Agespiration US style

“Can I help you”, fabulous older women in the information booth at MoMA

Watching old people, observing how they dress, interact with their friends and family and fit into society has become something of a hobby of mine. The older one gets the more you notice old people and how they live, as the realisation that this will one day be you, becomes a reality.

I love how old ladies in Europe shop locally every day, help look after their grandchildren, eat out with their families and stay up late chatting with other old ladies. It helps that the weather is good and they have their families around them, but one gets the impression that growing old is respected and that they live life to the full.

New York doesn’t always feel like an easy place to live, it is big, brash and loud, like the people who live there and on the surface doesn’t appear to be the best place to grow old. But spending some time there during our holiday made me realise it’s a lot like London. It can seem harsh and unfriendly to outsiders, when you live here it really isn’t.

It seemed everywhere we went in the city there were old people enjoying life and actively engaging in society – walking their dogs, in restaurants, on buses and working in shops, galleries and supermarkets – they were out and about enjoying life.

In Barnes and Noble a lovely older women helped me to track down a copy of the book I wanted at another store and informed that it included some very stylish women and that the author also wrote a blog (it was Advanced Style). She looked around 70, was engaged and interesting and seemed to thoroughly enjoy her job.
Every museum and gallery we visited was staffed by interesting older people with a wealth of knowledge about the work on show and MoMA was packed with older people enjoying the art work. So much so, I wondered if it might be OAP day.

We used the buses rather than the subway as a way of seeing everything and getting around. They are widely used by older people and are slow and respectful to accommodate their needs, but when MAD offered one old lady his seat, she barked back at him “why, there’s nothing wrong with me”, which we kind of loved. No, of course there isn’t, you are just old –  how fabulous.

When chatting to the friends we were staying with about this, they told us there were no age barriers at work either. New Yorkers don’t think you have really got started in your career until you are around 50 and the president of the company our friend works for is 80 and only just thinking about retiring.

In fashion, age doesnt seem to be a barrier either, as some of the highest profile people in the fashion industry are older women. Donna Karen, Diane Von Furstenburg and Grace Coddington (to name just a few) still continue to be as creative and ground breaking as ever and older women on the streets of New York love dressing up, just as much as the downtown hipsters.

A couple in matching chinos enjoying MoMA and taking the bus downtown

The one thing I don’t get however, is some of the older (and richer) women’s obsession with looking younger. They are the opposite of the confident woman in Barnes and Noble, they are the insecure Park Avenue Princess’s who look 35 from the back. Stick thin (osteoporosis?), dressed impeccably, with the (slightly thinning) highlighted hair of a younger women. Then they turn round. At first you think they are perhaps a blurry 45 – and you look closer – oh no, lots of surgery – and then you see their hands (there is no way of disguising those hands) and you realise they are nearer 75 than 45.

I watched one of these women get on the bus in front of me. On first impressions she looked young, slim and amazing, but as she struggled to keep her balance, held her back as if it hurt and shakily sat down, I realised she was an old lady.

No-one helped her, chatted to her, or made concessions for her and it made me really wonder why you would want to look so much younger (and freakier) than you actually are. Surely those ladies in the village square in small Spanish towns are having a lovely time, their grandchildren playing at their feet, their children looking after them and the other members of society respecting them.

It made me think I would much rather be the women in Barnes and Noble as at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather be respected for what you do and what you are, rather than what you look like, how ever old you are?


  • sarah says:

    We need some high profile “real” oldsters in public life, particularly on television.
    Most of the media show us that old age is to be feared – alzheimers, pensions, dodgy care homes so, we need some balance. Bring on good role models, especially older women.
    Although they may so busy having a good time, they could’nt be arsed to appear on something so vacuous.

  • Jane says:

    Sarah you are right, we need a British version of the Golden Girls.

  • Osnat says:

    Great article Jane. I have been teaching older people for the past two years and find them fascinating, their life stories amazing and their quest for knowledge admirable. They are also much easier to teach, they appreciate learning from me and say so. I cannot imagine it happening with the younger generation and am happy I don’t have to teach high school kids. Being fifty plus myself I feel for sure that looking at how the older generation acts and behaves, life can only get better, there is actually something to look forward to and not dread.

  • Jane says:

    thanks Osnat, exactly how I feel, the more we see growing older as a positive thing, the happier we will be.

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