When I turned 30, as much as I tried to fight it, I was disappointed with where my life was. I had spent a good portion of my 20s caring for my sick mother, and as a result my career was at a standstill. In addition, a five-year relationship that I thought would end in marriage imploded.
When I started to sort through my mother's house after her death, I felt sad, stuck, resentful, and like a total loser. On a whim, perhaps because I had been sifting nostalgically through my mother's old patterns, I signed up for sewing lessons.
At a time when it was hard to feel excited about anything, the classes were a spark of happiness in an otherwise dark time. Even if I didn't have strong talent, it was a chance to be creative and distracted and to learn something new. Soon, I started filling my Pinterest account with hundreds of ambitious, aspirational fashion images.
Then I came across her.
There she was, in my Pinterest search: She had gorgeous thick hair that spilled out in willowy strands from her messy updo, and she had a style that was nothing short of a ballsy, colorful mash-up. She was all about red lipstick, eclectic boho prints, and fabrics mixed with bold colors, attitude, and Adidas.
When I looked at her, I was reminded of the Emily Bronte quote that has oft caused me to pine for my 20s: "I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free…" The image of her on my screen embodied that quote entirely, except she wasn't a girl; she's a 61-year-old woman, she's hot, and her name is Sarah Jane Adams.
Seeing Sarah exuding that whimsical, confident, and gregarious approach to life slapped me out of my navel-gazing and wallowing about how unfair it was to be unmarried and jobless at 30. I eagerly googled to find out more about her and discovered her Instagram account — with 87 thousand followers — documenting a truly enviable life full of wild adventures.
I learned that Sarah (or "Saramai"), a jeweler by trade, was pushed into the limelight when her daughter uploaded a sassy photo of her in a red Adidas jacket to Instagram with the hashtag #mymumiscoolerthanme and #advancedstyle. From there, a social media explosion was followed by campaigns, press, and photoshoots. The spring/summer campaign for the Swedish department store Åhléns posted her image on billboards and in advertisements — my favorite one is this video, where she says, "Dress my age? What's my age got to do with it? That's bullshit; that's nonsense."
On Sarah's website, her daughter writes, "I am lucky enough to be the daughter of an incredible woman... It is amazing to watch her on this whirlwind adventure — whilst not only inspiring and empowering me to be myself, do what I love, take no prisoners, stand for what I believe in and unapologetically live life against the grain."
Sarah gives a full thrusted middle finger to society's expectations of older women, what they are expected to wear, act and their past lack of presence in the fashion world. When actresses are nastily torn apart in the public sphere for either aging or doing their best to avoid it, Sarah provides the perfect antidote, "The reality is, I´ve lived a very full life... So why the fuck should I care what other people think?" she says in the Åhléns advertisment.
Sarah isn't alone; she's part of a wave of senior fashionistas. The documentary Advanced Style showcases the lives of seven fabulous New Yorkers between the ages of 62 and 95 as evidence that style has no age limit.
I've heard that there are about 30 seconds in your life where you are actually the same age as the models you see in advertising. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050, nearly 1.5 billion people will be 65 years or older, yet only around 5 percent of worldwide advertising budgets are spent on older consumers. To me, what women like Sarah and the people of Advanced Style are achieving is opening the fashion world — making it richer and more inclusive.
I hope that what women like Sarah are promoting becomes a revolution: a longer and more positive outlook, career-wise, not just for models but women working across a variety of industries, encouraging them to feel not just better but great about themselves as they age no matter their experiences, marital status, or position in society. That's what she's doing for me.