Less is Bore: Iris Apfel’s Single Rule

By: Jorja Butt

Photos by: Marin Cook

Follow in the footsteps of 100-year-old Iris Apfel and showcase what makes you different.

The term “less is more” is the world renowned motto that fashion designers live by. Iris Apfel, however, is a 100-year-old fashion counissuer lives by her own set of fashion rules: “more is more & less is bore.”

Upon defying fashion trends for years, Apfel made her claim-to-fame after her wardrobe inspired a 2004 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York. The exhibition titled, Rara Avis: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, embodied what style meant to her. Styling chic couture with cheap flea market finds set Apfel apart from any other designer or stylist, and made her the oldest fashion icon. 

Although Apfel didn’t become a household name until around the age of 83, she had been dominating the fashion industry long before. She and her husband, Carl Apfel, changed the textile industry after launching their own business, Old World Weavers, and remained partners in fashion crime thereafter. Because of Iris’ curiosity with fabric since the age of 12, Old World Weavers became her launch point in the fashion industry. The couple constructed their business to recreate fabrics that caught their eye from their world travels.

Her influence didn’t stop at the textile industry. Apfel’s brilliance reached some of the most powerful people in the United States. Iris and Carl undertook multiple projects for influential Presidents, from Harry S. Truman all the way to Bill Clinton. 

Throughout her years of perfecting textiles and her own style, she has gone on to inspire the youth of fashion to follow in her footsteps. Her eclectic fashion sense is intriguing and hard to miss. Her signature round glasses – whether neon orange, tortoise shell, or black – remain the only staple in her wardrobe. As for her jewelry and clothing options, you will never find her in a simple outfit. 

In an interview with Town & Country, Apfel revealed that the only way to know if fashion works is to try and try again. “It’s all gut… It’s totally, totally the involvement and the process. It’s the process I like much better even than wearing it… People interview me and they keep asking if I have any rules. And I say, I don’t have any rules because I would be the one breaking them, so it’s a waste of time,” she said. 

Neutral tones, simple accessories, and sleek black looks are not on the menu for the world’s oldest fashion icon. A neon pink blouse with a green fluffy collar followed by chunky geometric jewelry is part of how Apfel plays with patterns, textures, and colors in her everyday wardrobe. She is never afraid to mix floral patterned shoes with polka dot socks or rock a completely monochrome outfit (yes, including her glasses and socks).

Apfel’s bold risks in wardrobe choice should inspire the future of fashion. Trends dictate what most people think is normal or necessary to wear to be considered fashionable. Apfel however, has challenged those norms and encourages the future of fashion to do so.  

“You only fail if you do not try,” Apfel said in an interview with CNBC.

Her funky combinations of patterns and colors work because she has confidence that they do. She is not afraid to take risks with her clothing, but being bold and being brave does not stop with her fashion. 

Learning from 100 years of experience, Apfel has overcome the boundaries that come with being a woman. Thanks to her disregard of the status quo, Apfel made a name for herself by defying every rule in the book. Women’s fashion followed strict terms of long skirts, long sleeves, and modesty, as young Apfel grew up. The fashion mogul’s personality, however, shone through the modest rules. She wore jeans before they were appropriate for women, desired designer pieces before women were supposed to spend their own money, and broke every fashion rule while breaking every gender stereotype. 

Starting her own business did not come easy, but pursuing her dream through determination did. 

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