A professor at the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University, New York, with hyper-chic side gigs as a model and blogger, she is known to a wider public as an Instagram idol.
Sure, she is 64, a time when some women her age are feeling pressed to close up shop. But if you are Slater, that is not going to happen.
On Accidental Icon, her influential Instagram account, she tends to vamp in an eye-catching mash-up of Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and consignment store
“I flaunt it,” she said. “I’m not 20. I don’t want to be 20, but I’m really freaking cool. That’s what I think about when I’m posting a photo.”
Her brash voice is one in a chorus of like-minded contemporaries and women in their seventies and eighties, who are taking on matters of ageing with an audacity – and riveting style – their mothers might have envied.
Married or single, working or not, and most often grandmothers, they are asserting their presence on Instagram, intent, in the process, on subverting shopworn notions of what “old” looks and feels like. They are, to hear some tell it, “100% slaying”.
“These women are ambassadors of age,” said Ari Seth Cohen, the creator of Advanced Style, a popular street-style blog, two books and a film documenting, in his words, the “fashion and wisdom of the senior set”. His subjects, he noted, are simultaneously reflecting and contributing to a gradual shift in the common perception of ageing.
“The idea of what these older women look like has changed,” Cohen said. “If they were stylish in their youth, they will still be stylish now. They continue to be who they were.”
That observation is echoed in the Elastic Generation, a 2018 J Walter Thomson survey of 55- to 72-year-old women in England. “Our collective understanding of what later life looks like remains woefully outdated,” Marie Stafford, the European director of the JWT Innovation Group, wrote in her introduction. “Age no longer dictates the way we live. Physical capacity, financial circumstances and mindset arguably have far greater influence.”
“She might be an entrepreneur, a wild motorcyclist or a multi-marathon runner. Her lifestyle is not governed by her age but by her values and the things she cares about.”
Some of these women and their counterparts abroad are still subscribing to the counterculture values and maverick stance they adopted in the 1960s and 1970s.
“We are not going to be little old ladies sitting in a nursing home with blue-rinsed hair,” said Jenny Kee, @Jennykeeoz, a 71-year-old Australian artist and knitwear designer. “Or if we are going to be in a nursing home, we’ll be there with our marijuana, our health foods and our great sense of style.”
Slater echoed that. “When I was young, we were burning our bras and promoting free love,” she said. “We were getting high. Why would we accept the ageing image of our mothers?”
In their wardrobes, unfettered self-expression is the rule. Dorrie Jacobson, an 83-year-old former Playboy bunny, piqued interest last year when she began modelling lacy black lingerie on her Senior Style Bible Instagram account. In an interview, as on her feed, she urges followers to ditch cobwebby notions of how a woman her age should dress. “Wear what you like,” she said. “Age-appropriate has nothing to do with it.”
That brand of feistiness likely owes a debt to a few playfully cantankerous online role models, women who call themselves “Insta-grans”, who have made brazenness a virtue. Making waves, and a little cash on the side, are pop sensations like Baddie Winkle (Helen Ruth Elam van Winkle, 89), whose posts are conceived to flip convention on its head.
Snapped in shrilly colourful knits, skimpy swimwear and, in one instance, a pink message T-shirt that reads, “Be a slut, do whatever you want”, Van Winkle has transcended cult status. She has millions of followers and is paid to tout brands like Got2B hair products and Smirnoff on her account, and has made appearances at Sephora.
There is 69-year-old Lili Hayes, whose posts tend to send up stereotyped images of Jewish mom-ness.
Hayes, who, as her online bio makes clear, is always a little ticked off, underscores her peevishness with a streetwear-inflected style. Her fashion signature: an ever-expanding collection of Supreme caps.
Their advent coincides with the stepped-up visibility, and clout, of political outliers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose weathered features loom large on theatre screens, to say nothing of a voluble coterie of older women in Congress.
Also overlooked is their social media savvy. Eschewing stereotypes, 73% of the Elastic Generation participants “hate the way their generation is patronised when it comes to technology”, the report says.
Six out of 10 say they find tech “fascinating”, according to the report, and many of those may actually be more competent using tech than their younger counterparts
Slater, for one, was quick to monetise her account. The Spanish retailer Mango hired her for a 2017 campaign, “A Story of Uniqueness”. She recently appeared in a commercial for CVS Pharmacy, a company she admires for its use of unretouched models of varying ages.
She is featured in a music video with Charlotte Gainsbourg and has been approached by several literary agents to turn her posts into a book, she said.
The New York Times