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The Aging Of Icons


I saw a complaint awhile back on a website for only featuring past actresses in their youth; that to only look at these style icons when they were in their 20s is to gloss over the rest of their life and history and to buy into Hollywood's obsession with youth. For example, you can look at my Audreybot post--most images we find of Audrey Hepburn online are from her youth. Although she worked well in the 1980s, you don't find many images of her from this period. Additionally, why are the only photographs I find in magazines of Grace Kelly feature her when she was very young? But I think there is an important argument to made on blogs and websites, that being: context and the author's age.

When a teenage pins her first poster from Breakfast at Tiffanys on the wall she's hanging up the image of a glamorous young woman she's aspiring to be (the fact that Audrey Hepburn's character is a call girl is probably not quite grasped). It's aspirational for a young girl to idealize how she will be able to dress and act when she's finally an "adult" (for example, I wasn't allowed to wear make-up until I was a senior in high school and always was dying to try out bright red lipstick). Likewise, when I admire the charm of Anna Karina in a Godard film I aspire to gain some portion of her impish smile and style. I know that she's still alive, it's no longer the 1960s, and she doesn't look like Angela of A Woman Is A Woman anymore. However, I am a baby-faced twenty-something and when I look for inspiration on how to dress (on how to be), I look for women in my age range. I would find it odd to admire Kiernan Shipka as a style icon, despite how well-versed in fashion she is since she is much younger than me. Likewise Helen Mirren, with her new sweetly pink hair is out of the age sweet spot for me. I can take style cues from my grandmother on how she ties her scarf or admire the enthusiasm of a child who wears a tutu to kindergarten, but ultimately I have to re-interpret these looks, translate them to something suitable for my age. So when I look for style icons and inspiration it makes much more sense to seek icons in my age bracket.

I hope that the teenager who hangs movie posters on her walls with thumb tacks and tape will mature to framed pictures and art prints. Likewise, the twenty-something blogger who writes an inspiration post on Briggitte Bardot referencing her gingham wedding dress in 1959 as a summer inspiration, will continue writing and posting and allow her icons to mature with her. As I get older I hope to look for pictures of stars I admire now in later stages of their lives, but it isn't an obsession with youth to share an inspiring photograph of France Gall in her twenties (hair goals)--contextually as a woman in my twenties it makes perfect sense. The problem only arises when we age and don't mature our icons as well.

13 comments:

Shel said...

thats a really good point, that most of the photos of old-school Hollywood stars are of them when they look young and pure. Thats society sadly :S

Brittany PC said...

I think this is a really poignant post. While there are definitely stars who are younger and older than myself that I admire, it would be silly as a twenty-something to attempt to emulate. As you so wisely pointed it out, it is when we are 40 years old and trying to copy a 25 year old where we run into trouble...

Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys said...

I think the argument though is that there are a lot of women of different ages presumably looking for inspiration on how to dress, but most of the icons are young (in their icon phase, whether they are still alive and young or not). I don't know if it's because younger women are more likely to be looking for fashion inspiration, or simply because of society's obsession with youth.
It's not that it's wrong to want to emulate Brigitte Bardot's wedding dress, just that it would be nice to have a few more people in the Helen Mirren age range who were considered style icons.

MintJulep said...

Do you really think so? I disagree. I am 40 now, and I still look up to a young Audrey, a young Brigitte, a young Grace, a young Leslie Caron for style inspiration. I find their style to be timeless, their elegance to be ageless, and I do think that a black dress with a pearl necklace will suit a 20 year old as well as 40 or a 60 year old. But maybe I do have a certain Peter Pan syndrome, and maybe I do not want to grow up, I have been told often enough that I do not dress age appropriately. But neither does Anna Dello Russo, why should she be allowed and I shouldn't? ANyway, just my opinion.

Rebecca, The Clothes Horse said...

@Emily, but my arguement is for bloggers (especially young ones)--that there isn't a reason to say "hey why don't you consider Helen Mirren an icon?!" when the blogger is 18. I agree that as a culture we need to allow for more icons of various ages and see them promoted/acknowledged in media.

