I do and I put my heart and soul into it.

“Gettin’ old ain’t for sissies. You start falling apart, but you just have to buck up and paste yourself together. You may not like getting older, but what’s the alternative? You’re here. Embrace it. I say put your experience to work, to give something back to other people.”

Style is not about what you wear, but how you wear it

“Style is not about wearing expensive clothes. You can have all kinds of money and have no style at all. You can be dressed in the latest couture, shod in ten-thousand-dollar shoes and be baubled to the nines, and look like a Christmas tree. It’s not what you wear but how you wear it.

“I’m just as happy to wear bangles that cost me three dollars as I am to wear valuable pieces — and I like to mix high and low, putting things together to wear as the spirit moves me. When you try to hard to have style, you look uncomfortable, like you’re wearing a costume, like the clothes are entering the room before you do. If you’re uptight, you won’t be able to carry off even a seemingly perfect outfit. If that’s happening, I say abandon the whole thing. It’s better to be happy than well dressed.”

Just go for it

“You only fail if you do not try.

“I never thought that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. I wanted to start a fabric business, so I just figured out how to do it. If I and thought about opening Old World Weavers too much, I probably wouldn’t have pursued my dream. Sometimes you just have to take action, even if it is a small step. In my ninety-some years of walking planet Earth, I have applied this philosophy to living — and dressing — and it has never steered me wrong.”

On what real success is

“If you’re happy, have found love, are surrounded by good people, doing what you like and giving back to others, that’s success. Selling your soul for a buck is not worth the real price you pay — not to me, anyways,”

On what keeps her going 

“I just I love what I do. I work very hard. I think hard work is my medicine, my salvation.

I advise everybody to love what they do and work hard at it."

On what keeps her youthful

“When you get older, as I often paraphrase an old family friend, if you have two of anything, chances are one of them is going to hurt when you get up in the morning. But you have to get up and move beyond the pain. If you want to stay young, you have to think young. Having a sense of wonder, a sense of humor, and a sense of curiosity — these are my tonic.

They keep you young, childlike, open to new people and things, ready for another adventure. I never want to be an old fuddy-duddy; I hold the self-proclaimed record for being the World’s Oldest Living Teenager and I intend to keep it that way.”

On staying true to herself

“I never tried to fit in. It’s not that I went out of my way to be a rebel or do things that were not socially acceptable — unfortunately, I did have to learn how to play bridge when I was younger — but I learned early on that I have to be my own person to be content.

If you have to be all things to all people, you end up being ‘nothin’ to nobody.′ The way I dress may be ‘different’ or ‘eccentric’ to some who feel the need to label, but that’s of no concern to me. I don’t dress to be stared at; I dress for myself. When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else.”

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