Lyn Slater, Accidental Icon, Says The Conversation Around Age & Fashion Needs To Change
What makes New York-based professor and Accidental Icon fashion blogger Lyn Slater's relationship with fashion so fascinating is the profound thoughtfulness of her approach. In stark contrast to the world of fast fashion, which is driven by the constant consumption of garments, 65-year-old Slater strives to accurately reflect her inner self through what she wears.
Take one look at her blog, Accidental Icon — which has been so successful since she started it in 2014 that she plans to leave her career in academia to focus on it full time later this year. You come away not with a desire to impulsively buy the same items she is wearing, but instead to search your own closet for pieces that elicit the same feelings of appreciation. It's this attitude that makes her and her style so inspiring.
What piece instantly makes you feel confident?
I usually only own pieces that make me feel confident, because that's how I think about fashion. I have a piece that I've been wearing this winter that I just feel really powerful and really confident in, and it's a very beautiful, rust colored, oversized coat that's like a big bathrobe.
How do you define your personal style?
The word I use is evolving, because my style is not static. It's always changing because the world is changing, and the way that I get dressed, or how I decide what to wear, is really based on my identity and who I might want to be today.
How had your style played a role in your career? Has it opened or closed any doors for you? Or has it evolved as a result of your career?
I think I've always known that clothing is really powerful and that people make judgments about who you are based on what you're wearing, and for me, in my earlier career, which involved the fields of social welfare and being a professor, I was always very cognizant of how I dressed and where I was going. I used to have to testify in court a lot, so how I looked would really have an impact on my credibility with a judge. I learned to use my assessment skills to think about how I could use clothes in a particular situation to get the outcome I wanted.
My newer career, which began four years ago with Accidental Icon, is completely about clothes and style, and that is exactly how I am able to have it as a career — because a lot of people told me that they like my style and I should do a blog, and I was really feeling restless with the academia, and so I started a blog that would jest about style and life. Now I have a whole other career!
Why would people think that our revolutionary generation of getting high and protesting wars and free love, that our generation was just going to put on elastic pants and crawl in a hole when we got old?
What is your daily uniform?
I really love jeans. I have many pairs of them, and styling around a pair of jeans is really a fun experience. So in my everyday life, that's pretty much my uniform. When I'm teaching, I generally stick to some nicely tailored pants. I will use a very out-of-the box jacket or cap, and I'm always wearing my signature earrings. The students have come to expect that I'm going to wear something a little bit outrageous. So I might wear a dress with my Converse sneakers, or something like that. I think most commonly, I like to be comfortable; that's why I've been really loving oversized clothes. I'm very happy that that's a look right now, because I totally love it.
What are a few of your favorite brands?
Right now, I'm completely obsessed with Acne Studios, I totally love their pieces. I have a long history with Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons, which are my top designers. What I love about both of them is that when they first began — because there's a lot of talk about brands being feminist and things like that these days — they were all about challenging norms about how women should look and what they should wear. With her first collection, Rei Kawakubo was saying, "I'm challenging that perfect ideal of womanhood because I don't think it's real," and so I love that they were like that from the start. And even Yohji Yamamoto, he used older models well before the current time where now, brands do try to be more inclusive. So I think they're my historical love, and I have a lot of clothes from both of them.
More currently, I have to say I've been liking Dior over the last couple of years. I love that woman and how she looks, very strong but feminine. Gucci's first collection when Alessandro Michele took over, where he had all these geeky looking girls with big glasses, I was so in love with that because I'm a geeky girl with glasses and a Ph.D. I attach more to brands when I find an aspect of myself represented in what they're doing. Gucci showed that you could be quirky and intelligent and be very, very fashionable.
How is the conversation around age and fashion changing and what do you still want to see change?
I think we're really making progress when we don't have to segregate groups. Instead of "Here's all the aging women in fashion. Aren't they great?," let's say, "Here's some really incredibly stylish women who we admire," and leave it at that. I think that's when inclusion will really be inclusion, when it just becomes part of the environment. And it's not there yet. It is getting there. I think it's because people still have a lot of fears and stereotypes about what being old means. Why would people think that our revolutionary generation of getting high and protesting wars and free love, that our generation was just going to put on elastic pants and crawl in a hole when we got old? It's just so fascinating that they wouldn't think there would be women like me who love technology, who love fashion and style, and now, I have more money and time than I ever had in my life to indulge in.
How did your interest in fashion start?
I've always had this relationship with clothes that's almost like an artist, in a way where they have some material that lets them say what they want to say. And so for me, clothes have always been that. Looking at magazines, looking at what people are wearing, and films, in art galleries, and really viewing getting dressed the same as walking into a paint store and figuring out which paints to pick to tell the story you want to tell.
Think about a couple of words that really describe your essence, and instead of looking at what everyone else is wearing, think about what clothes could express those things about you.
Was there anyone when you were growing up who had great style that influenced you?
My maternal grandmother, she was a musician, and she was also a bit of a rebel, and after she was widowed at a very young age, even younger than I am right now, she just sold her home, took off with her two sisters, and she traveled around the world for 15 years. One of her favorite places was Asia, and she went to Hong Kong and Japan quite often. And she was always bringing me back some article of clothing from wherever she went. One of the reasons she liked to go to Hong Kong was because she would go to one of the fabulous tailors there with some ideas for what she would want to wear, and she would come home from those trips with an entire wardrobe. She had a really big impact on me.
Which item in your closet have you owned for the longest that you still wear?
A beautiful coral and gold, long jacket. It's not quite a kimono because it doesn't have kimono sleeves. My grandmother got it many, many years ago in Hong Kong, and I can wear it only rarely because it's so delicate now, but it has beautiful embroidery and it's probably the piece of clothing in my closet that I've had the longest.
Can you recall an outfit that you've worn in your life that was iconic for you?
For a long time, I wore black and white clothing almost exclusively. I received a gift of a red power suit and I decided to wear it to the Shorty Awards where I was nominated for Best in Fashion. Much to my surprise I won, and that red suit was a real turning point because the award and the suit made me feel so powerful. Ever since, colors have been making an appearance in my wardrobe.
Is there a styling tip that you always rely on?
Well, when people ask me to give them styling tips, I find that hard because I think it's such a personal thing, so I would say, "Style from the inside out." And by that, I mean think about who you are, think about a couple of words that really describe your essence, and instead of looking at what everyone else is wearing, think about what clothes could express those things about you. And it's really interesting because if you try it, you will look at clothes and say, "Oh, no. That doesn't say that." But I think from the inside out, I think rather than looking outside, look in the mirror and take it from there.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.