Skip to content

Are Boomers the True Fashionistas?

Designer Norma Kamali reminds us to take pride in how far we've come

Norma Kamali

Remi Koukou/National Arts Club

"We made fashion history long before the internet or social media came along," proclaimed Norma Kamali.

En español | "We made fashion history long before the internet or social media came along," proclaimed legendary designer Norma Kamali during a National Arts Club gala in her honor last month in New York.

Sporting her signature cat-eye glasses and a clingy, snakeskin-print, flared-leg pantsuit — take that, age 71! — Kamali looked out over her age 50-plus audience with delight and gushed: "I'm so inspired by you boomers tonight — just look at you! Our generation started every 'new' trend being recycled on runways today."

Join AARP today and receive access to great information, benefits, and discounts

Though the invitation clearly specified black tie, many in attendance mixed vintage with fast fashion, couture with cheap chic: Leather, sequins, hats and statement jewelry all abounded. So let's kick off 2017 by following Kamali's lead and giving ourselves a hand for some "style wins" that are all our own.

1. We're not afraid to decide for ourselves. Did you know that "Greenery 15-0343" (it's a sort of yellowish olive-green) was just named the color of the year for 2017 by the Pantone Institute?

Come again?

According to the Pantone tastemakers, the hue supposedly "symbolizes our reconnection to nature." Well, sure — but then, so does vomit. Drape me in Greenery 15-0343, and I'm going to look sallow, pasty and sick.

Hmm … could Pantone be in cahoots with those cosmetic brands that are constantly pushing us too far fashion-forward? Every time some style prognosticator declares "dark lipstick is the next big thing," I swear I can hear the communal "whoosh" of 50+ women rushing out the door to snap up neutral, clear red, rose and pink lipsticks before they vanish from the racks. (Nothing adds 10 years to a woman's face faster than dark lipstick — unless, of course, it's Greenery 15-0343!)

So do what you've always done: Pick and choose your style influences as your instincts dictate. After catching Jackie at the movies last weekend, for example, I've begun considering a blunt bob and better brow makeup, while The Queen has already inspired me to wear my pearls every day. So, yes, weigh trends … borrow ideas … but don't forget to be your own style icon.

2. We invented the bohemian groove. Millennials and Gen Xers, where do you think the idea came from to wear suede minis, denim midis, drop-shoulder tops, embellished shoulder bags and frayed flared jeans? Nothing makes our hearts beat faster than shopping for one-of-a-kind artisan jewelry on the Etsy website, or browsing flea markets and garage sales for hippie-dippie "finds." And we have no need to Instagram the moment; we do it for the IRL (in real life) thrill.

Sign up for the AARP Leisure Newsletter - news and discounts delivered to you every month

3. We inspired designers to "think small." Back when we were career-climbing, I confess, we had a brief flirtation with logos and big-ticket labels. Did I say "brief"? I should have said "thwarted"; unable to spend four figures on clothing, we made do by springing for some perfume, a lipstick, a belt, a scarf or pair of shoes. We built the small-luxury-goods empire dollar by dollar — and lots of us have the leftovers to prove it. Maybe it's time for Chanel, Dior, Giorgio Armani and Tom Ford to thank us?

4. We pioneered comfort and control. We roused lingerie designers from their stupor to give us seamless microfiber bras and panties that wouldn't show beneath our clothes, the whole nude range of undies, and control tights and shapewear that neither looked nor felt like our mothers' girdles.

5. And cross-shopping, too, for that matter! We know when to splurge and when to save — and all without viewing a single YouTube video. Those statement jewels? Hey, we latched onto Kenneth Jay Lane diamond fakes back when real diamonds were mere lumps of coal! We know where to turn for affordable, no-iron white shirts (Lands' End), simple jersey-knit dresses (Target), boys' T-shirts as layering pieces (Hanes), bargain black tights and tees (Walmart), trendier pieces (H&M, Zara or KamaliKulture) and low-cost, high-quality cashmere sweaters (Uniqlo).

6. Our dollars speak volumes. With boomerina hands holding the purse strings of trillions of dollars, it's no stretch to say that we are the ones who will determine the success or failure of countless beauty and fashion products in 2017. Advertisers, are you listening?

For more beauty and style tips for women 50+, check out The Woman's Wakeup and AARP's new Beauty & Style special edition for tablets.

Note: We are currently in the process of replacing our commenting service, so it may take a few days for previous comments to appear. Login or register on to join the conversation.