You are currently viewing Iris Apfel – Not Only A Style Icon for Women over 60
"Iris Apfel at MIFF" by MiamiFilmFestival is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Image credit: “Iris Apfel at MIFF” by MiamiFilmFestival is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


Taking Style Icon Iris Apfel as an example, this post explores why internationally-celebrated figures from the worlds of business, art, advertising, science, technology, finance, sports become unintendedly/accidentally mental health awareness speakers and style influencers. Read how her personal story, and expertise as well as her way of dressing might help her followers in their own journeys to become more resilient and to cope with their insecurity, depression, and anxiety.



Disclosure: Sponsored post.

Disclaimer: I am not a mental helps specialist. The statements are my own opinion about celebrities as role models. Conclusions on mental health base on my own experiences, but might not be applicable and valid for everyone. If you need mental health advice, contact a licensed psychologist.


Who Is Iris Apfel?

Iris Apfel was born into a business family in Queens, NY in 1921. She studied art history and art at the University of New York and University of Wisconsin, respectively. In 1950, after working as  copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily, interior designer, and assistant illustrator, she launched Old World Weavers together with her husband Carl. She retired from her career as a successful American businesswoman and interior designer in 1992.

At an age when Jane and John Doe long enjoy their retirement, Iris accepted a visiting professorship for textiles and apparel at University of Texas at Austin in 2011. In 2016, she started working in advertisement, and accepted a modeling contract at age 97.


Iris Apfel in embroidered turquoise fur-trimmed coat with layers of bangles
“Iris Apfel” by waiamcia is licensed under CC BY 2.0. The texture of the Mongolian goat (curly goat fur, embroidery) contrasts the smooth surface of the bangles that pick up the colors of the coat. The bangles are arranged from no texture to increasing texture towards the wrist, but not by width. The matt suede balances the bangles’ and embroidery’s shine.



Why Does Iris Apfel Stand Out as a Businesswoman?

Historically, people have associated running a business or working as an interior designer with a man. Due to her hard work and successful careers in these still male-dominated fields, she has become a role model for the Woman-Boss image for all generations. This means she advanced the third women movement.

Her success in her commercial and modeling careers altered the mindset of many women in midlife and beyond. These mental changes include thoughts about their body image, way of dressing, potential for activity, and visibility.


What Makes Her a Style Icon?

Answering this question requires to define what is a style icon. Typically, style icons influence fashion groups (un)intentionally because of people’s admiration of the person’s success and/or celebrity status within a certain framework like sport, business, art, music, film, etc..

Due to her exceptional, eclectic personal style Iris Apfel became an internationally celebrated Style Icon. The Guardian listed her as one of the “Best Dressed Over 50” in 2013. HarperCollins published her biography entitled Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon in 2018.


How Do Celebrities Affect Their Followers’ Mental Health?

Style-group members take mental notes from the recognized person’s way of dressing. This indirect guidance of what to wear gives them the security about what they wear. When a style icon wears a 1950s-inspired skirt, for instance, their followers or fans pair retro-skirts like the celebrity does. Because the celebrity’ style is approved, the fans feel good about wearing an accepted style.

Furthermore, style icons provide their fans a group of like-minded dressers and thinkers on social media and beyond. Both the feelings of belonging and group-approved dressing give the followers a peace of mind.


Nicole of High Latitude Style donning an Apfel-inspired OOTD
This OOTD is inspired by Iris’ eclectic style, but not a recreation of an actual look worn by her.



What Are the Key Elements of Iris Apfel’s Personal Style?

Her round glasses and short, snow-white hair come first to mind. Next, outfits with bold colors and patterns as well as variation of texture. Accessorizing with bold statement (costume) jewelry on all burners (earring, necklaces, bangles, …).

Iris’ wardrobe is a well-curated collection of unique pieces – cheap or expensive – from all over the World.


How Does She Tie Her Outfits Together?

Obviously, creating a maximalist outfit that works is hard. One can easily look like having dressed in the dark or like a dressed Christmas tree.

Iris mixes high and low fashions, pieces of different decades and even epochs, and works with opposites or complementary like texture vs. smooth, shine vs. matt as well as different materials. She is a master in layering clothing and jewelry to rich arrangements.

To make her outfits work, she uses the colors of the fabrics and accessories to tie the different elements together. Furthermore, she always focuses the combination around a statement piece.


Iris-Apfel Maximalist Style Outfits Recreated from My Closet

style icon inspired all texture look in shades of brown to black
This photo shows a recreation of her textured all-black outfit for Chado Ralph Rucci‘s 25th Anniversary Retrospective in 2007.



recreation of an Iris Apfel evening attire from my closet
This outfit imitates a look she wore at “Lighthouse International Salutes the Arts” at Cipriani in New York City in 2008. She opted for an understated lace-inspired brocade-evening gown making her statement accessories the focus. The stole adds pops of colors.



celebrity-inspired dress-over-pants look with multiple necklaces, bangles and embroidered mules
This outfit imitates Iris’ denim-dress-over-pants outfit. More on styling the dress-over-pants look.



Conclusions on the Role of Iconic, Internationally-Celebrated Figures Like Style Icon Iris Apfel

The followers’ way of dressing might be seen as comparable to Linussafety blanket. However, our cultural and societal upbringing has taught us to use clothes as indicator of our social status, role in the society, indicator of group belonging, and religious/political view. Therefore, imitating or adopting an example modified in your own way is a positive thing to reach your goals.


In brief: Iris Apfel encourages women to be visible at any age.


However, from my own experience as a teenager, I know that following an It style might affect a person’s mental health also in a negative way. Because my parents prohibited us from wearing the the mid-1970s parkas, sneakers, jeans and T-shirts combination, the group I wanted to belong to didn’t accept me. Being isolated had a negative impact on my mental health at the time. However, it taught me over time to be ok with being different.

Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2023 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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