Author Q&A: Lyn Slater

During her sixties, Lyn Slater, a professor of social work, a grandmother with grey hair and wrinkles, started a blog and became an accidental icon, a style influencer with nearly a million followers. And then at seventy this vintage hipster wrote her first non-academic book, a memoir titled How to Be Old: Lessons in Living Boldly from the Accidental Icon.

This Q&A is edited for brevity. The full version is available here.

Can you tell us a few of the key lessons you learned on how to be old?

The first big lesson is to make it seem like being old is unlike any other time in your life. And the way that I look at it is in every decade that I have lived, I have had challenges, I have had opportunities, I have had losses, I have had celebrations, and I have figured (things) out with increasing ease over time, how to respond to those things. And so, I think being old is just another one of those times. There are many amazing things about being old. There are things that are not great, but there’s always the opportunity to respond to whatever has happened in a creative and resilient way. And so that’s how I like to think of it. It’s the same, but it’s different.

You talk about a term you use called What nowness, the state that precedes a reinvention. When did you last feel that, or are you feeling it now?

I think I’m feeling it now, very much. This book has marked a passage, and I very much experienced this book as me kind of taking back authorship of my life story, which I felt had been kind of co-opted and taken from me by society. And so that feels very empowering. And it also made me realise how much I loved writing, and so I am in a what now time, because I know that I want to write, I am just not sure what path that’s going to take me on.

You quote David Bowie as saying, Ageing is whereby you become the person you always should have been. Would you say that’s true of you now, and how so?

I think that is true and I still see myself becoming. I think I am very happy with how I’ve landed at 70, because I feel like I have the perfect balance of family life, of community living, of creative expression, nature. Maybe for the first time, my life feels very coherent. So I feel like I’m in a wonderful situation now where I have the time to give equally to all of these important things in my life.

At what age do you have your first memory of you being passionate about clothes? And do you remember a particular outfit that you thought was super cool?

I think probably the first time I thought of clothing as cool was when I was in high school, and I went to an all-girls Catholic school and grammar school as well. I had been wearing uniforms forever. Most of the girls in my school would wear much more preppie styled clothing. I had this pair of bell bottoms that were just incredibly great and very high platform shoes, which made me feel really tall. And the pants would swing, so it made me feel sexy, and I had this beautiful gauzy Indian print blouse that was almost transparent. I thought it was cool because it made me unique, and it was sort of allowing me to embody how I felt as an adolescent which was this free and experimental and thinking outside the box and rebellious sort of young woman.

Can you speak to your love of avant-garde designers? Like, Yoji, Yamamoto, Commes des Garcons, Maison Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, and others. Did they speak to you more than conventional top designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Celine Prada?

Yes, because if you go back into their history, you’ll see that they often featured older women in their shows. And they had a way of designing that was kind of ageless. Dries Van Noten said one time, ‘I want mothers and granddaughters and grandmothers to come to my show and find something to wear.’ At my heart, those were the designers that really appealed to me because they were breaking big time rules in their clothes.

How does it feel to be a first-time non-academic author at 70?

It feels amazing. It really does. It feels like quite an accomplishment.

You now live a more relaxed, outdoorsy life outside of Manhattan in Hudson Valley where you wear a lot of blue jeans. What do blue jeans symbolize to you?

I think blue jeans to me are about work because they were originally work wear. And so, I am doing work, doing caring work and writing work and working on my house, and so on. It feels the most comfortable and easy for me to be in.

Let’s talk about fear and how you manage your fears. Everybody has them, but you have a creative way of addressing them. You are very shy and hate having your picture taken, and yet in your 60s you did just that, working as a media influencer and model with your face splashed on billboards, buses, all over the world. How did you conquer your fears?

One of the small ways that I did it was by wearing sunglasses. A lot of people thought, she’s wearing sunglasses, she’s cool, but for me, it was the only way that I could tolerate having my picture taken. I think the point is that if you don’t risk, you don’t gain anything. And so, you have to find manageable ways to help you take that risk. For me, it was my sunglasses.

You also write about the importance of friendships in your book. You have friends from different periods of your life who may remember things about you that you’ve forgotten, and you have what you call creative catalyst friends who push you forward when you’re at a creative crossroad. And you have multi-generational friends, both older and younger than you. You attract people of all ages. Tell us about the unique benefits of these multi-generational friends. Do you think as we age, it’s important to have younger friends in our life? You seem to thrive when you’re working on projects with younger students.

I think it’s really important. I am a huge fan of intergenerational everything. I think that the biggest chance we have to solve some of the really big problems that we have right now is intergenerational collaboration. I am an expert in history, but young people are the experts of now. Any real innovation is a mix of the two.

You write that (making) mistakes, while sometimes quite painful, can also present opportunities. You say you try to view them as lucky accidents. How so?

There is no mistake that you can’t fix. We are very hard on ourselves, and we make a mistake and we beat ourselves up (about it). Taking responsibility doesn’t have to feel bad. It can feel good. And I think that’s the same way with mistakes. They’re brought into your lives as an opportunity for you to learn. And that’s why, for me, it’s accidental. I see a lot of life as being accidental.

Thank you so much. This has been fascinating. I knew it would be because I really loved your book and you are very, very wise.

Elena Bowes

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