Anyone who follows fashion knows that 92-year-old Iris Apfel is a legend. Having been featured in every publication from Vogue to Architectural Digest, Apfel is known not only for her completely idiosyncratic sense of style, but also for her chic lifestyle and no-nonsense attitude about pretty much everything.
A native of Queens’ Astoria neighborhood, the fashion icon first picked up an interest in collecting knick-knacks and “offbeat” accessories when she was 11 years old. “My jewelry started because I’ve always been extremely curious,” Iris told StyleCaster. “For a nickel you could ride the whole city. I used to cut classes every Thursday afternoon and get on the subway and go some place else in the city. I fell in love with the Village. In those days it was really interesting and very Bohemian.”
Having been alive for 92 years, Iris has lived through a lot, and she’s seen fashion evolve and change throughout the decades, which is hopefully something all of us will be lucky enough to do. That said, we sat down with the former interior designer in her Park Avenue apartment to chat about one of the fashion world’s most divisive modern subjects: street style.
Below, Iris shares her unfiltered thoughts on the matter. Then, click through the gallery to learn more about how she puts together an outfit!
StyleCaster: How have you seen street fashion change over your 92 years?
Iris Apfel: I think discipline has gone to hell, and people don’t seem to care much anymore. Years ago, people wouldn’t be seen in the streets the way they are now. In the summer now, everybody on Fifth Avenue looks like they’re going to a great shower bath. Flip-flops and underwear.
How did it used to be years ago?
Most restaurants had a dress code. All the fine restaurants kept some jackets and ties, and if someone came without one, [they lent it to you]. I remember at the Le Pavillon, the great French restaurant, ladies could not appear in pants. You had to be wearing a dress.
I remember one time I went in a gorgeous pantsuit; it was velvet, and it was gorgeous. And they wouldn’t let me in! Fortunately, the jacket was long enough, so I just took the pants off. But they were very strict. And I think it was good, because I think when you go to a nice restaurant, you want to be relaxed and have a drink and everything, you want to look at people who look well. You don’t want to look at some slob with an open shirt and a hairy chest. At least I don’t.
Definitely not. How else do you think street fashion has changed?
Young women used to try so hard to look neat and clean and well-groomed. And so many of them don’t anymore. They look like mussed-up beds. I don’t get it. But if that makes them happy. Maybe they try hard. Maybe this is a look they try to achieve. But I don’t think it’s very pretty.
And how do you think design has changed over the years?
In the ’50s and the ’60s and even some of the ’70s, we had all the great American designers. The clothes were impeccably made. Clothes are not made like that anymore. They’re all unconstructed. I have some clothes still [from that period], and they’re heavy. They’re made, and they have all kinds of inner stuff. And they have shape. They don’t make stuff like that anymore. It’s quite different.
So do you have any words of wisdom on how women can make their street style a bit more chic?
My attitude has always been that first, I dress to suit myself. And I would never do anything to offend my husband, or when my mother was here, do something she wouldn’t like. But aside from that, if people don’t like what I wear, that’s their problem, not mine.
You have to know yourself. And if you have to have a definition of style, it’s a very elusive thing, I would say attitude, attitude, attitude. If you don’t wear it with an attitude, or with the feeling of being comfortable and that you’re happy, it’s not going to come off very well. Otherwise you can end up looking like a Christmas tree or very dowdy.
I think women should first learn who they are, and know themselves. And know what they’re comfortable with. Because I always feel that if you’re gonna be uncomfortable and unhappy in something, just because you think it’s in or it’s chic, I would advise you to be happy rather than well-dressed. It’s better to be happy.