How I Became a Fashion Don’t

The case for growing old ungracefully.

Dress Your Age
“Are you too old for your outfit?” in Details magazine pillories Simon Doonan, right.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo courtesy Brad Bridgers/Details Magazine (L), by Getty Images (R).

Last week the October issue of Details magazine arrived in my mailbox and, just like every other red-blooded, 60-year-old man in the universe, I immediately began scouring the pages for swinging trends and groovy tips.

Imagine my delight when I discovered, on Page 90, what appeared to be a full-page homage to myself. Here was a photograph of a trim gray-haired dude sporting a tailored jacket, a narrow tie, a patterned shirt, and a pocket square. I felt as if I was looking into a mirror. “Finally,” I mused, “me and my nifty retro-mod look are getting the respect we deserve. Sixty years of slavish fashion addiction has paid off!”

Then I read the headline:


The accompanying article is a take-no-prisoners excoriation of older blokes who “cling to the vestments of their youth” or “co-opt the vestments of today’s youth.”  Among the items specifically cited are Vans—I have about 10 pairs and happened to be wearing a nice brown/black checkered pair while clutching the mag—and flowered shirts. Regarding the latter: I have lost count of how many I own. I like flowers. I thought we all liked flowers. Flowers come from God. What’s wrong with flowers?

The writer, one Katherine Wheelock, clearly has a bug up her butt about flamboyant seniors. This is not her first attempt to divest us silver foxes of the impulse to tart ourselves up. In 2008 she wrote an almost identical piece for Details titled “It’s Time to Start Dressing Your Age.” I suspect Miss Wheelock—or maybe it’s Mrs. Wheelock, which sounds more apropos for a chick who is positioning herself as some kind of conservative anti-flamboyance watchdog for the colostomy-bag brigade—was traumatized in her youth by an old toupee-wearing perv in too much jewelry and a leopard jumpsuit. What else could account for her fixation with tamping down sartorial flourishes among AARP crowd?

“You are just pissed off because a fashion mag called you out for dressing like a wanker,” I hear you say. To which I reply: I know I look like a wanker. I enjoy looking like a wanker. Looking like a wanker is a basic human right and a huge part of having a signature style. I have always looked like a wanker. I looked like a wanker when I wore plaid bondage outfits in 1978. I looked like a wanker when I dressed like a pirate during the early-’80s New Romantic era. I am sure I will die looking like a wanker. I never subscribed to the idea of good taste: It’s a subjective concept promoted by fashion scribes to oppress the rest of us. Dressing age-inappropriately is, so they say, in poor taste, and it’s vulgar. This is exactly why I celebrate it.

As Franco Moschino said: “Good taste does not exist.”

As Diana Vreeland said: “Vulgarity is a very important ingredient in life. … A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. … No taste is what I’m against.”

Disdain for age-inappropriate dressing seems to me, especially in the context of a hotsy-totsy mag like Details, to be catastrophically old-fashioned. To live in the era of Gaga, Miley, sleeve-tats, Big Ang, and nipple-piercings and still cling to the idea that there are do’s and don’ts in matters of style shows a deeply conventional streak. The fact that anyone, in our all-bets-are-off era of joyful carnivalesque vulgarity, would attempt to play the role of style arbiter with statements like “bad style does not discriminate” is nothing short of hilarious.

Despite the glaring obsolescence of her hackneyed hypothesis, Mrs. Wheelock manages to find fashion stylists to support her arguments and to say sinister and ambiguous things like: “There’s a huge difference between looking current and looking trendy” and “As a guy you have to figure out at an early age what works for you and be monogamous with it.”

I remain unconvinced by these “experts,” for one very important reason: The problem—if there is one—is the exact opposite of the one identified by Mrs. Wheelock and her fun-exterminating acolytes. They contend that seniors need reining in, while I feel passionately that the opposite is true.

I find that oldsters are, en générale, much too afraid of stepping out. Yes, we count among us a smattering of fabulously crazy broads like those found on Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style website, but they are in the minority. Most wrinklies, especially the dudes, have been beaten into submission by too many dreary admonishing Wheelockian articles spotlighting and exaggerating the alleged perils of age-inappropriate attire. As a result, most superannuated boomers have actually bought into the absurd notion that they are under some kind of obligation to start dressing with subtlety and thoughtful restraint. They eschew ephemeral fashion fads in favor of grown-up, sensible concepts such as “solids,” “essentials,” and “quiet luxury.” Quel drag.

If you are a sartorially adventurous senior and you find yourself on the receiving end of any discouraging reproaches, please disregard them. Remember what Morris Lapidus said. He’s the daredevil designer—also known as “the architect of joy”—who masterminded, among other projects, the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. When asked for his opinion on minimalism, he replied, “I thought van der Rohe was an idiot. ‘Less is more.’ How stupid can you be? Less is not more. Less is nothing.”

Whether in clothing or architecture, reckless, eccentric, unbridled style is life-enhancing and age-immune. I’d prefer to see Gramps dressing like Truman Capote, Isaac Hayes, Rip Taylor, Benjamin Disraeli, Oscar Wilde, or yes, Jackie Stallone. Why not? Is there anything better than a crazy old broad, or bloke, in a Phyllis Diller fright wig and a bejeweled muumuu? What could possibly be more fun than a horny old sleazeball in a powder blue suit flaunting his medallions in a forest of chest hair? Simply put: Forcing oldsters to dress like refugees from a Cialis commercial is a crime against humanity.

At the end of the Details article, there is what I take to be a tacit acknowledgment by Frau Wheelock that the whole notion of age-appropriate dressing just might be a transparently flawed load of bollocks:

“And if the reality check involved in weeding the age-inappropriate looks from your wardrobe stings that much, take heart: Once you turn 80, you can dress however the hell you want.”

One slight problem: The life expectancy for the average bloke in the USA is 76.

Life is for living. Join the bloody cabaret before it’s too late.