Even if you don’t know her by name, you’ve probably seen images of Iris Apfel online or in magazines. She’s the older woman who wears giant, designer sunglasses and loads of accessories. Her garments and jewelry are piled on an otherwise slight frame and her look is topped with a flash of silver hair.
Iris Apfel turned 100 on August 29. She chose to celebrate by releasing a new line of glasses for Zenni Optical. She’s also partnered with Lowe’s and Etsy this year and it’s not likely she’ll ever retire. Creativity is her lifeblood, which is probably why she calls herself the “oldest looking teenager.”
Who is Iris Apfel?
Iris Apfel is Jewish and grew up in Queens as the only child of her parents, who were shop owners. Her mother ran a clothing boutique, handing down an astute sense of fashion. After earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, Apfel started her career as a fashion writer, but quickly pivoted towards interior design.
She ran an interior design company, Old World Weavers, for over forty years starting in 1951 with her husband. She also restored historic American buildings, including parts of the White House. Obsessed with travel, work, and creative projects she didn’t find time to have kids.
In 2008, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition featuring items from her vast clothing collection. This established her place in the fashion world, though she didn’t enter as a clothing designer, but rather for her skills as a stylist and collector.
With 1.7million followers on Instagram, she has built a giant platform around the idea that fashion should be fun. To celebrate her birthday, we’re paying tribute to her style, which we adore--especially for her taste in vintage clothing.
10 Things We Love about Iris Apfel
Iris Apfel dresses for no one but herself
She’s the embodiment of radical self-acceptance, because she’s not trying to fit into any boxes. With Iris Apfel it’s all about taking one idea, whether it’s a color combination or material, and then splurging with accessories until you have a wildly over-the-top look. This is how she became known as a “maximalist.”
This approach to fashion is joyously enthusiastic about all of the elements of design: shape, line, color, and fabric. It’s not about appearing appropriate for a certain situation. It’s about upending people’s expectations for what you’re going to wear.
Iris Apfel defies ageism
Ok, this one’s pretty obvious, but the woman gained international stardom at age 84 thanks to her Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit. Yet, she was already cultivating her own style and charisma since day one. As they say, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s great to see a visible fashion icon who grows more relevant each year she ages.
Iris Apfel buys cheap flea market finds
One of the most endearing things about Iris Apfel from a Goodfarian thrifting perspective is that she’s always on the hunt for a good second-hand find. Yet, judging by her excessive style, you may think she spends most of her time buying high-end designer goods. In fact, she’s just as likely to mix and match her designer finds with cheap, used items she’s picked up. One of the most important elements of her look is this pairing between the “high” and “low” to make startling contrasts and juxtapositions.
Iris Apfel has the best pairs of glasses
Bold, colorful, and chunky, Apfel’s glasses give her that instantly recognizable, iconic look. You won’t find her donning dainty, elegant glasses though. The ones she opts for usually look slightly too big for the size of her head. After all, glasses can have the effect of making people look important. They can also frame your face when you don’t want to go out with too much make-up on.
Iris Apfel’s arms are swimming in bangles
Another quite obvious, yet magnetic aspect of Apfel’s style is the fact that she loves to pile on bangles up to her elbows. This gives her a chance to play around with theme and variation. She can take a single material and find bangles in different sizes and shapes that repeat the idea over and over in different ways. Not to mention, they’re great conversation starters.
Iris Apfel leads and trends follow
As a woman who is turning 100 years old, Iris Apfel has lived long enough to have walked the streets when jeans were considered workwear for men only. Of course, that didn’t stop her from adding them into her closet. For Apfel, fashion isn’t so much about following trends, it’s about experimenting and taking pieces out of their typical context.
Iris Apfel collects from around the world (and doesn’t throw things away)
Thanks to her career as an interior designer, Iris Apfel traveled to discover materials, artifacts, and designs. Along the way, she’d buy things and add them to her collection. This included everything from couture clothing and costume jewelry to accessories from bazaars.
Even though collecting takes up loads of space, it’s one way not to throw things away. As a collector, Iris Apfel’s items actually gained value over time, earning her a place in art history. It’s ok to have a lot of stuff as long as you value each object individually for its story and you keep it for a long time.
Iris Apfel is a master stylist
After looking through dozens of Apfelian outfits, you can start to see a theme: she’s very good at framing her face. The abundance of dramatic beads, feathers or collars she wears all help to keep your eye centered on her face. From there, your eyes naturally fixate on her large glasses. The rest is all blends and varieties of materials, color themes, and bobbly beads. It’s this ability to keep a focal point amidst the chaos that really highlights her skill as a stylist.
Iris Apfel doesn’t shy away from color
There are no colors in the rainbow that Apfel has not explored. For her, the bolder, the better. That said, she usually fixates on one to three main colors per outfit. This keeps some cohesion to her overall look, and it allows her to explore very unique materials: feathers, turquoise, wood engraved with mother of pearl, etc. without completely losing a sense of intentionality in her look.
Iris Apfel is an inspiration for creators
Iris Apfel is living proof that beauty is ageless and creativity never dies.
We love the spirit of playfulness, thrift, and adventure captured in her outfits. Experiment with your own looks by choosing one of our surprise bundles.
They have a low enough price point so you can shop with zero regrets. This makes it easy to pick up something you wouldn’t otherwise wear. Be like Iris Apfel: think outside the box.