Rebecca, The Clothes Horse said...

@MintJulep, I don't think it's wrong to have young icons, but why have ONLY young icons? Even listning Anna Dello Russo though means you're looking beyond just women who are/how they looked when they were 20. If I only look at models for inspiration I'll start to think the only way to wear certain clothes is to be super thin. If I only look at young icons for inspiration I'll think the only way to pull of certain looks is to be young--or botoxed, peeled, etc. It's when we see other sizes, ages, etc looking good and being accepted that we realize there isn't "one" way/age to be.

pigsy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pigsy said...

Is it possible that celebrities at an older age just aren't stylish anymore? For instance, seniors who grew up the 60s don't retain their sense of style, they grow into the modern age. I haven't seen much photos of Audrey at an older age or Grace Kelley at an older age in outfits or photos that I thought were stylish (though I honestly barely see photos of them at an older age). I don't think that it always has to do with an obsession of youth, but more with that certain time period, and these celebrities were icons or the ideal of that time period. I know many seniors who grew up the 60s or had the 60s style, but now they dress just like everybody else, comfortable and casual...like everyone else that isn't into fashion.
But I do agree that there is too much obsession with youth... it's very unhealthy.

Katie said...

This is a really great post! I love hearing your argument - which is really valid. I'm 19 now, and I definately look at people around my age to aspire to be. Sort of that "if they can do it, I can do it!" sort of attitude.

Brandy RunaƩ said...

Such a wonderful point that is made here. One of my greatest inspirations of life and style is Diana Vreeland, she was inspiring and FABULOUS well into her 80s.
Love your blog dear!
Brandy Runae Xo
❤Child of Ethereal Light❤

MintJulep said...

Let's just agree to disagree, then, Rebecca ;) I get what you're saying, I really do, but I just cannot bring myself to agree, and maybe that is because I am 40 years old, and besides rheumatism ages maybe brings a different perspective of things. If I look at young people and the way they dress I do not think that the only way to pull out a look is to be young and or botoxed, much on the contrary, I look at what younger women are wearing these days to keep my mind open to fresh and alternative looks, to get inspired, I may see - as it has happened - yourself wearing a certain colour mixed with another certain colour that had never crossed my mind to wear, and think: well, that's refreshing, I have items in those colours I want to try and make a look aout of it. I don't think: Oh I have to get botox and lose weight so I look more like Rebecca and then I will pull off that colour combo. I don't know if I'm explaining my point correctly, english not being my first language does make it hard to understand if I'm coming across as I want to. And about miss Dello Russo, I don't look at her as one of my fashion icons, I admire that she is bold in her style, but it's not my style. Then again, how many over 40 years old bloggers are there out on the blogosphere that showcase their style? I really don't know any besides me and Francesca, an italian blogger, and even though my style and hers are way different I get inspiration from her. As I get from you, and from tons of young bloggers... but I do not feel a need to make myself look like a 20 year old. But I do get your point: we should all look further, and we should all get to know a lot more things, and not just stand in a rut, at the same point in our lives. And indeed there are little numbers of older women who are regarded as style icons. That I feel it should change, indeed. Well, we still have Catherine Deneuve, right ;)?
http://fashionfauxpas-mintjulep.blogspot.pt

Rebecca, The Clothes Horse said...

@MintJulep,
I definitely see what you're saying and perhaps my perspective will change one day. On the lack of 40 year old fashion blogger (slightly off topic)--I really think it's b/c this younger generation is much more used to excessive time online as opposed to slightly different generations. There's even more teen and tween blogs than there are 20-somethings.

Anna L. said...

as with nearly any area of life, it seems to me that the ideal is summed up by seeking a balance. it's wonderful to surround oneself with images and "people" that speak to your personal moment in time/headspace, whether captured yesterday or yesteryear but when those inspirations become fixated or refuse to acknowledge change and multidimensionality (either personal or in role models) a problem arises. I personally would love to see more appreciation at large of women in all stages of life. Without an embodied goal of graceful (physical) aging, "eternal youth" might dangerously become the default aspiration.