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Fashion Influencer Lyn Slater, 70, Knows ‘How to Be Old’

Her new book encourages later-in-life reinvention and embracing aging with style and joy 

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Courtesy: Calvin Lom

Lyn Slater, 70, didn’t intend to become a style icon. The former social worker and Fordham University professor decided in her 60s to go to school for fashion and began writing an increasingly popular fashion blog. She soon became an Instagram star — an “accidental icon,” as she called herself — featured in Vogue magazine and seated in the front row at New York Fashion Week in 2018.

Part of Slater’s appeal is the fact that she’s an anomaly in an industry that skews younger, with her undyed gray hair and naturally aging skin. But her goal was never to make some sort of grand statement about aging, she tells AARP: “I was expressing a creative impulse, which has no age.” 

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Courtesy: Plume

Now she encourages others to embrace reinvention and live authentically in How To Be Old: Lessons In Living Boldly From The Accidental Icon. Her book colorfully documents the decade or so when she reconnected with her creativity and found fame, as well as more recent years, when she pulled back from the world of fashion celebrity for a lower-key existence.

“My life,” Slater writes, “is now centered on my partner, my home, my wild and overgrown garden, my daughter and grandchildren, writing, becoming involved in my community, and being purposeful and diligent about the things I need to do so I can continue to be old in a healthy and satisfied way.”

These are some of the author’s tips for living authentically, regardless of age.   

1. Make mistakes

If you live 70 years without making a mistake, she suggests, what kind of life is that? 

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Slater recalls moments from her burgeoning career in fashion during which she experienced a fair share of foot-in-mouth moments as a newbie on the scene. Once, she sat front row at fashion week next to designer Thom Browne and didn’t recognize him despite being a fan of his work. Another time at a photoshoot, she mistook a major news outlet’s creative director for an intern. 

Slipups are often signs of or opportunities for growth, Slater poses, not reasons to retreat in shame. “As I look back on my life, I have found regret an unproductive emotion and one I try to avoid,” she writes. “Although I might suffer discomfort while going on fresh adventures, satisfying my curiosity, feeling the rapture when seeing the product of my ever-increasing creative impulse, or expanding my world, this all makes that scale tip in favor of the pleasures of terror.” 

2. Make connections 

Slater recently joined two women, one in her 40s, the other in her 60s, at a local coffee shop. They reflected upon what it meant to reinvent themselves at their different stages in life. Nearby, several other women overheard the conversation and asked to join in — they felt moved by the topic and wanted to connect.  

“I’ve made several new friends from sitting in a coffee house, having a great discussion and seeing what happens,” Slater says. “When you try to be too targeted or intentional or outcome-focused, you get blinders that don’t allow you to see opportunities or people that you might not ordinarily gravitate toward.” 

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And when you focus on ideas, places or hobbies that are your authentic interests, Slater finds that “almost by magic, you start finding people who are also there [who] are going to inspire you.”  

3. Don’t be afraid to start over

There’s a metaphor throughout Slater’s book: While in fashion school, she learned to love using a seam ripper to take apart vintage clothing. Slater sees the disassembling process as a creative opportunity. Sometimes you have to return to square one in order to rebuild something better.  

“The big thing to remember is that it’s not starting over, really,” she explains. “You take a garment apart, but you’re not throwing away the pieces. You’re putting them together in a different way, or you’re adding more fabric and texture to change it a bit. To me, that’s what reinvention is.”  

4. Stay positive

Slater doesn’t shy away from writing about some of the harsh, unwelcome truths about what it means to get older. But she also encourages readers to avoid seeing aging as a person’s defining characteristic. Staying creative and being thoughtful about ways to improve life for others are top of mind right now. 

In this new decade, she hopes to hold on to that mentality.  "My hope is that if I keep hopeful, if I keep being able to imagine a better world for [my grandchildren],” Slater says, “I can somehow in this decade be a tool or facilitator of ways to make that happen for them.”  

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