BUSHWICK – Just because you’re growing older doesn’t mean you have to lose your edge — especially when it comes to fashion.
In honor of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, I decided to scour through my Brooklyn neighborhood for women nowhere near NYC’s Lincoln Center — those who rip the cemented sidewalks of their hood with their own threads. On their own terms.
I searched for some women who are retired, but haven’t retired from fashion. Some of them showed more enthusiasm about pops of color, while others prided themselves in conservatism. One thing is certain – they all got it going on, without the help of Fashion Week. I can only hope to look that good in my 60s, 70s, 80s.
Meet these five women, most of them from the Hope Gardens Multi-Service Center in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Get inspired!
Gertrudis Dusat looked like a gypsy as she crossed the street with her sister, who just arrived from Cuba. The 80-year-old wore a rich caramel-colored turban, which she made herself. She sews, and has plenty of colorful turbans waiting at home.She wore a thin button-down shirt with a tropical theme, and jeans. It was hard to pinpoint her style, so I decided to ask Dusat.
“My style is… I’m old. I don’t ever forget that I’m old. But I don’t like being like other old folks – with a cane,” she said. “Oh God! I hope that moment never comes – I wouldn’t know what to tell you.”“I buy them wherever for a dollar,” said Dusat of her earrings, “because I can’t afford more expensive ones.”
But being fly doesn’t have much to do with the cost of things. You either have it or you don’t, and Dusat does.
I found Yolanda Seeley on the sidewalk. She was seated on a wooden bench, under the M train’s deep rumble. On her lap was a thin issue of ¡Despertad!, a Spanish Bible-based magazine published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York.Seeley is a Jehovah’s Witness, which explains her conservative style. She said she typically wears loose-fitting dresses on her full figure.
“Because I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, I can’t dress that sophisticated – none of that,” she told me. “I’ve never liked a dress without sleeves.”Seeley’s earrings are made up of black stones, framed by gold. “I don’t know if the gold is real or imitation,” she says, but Seeley estimates she bought three or four pairs “because they’re unique.”
I ask for Seeley’s age, and she responds “Ayyyy madre … 70.”
Her friend, who sits next to her with her own religious literature, comments that Seeley looks good for a 70-year-old.
“That’s what they say… I don’t know if it’s true,” Seeley responds.
Oh, it’s true!
Comfort is key for Nilda Bruno when it comes to her fashion style -– and so is matching. The 68-year-old likes to pick her outfits at night, to avoid more work for herself in the mornings. “You know how some people are when they wake up,” she says.Bruno’s outfit is heavily grey; she donned a plaid short-sleeved jacket with purples and blocks of black, and grey cargo pants. Her earrings were from AVON, and her sandals from around the way. Bruno walks a lot, and said she shops for clothing along her path. Her approach to fashion is more laidback. “He knows I like this stuff so he every time he travels, he brings back something every time,” Bruno said, “he got this from somewhere… I can’t remember.” Perhaps it’s from Italy, she adds. Bruno told me she doesn’t like to show a lot of skin. “Even more so when you’re old,” she said. She showed me her legs, pointing to her varicose veins.
I told Bruno that she’s still beautiful.
“Of course,” she said, “that doesn’t go away because you’re old. I feel good… I have my little things, but what’s the use in complaining?”
She’s absolutely right.
Milagros Mendoza was extremely shy when I first asked her about her personal style. The 66-year-old widow smiled and offered small details about her top – a loose shirt covered in blue and yellow streaks that looked like something out of a water color painting. Her sleeves were wing-like, and Mendoza wore dark jeans and jewelry to match.“I love everything modern,” she said. “I love dresses and I love pants – depends on the occasion.” When I asked Mendoza what she thinks of how younger people dress, she took her time to answer the question.
“I don’t like anything exaggerated,” she declared, “when they go around showing everything.”
I asked her what she meant by that – and Mendoza laughed shyly.
“I mean really short pants and when you show your stomach,” she clarified.
We don’t like that, either.
With urgency, she insisted that she would be a great subject for this story, and after one look at Margarita Chiriboga’s outfit, I agreed.
The 80-year-old was dressed in a light salmon short-sleeved top and a skirt bursting with color – horizontal shades of magenta and orange.Her demeanor as lively as her outfit, Chiriboga seemed far from an octogenarian.
“That’s why this interview means more… we don’t have to let ourselves go because we’re old,” she said, speaking for her female cohorts.
Chiriboga added that women of age don’t have to walk around in sneakers all the time. “Then what happens? When you go to a wedding or a quinceañera, the first person who other people want to see is the grandmother,” Chiriboga told me, her arms expressive and her voice serious. She went on to tell me that some families don’t encourage their matriarchs to keep up their appearances, which, in her opinion, is a problem.
“Not my kids though – I dress myself and do everything myself,” she said, proudly. Chiriboga said other elderly women walk around dressed however – bad.
“They should at least match – look,” she added, using her own skirt as an example.Chiriboga’s clothes come from all over. Her black sandals are from Payless and her top, which cost only five bucks, was found in a local store. She fixed the sleeves herself. “I’m a professional tailor,” she said. As stylish as she was dressed, Chiriboga told me I haven’t found her at her best. She was dressed down that day because she took a painting class at the Hope Gardens community center, and she always stains her clothing.
“So you dress better than this?” I asked her.
“Ooooof, of course!” she said. “I usually like to wear something more glittery, but because of painting class, I can’t wear anything too expensive.”
Good to know.