The 'Accidental Icon' Never Sought the Spotlight: 'My Pictures Tell a Story' (Exclusive)

In an excerpt from her new memoir, 'How to Be Old,' Lyn Slater explores what it feels like to find herself in the spotlight.

<p>Plume; Calvin Lom</p> Lyn Slater and her memoir,

Plume; Calvin Lom

Lyn Slater and her memoir, 'How to Be Old'

Lyn Slater never meant to be the portrait of aging beautifully. When she first started her fashion blog, Accidental Icon, when she was 61, she meant to show off her impeccable sartorial sensibility. But as her follower count climbed, she heard the same message over and over again: People were inspired not just by her outfits, but her attitude — and that she's defying stereotypes of what aging looks like.

In her new memoir, How to Be Old: Lessons in Living Boldly from the Accidental Icon, she details the decade of Accidental Icon, glamour and grit alike. The book explores how we can all embrace aging with flair, creativity and a healthy dose of empowerment. Below, Slater shared with PEOPLE how a fanciful coat makes her think about how much of our image we can control.

I study the coat before purchasing it. I return to the store to view it over and over. I try it on more than once. Every time, I experience an involuntary sharp intake of breath when I look in the mirror and see myself wearing it. The coat borders on outrageous, and I can’t see wearing it in my everyday life. But I’ve learned to listen to my breath when it tries to tell me something. Despite my hesitation, I bring it home. It’s white silk and printed with large, juicy red lips. They appear smeared and swollen, as if they have been kissed over and over. There is something compelling about a gash of red lipstick against the palest of white. A shirt collar, a face. Perhaps that is the reason the only lipsticks I own are in shades of red. 

I wear the coat to Central Park during a snowstorm. The red lips against the white of the coat and snow remind me of the face of a geisha. When doing research about why geishas paint their faces white, I discovered several theories. One is that the practice began during a time when there was not enough light at night during a geisha’s performance. They painted their faces white and lips red, making their facial expressions visible even in the dimness of candlelight. The white paint with the contrasting red lip also serves to hide any variance of their facial expressions, so they can always appear happy.

<p>Calvin Lom</p> Slater in the kiss coat

Calvin Lom

Slater in the kiss coat

In the tradition of Kabuki theater, actors paint this same white makeup on. They add color and line in such a manner that a mask emerges to create the character being performed. 

There is something in these two identities that speaks to how I feel about my increasing visibility. I want my expressions to be “seen,” but I also wish for the safety of a mask as I now perform my life in the public view. It’s been three years since I started the Accidental Icon. I’m receiving more and more attention from the fashion and popular press. My follower count on Instagram exceeds six figures. I am careful in what I reveal, and naively believe I am in control of it. 

I experience Accidental Icon as someone who is me, but not me. She is a character I invented as I went along. While this part of me heads to the spotlight like a moth to a flame, once I am there, I am not sure I want to be. Perhaps I fear I will be burned, or my wings will be clipped. 

Pushing past fears or powerful messages that define us and going against societal constraints is not painless. Most times, there is risk involved. The greatest risk is that someone else will hijack the story you want to tell about yourself. While there is something gained, there is also something lost. 

<p>Plume</p> 'How to Be Old' by Lyn Slater


'How to Be Old' by Lyn Slater

Following the preference of the notoriously elusive Rei Kawakubo, my aim with Accidental Icon has always been that people “get to know me through my clothes.” What I choose to wear, how it inspires me and how I write about that choice is the way I want to tell my story. 

I never intended my story to be one about age. My love of clothing and how to style it as an expression of identity is the tale I want to tell. This has nothing to do with how old I am. I still believe this. In 2017, my age began to be a part of the Accidental Icon story. The features written about me all begin and end with my age. It’s not just that I have an interesting style that makes me unique; it’s that I am 64 years old and being stylish. 

It’s not just that I have reinvented myself with a career completely different from the one I already have; it is that I am 64 while doing it. While other fashion bloggers receive comments about their new bag or what they wear, my followers comment that I make them feel less afraid of being old. I give them courage to take a risk in older life, to disregard someone telling them they are too old to wear something or dye their hair purple if they wish. The world seems incredulous that I am doing what I am doing at the age of 64. I am not fading away or riding off into the sunset. 

<p>Calvin Lom</p> Slater in the fall

Calvin Lom

Slater in the fall

I find it odd that they are making such a big deal about my age; I don’t consider it relevant to what I am doing now, or what I wear. It is during this time that I invent and use the hashtag #AgeIsNotA Variable and add, “. . . when it comes to getting dressed.” When asked about my age in regard to what I am doing, I cheekily respond, “I don’t comment on that. Just look at my photos, I’m performing it!”

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I never thought of being old as having anything to do with being creative, reinventing yourself, or wearing whatever you damn well please. I must admit I was somewhat surprised by how many women feared becoming invisible and how excited they became watching what has happened to me. So somehow my creative project took a different turn than what I had imagined. It became a story of how to be old. 

I believed I could maintain a state of being “invisibly visible” and control my narrative through what I chose to divulge. My pictures told a story of their own and became a projection of what others wanted to see in them. I guess if you decide to wear a coat with bright, sexy red lips in the middle of a snowstorm and don’t think you’ll be seen, it may be more of a leap than you believed it to be.

From HOW TO BE OLD: Lessons in Living Boldly from the Accidental Icon, by LynSlater, to be published on March 12, 2024 by Plume, an imprint of Penguin PublishingGroup, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2024 by Lyn Slater.

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