You never know what you'll hear on NPR. A couple of days ago there was a story about a man who hangs out on street corners in New York looking for elegant people between 60 and 100, and when he finds one he persuades her (it's usually a woman) to let herself be photographed and interviewed for his blog.
The site is quite a visual experience. We're not used to seeing many photos of old people, let alone having them presented as icons of style. But "style" is an elastic term, and the blog explores this elasticity in many directions.
Some of the women are strikingly beautiful: http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-secret-to-beautiful-skin.html To me, others just look bizarre, submerged under layers of ruffles, vintage sweaters, striped leg warmers, scarves and hats: http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/2011/12/playing-dress-up.html But then, I tend to find eighteen-year-old fashion models odd-looking too.
I tried not to snicker at the weird looking ones. For one thing, many of them are my age. For another, we now find ourselves in a situation analogous to adolescence, in which the bodies that were once familiar are changing, sometimes slowly, sometimes in spurts. And it's hard enough knowing who you are at times of flux, let alone dressing to make the best of your new self. How many truly elegant teenagers do you know?
For some reason almost all these elder ladies, the elegant ones as well as the crazy-looking ones, wear hats. That right there eliminates my chances of being photographed and interviewed by the blogger, should he make his way to Vermont, because I never wear a hat, even in the middle of a blizzard. It squashes my hair and makes me look like a walking mushroom.
One thing to be said for these women, they seem like a jolly bunch. That may be because even though some of them look like bag ladies, judging from the backgrounds against which they are photographed they are anything but.
They all talk about getting in touch with their real self, finally knowing who they are, knowing what looks good on them (or what they think looks good on them) and having the guts to wear it. They believe in the power of staying hydrated, exercising daily, and getting a good haircut.
But in the end, the stories on the website left me feeling dissatisfied. I was hoping for more from these women--for instance the answer to the question, what is the meaning of life? For some of them that is clearly "getting dressed up in the morning." Still, looking at some of those pensive faces I couldn't help thinking that there must be more there than just elegance.
As good as it is to celebrate whatever shreds of physical beauty are still clinging to an aged face, let us not forget to take a look at the soul under those good looks.