It’s fair to say that our society has an age problem, rather we seem to have a problem with women over the age of fifty. There is still a stereotypical view of women that says they should dress appropriately (i.e. dowdy) as they get older and behave in a more genteel manner. Women “of a certain age” are regarded as “elderly” and “frail” regardless of how they truly carry themselves (look at how Hillary Clinton is treated regarding her age and health as compared to Donald Trump, who is five years older).
The new documentary Advanced Style — produced in 2012-2013 and now getting a DVD release — proves that women over 50 (and older) can still be fabulous. The idea for the film grew out of a blog by Ari Seth Cohen, who would walk around New York City admiring the fashion sense of the older women walking through the city. Cohen would compliment the women and ask if he could take their picture and an internet sensation was born. The popularity of the blog led to the publication of a book of photos, and now a new documentary featuring several of Cohen’s subjects.
Advanced Style takes a look into the lives of Joyce Carpati, Lynn Dell, Zelda Kaplan, Jacquie Murdock, Debra Rapoport, Tziporah Salamon and Ilona Smithkin. All of these ladies, whose ages range from 60s to mid-90s, live life to the fullest and use their fashion sense to express themselves. Some of the women have owned boutiques for years, some are artists, but they all have their own unique voice and a way with mixing and matching various items of clothing.
The film itself doesn’t really have a narrative to follow, basically just allowing the viewer to be a participant in the lives of these women, at their shops, classes, events and even to Los Angeles where a few of them appeared on The Ricki Lake Show (the 2012 version). It’s not made clear if any of the women have known each other outside of this production, but a couple of them seem friendly with each other. There is one scene with the women in Los Angeles that has a palpable sense of tension when one of them, Lynn, seems to not know when to shut up. Cohen himself has to address the issue as she seems unaware but aware of the fact that she can be a bit overbearing and he doesn’t want her co-opting everyone else’s time on the show.
It’s interesting to see the personalities of each woman, from the more well-to-do, put together Joyce Carpati to the more bohemian Ilona Smithkin,with the bright red hair and matching false eyelashes made from that hair, who teaches art classes and even performs an intimate cabaret act. It’s also inspiring to see the pure joy of living these women have regardless of their ages or physical ailments (Ilona says at one point when the proposition of being cast in an episode of a reality TV show re-enactment comes her way that from the waist up she’s fine, from the waist down “don’t ask, don’t tell.”). To them, age is just a number. They live and dress how they feel, not how society tells them how they should and that’s a message we should all take to heart. Be true to yourself.
Advanced Style is now available for digital purchase or rental at Amazon.com. The DVD will be released October 25 and is available for pre-order.
Kino Lorber generously provided Hotchka with a DVD copy of the film for reviewing purposes.