Behind the Boa: An Interview with Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style

Ari Seth Cohen, the man behind the hit fashion blog Advanced Style, which documents the incomparable style of women over 50, is bringing the lavish ladies to the big screen, boas and all. We spoke to Ari about his new documentary, the inspiration he gets from these vibrant women, and how style only gets better with age.

Ari Seth Cohen advanced style the wild

How did Advanced Style come to be?

It really started with my grandmothers. I grew up in San Diego and they were my best friends. I remember the first time I opened my grandmother’s jewelry box full of rhinestone jewelry and discovered sparkles. That was a very special day. I always had an appreciation for older people. I moved to New York in 2008 and started seeing these incredibly dressed, really fun, creative, vital women on the street and started photographing and interviewing them. I decided the world needed to see the women I was meeting and hopefully they would change people’s perceptions of getting older. It happened really organically.

Check out an exclusive clip from the Advanced Style movie, out on Friday September 26th !

All of the women you work with have such a carefree, nonchalant approach to how they dress. Do you think that’s something that comes with age or is that how they’ve always been?

The women I photograph have always been really expressive. I just started a new series on my website where I show their style development, so I’m having them send me all these vintage photos. But over time, because they no longer have to worry about what other people think, and even though a lot of them are still working, they don’t have to dress for work, or dress for a partner, or a certain role in their lives, so they can do whatever they want. There is a certain freedom that comes with getting older, but they have always had a really unique sense of style throughout the years. Now is their time! They don’t worry about what other people think.

I think when we are younger we tend to try to impress other people or think about what other people think about us. We are still discovering who we are, these women know who they are. But dressing is only one aspect of it. They all do so many things and have really active lives and their style is reflective of how they live that life.

It seems like much more of an organic expression of themselves than , say, when some younger girls wear these really crazy outfits outside of fashion shows just to get noticed.

Yea, there is that whole debate with the peacocks outside fashion week. These women are definitely peacocks, but they dress this way at home! They have incredible pajamas. For them, because they are really creative women, style is a way to express themselves. They get up in the morning, they have pain, they don’t feel good, like any other person in the world who is 80, 90, 100 years old. That creative act of putting on things that they love really has a healing quality, it makes them feel better. It’s not something we think about when we are younger.

It starts with the way that they dress, but once you get to know them, it’s so much more. If it was only the clothes it wouldn’t be that interesting. And that’s what the film goes into, what makes these women so vital, what keeps them going, and why are we attracted to them.

Looking at these women, as a younger woman, it really brings a nostalgia for the age of glamour. How do you think younger people perceive the ladies of Advanced Style?

When I started the blog I really thought about how I saw so many young girls dressing in vintage clothing, mirroring things my grandmother wore. I think younger people are inspired by ladies energy! Even at 33, i’m not old but I have more lines on my face and I think about aging like a lot of women do, and you see these ladies and they are not giving up! They are having a really fun time. You start to feel better about the aging process, and about the possibilities. As for style, we all appreciate their freedom. They have years and years of collecting things and we are all a little jealous of what they have.

Has your style changed from when you started the blog?

Well I always loved Liberace and Cary Grant, a lot of  people my grandma introduced to me. As a kid I always used to wear crazy vest and hats but for a while I did tone it down a bit. The ladies have influenced me to go for it, not in an insane way, but I know what I’m most comfortable in. And it turns out what I’m most comfortable in is very sparkly things!

Sometimes people think that they are just dressing up to get attention but it’s what comes natural to them. They love dressing up and going out and starting a conversation about being visible. It’s become sort of political because they are representing older women, showing that you shouldn’t have to fade into the background and be boring.

How has Advanced Style grown and where do you hope it goes?

I don’t really have a specific plan of where this is going. I’m working on another book, the film comes out in a few days, I have a lot of different things going on. We’ve been given incredible opportunities to speak in different senior communities throughout the world and so that’s been the most amazing thing to do. There’s a revolution of older women out there who are stepping up and being visible and in my own work, I’m starting to focus more on lifestyle. I want to really show how they live and really bring their vitality to the pages of the book. Like talk about their health and what activities they do daily and their makeup routines. Just all these things that will really serve as a guide for people to be inspired to live their lives in a creative way as they get older. I guess it’s moving in a more lifestyle way, away from only fashion.

It seems like the industry has started actually picking up on the the unique looks of many of these women, and many are starting to get campaigns and feature spreads.

I’ve always thought, since I was young, why aren’t older women in magazines? That’s what I wanted to see and I remember being young and seeing Carmen in the Rolex ads and cutting that out and thinking, god, this is the most amazing thing.

I shot some campaigns with the ladies and now they’re all being asked to do things and it’s great, it’s amazing. I mean it doesn’t make sense that people of all ages wouldn’t be a part of the fashion industry and the conversation. I feel like fashion in general should be more about personality and if you really think about it, if you have an image of a girl who’s like 14 to 16, what does that represent for a brand? Can an older woman who shops and wants to buy things really relate to that? And women in their twenties still, that’s hard to relate to, really for anyone. But if you have an older woman, you can see the experience in her face. Younger women can look at that person as a role model and older women will also respond to that.

Do you feel like through this movie you’re capturing something that you’re not able to capture in your pictures, like this sort of behind the scenes stuff?

Yeah, I should have a camera with me all day because I go out on the street probably four, five times a week and the things that I hear, just from stopping someone for two minutes, the insight into their lives, is pretty incredible. Like, thank you for telling me I look so good, I just came from chemo and I made this turban to get me through the day. Just really remarkable things that people share with me that I can’t always put everything onto the blog. I am honored and privileged to hear these things and I wish there was a way to take everything and put it out there. I’ll have to have someone follow me around with a tape recorder!

What is your WILD Wish?

My superficial WILD Wish is to inherit a cape from Liberace’s collection. And I think my other WILD Wish is to be able to continue to work on Advanced Style and grow it because I’m so lucky to be able, by accident, do something that I love.


text by: Kate Messinger and Emily Kirkpatrick

photography by: Livia Coullias Blanc

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