How I Shop: Lyn Slater, Fashion's 'Accidental Icon'

The influencer gets real about her approach towards getting dressed, why the fashion industry should go ageless and more.
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Lyn Slater. Photo: Michael Paniccia/Courtesy of Lyn Slater

Lyn Slater. Photo: Michael Paniccia/Courtesy of Lyn Slater

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."

In the last five years, Lyn Slater, known for her blog Accidental Icon, has made a name for herself as one of fashion's finest-dressed people. From wearing unique color combinations to mixing exaggerated silhouettes, Slater has set herself apart within an industry obsessed with trends and youth culture. Partnering with brands of all varieties — and even winning a Shorty Award for Best in Fashion — the influencer has proven time and time again, that fashion can be fun and experimental at any age.

"If you had told me then what has happened to me over the last five years, I would have said, 'You're crazy,'" says Slater. "I've traveled all over the world. I've worked with a ton of brands. I’ve been in music videos and commercials. It's been an incredible experience. It's now become a full-time position so I'm going to retire from academia."

Through her style and platform, Slater refuses to be put in a box with other women with gray hair or those in her age bracket, arguing that in order for today's biggest fashion brands to truly be inclusive, they need to stop categorizing and start approaching their businesses more fluidly. 

"Initially, I was told I needed to have a target market, but I deliberately didn't have one. I really distanced myself from age-centered things because I believed there were just women who loved clothes and used it to express who they were and that it had nothing to do with age," explains Slater. "And it turns out I was right. I think I've shown people that you can start a whole new career and have a big, bad-ass attitude even at 65."

We spoke to with Slater about her earliest shopping memories, how her style doesn't follow trends and what vintage pieces she's currently stocking up on.

Lyn Slater. Photo: Michael Paniccia/Courtesy of Lyn Slater

Lyn Slater. Photo: Michael Paniccia/Courtesy of Lyn Slater

"I had a big imagination as a kid, which is how I established my relationship with clothes. I saw them as costumes that allowed me to perform different identities, especially since I was living a pretty working-class life in Westchester, New York. My maternal grandmother was a really rebellious and fashionable woman. When I was little she gave me books, and took me shopping in New York City to places like Saks Fifth Avenue, and always bought me an entire outfit — even down to the underwear, which were called 'fancy pants' then. Shopping with her allowed me to enter into all these stories I was reading in my books and it really gave me my sense of taste. 

Eventually, I started this habit of looking at all the fashion magazines and finding one investment piece that I could style less expensive clothes around. It was almost like collecting art, which I still do today.

I wear things that people would not expect someone my age to wear. I will put on clothes that have a kind of attitude. I think the way that I use clothing allows me to intervene and challenge [ageist] conversations. You don't see someone my age with white hair wearing these clothes in advertisements, but I wear it and I can really pull it off. I think we have very outdated ideas of what it means to be older. If I'm targeted by a beauty or fashion company that says we're a doing an 'over-50' campaign and they mention the word 'anti-aging' I will not do it.

Lyn Slater on the street at New York Fashion Week in February 2019. Photo: Achim Aaron Harding/Getty Images

Lyn Slater on the street at New York Fashion Week in February 2019. Photo: Achim Aaron Harding/Getty Images

I shop mainly brands that you wouldn't identify with older people. One of my favorite brands at the moment, whom I have a close relationship with, is Acne Studios. I have been loving its oversize clothing, but in an ironic way. It makes me feel more powerful and their color palette is gorgeous. I just feel like I can walk in that store and find a lot of things that I would wear. The clothes are timeless. And it's also androgynous, which allows you to play around with gender.

Often, I shop for vintage and consignment, but I will mainly look for Japanese designers. I've become more thoughtful because of the whole issue of sustainability. If I admire the designer and I think they're really creative, then that gives me a more emotional relationship with their clothing, which then makes me more likely to buy from them. For example, I've read everything about Yohji Yamamoto that's ever been written and watched every single one of his movies. He's not just fashion designer, he's a very interesting person who happens to be expressing his creativity through fashion.

Recently, I've been collecting the mesh shirts that John Paul Gaultier did over the years. Vintage shows are a good place to find them. In terms of the investment pieces, I recently got a beautiful brocade reversible bomber jacket. To me that's an investment piece because bombers are always coming in and out [of style].

My latest shopping evolution has been letting myself purchase items online, since for a long time I preferred to go into stores. With online shopping, I'm usually familiar with the brand. I know the sizing and for that reason I will buy from them online. Now, I'm also in a situation where brands are sending me clothes, which is another source of inspiration.

Lyn Slater at the Self-Portrait Fall 2019 runway show during New York Fashion Week. Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Lyn Slater at the Self-Portrait Fall 2019 runway show during New York Fashion Week. Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

One thing that's been frustrating is when people put me in box with other female influencers who have gray hair. So I have declined participating in any kind of interview that segregates me by age. It's a very artificial category because I might wake up one day and feel like I'm 25 and I might wear my leather pants and my biker jacket. So I think women need choices — and when you target a specific market and you have categories, you take away people's choices.

For me, shopping is a social experience more than a consumer experience. I'm not always just going to stores to buy clothes, sometimes I might just go to look around and be inspired. It's also more so about the intimate relationship I have with people who work in the stores and behind these brands. When I'm online shopping, I'm usually searching for something that I need to complete a specific look or vision. For example, I'm going to be the keynote speaker at the International Association of Image Consultants Global Conference. I've been thinking about what I'm going to be talking about and what I can wear to help me to convey that message.

I usually cannot bring myself to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of clothing but there are certain pieces I don't mind spending money on because they're timeless and a core representation of who I am. I would describe my style as experimental and evolving because I see identity as being really fluid. I don't have a particular style, and because I also use clothes to communicate sort of how I'm feeling about what's going on around, I'm always trying new things and I'm always changing.

I don't have the deep need to look like everyone else or to be absolutely on trend. I really don't do trends. I try to just think, 'Okay, what time am I living in now? What might look modern and what might look relevant?' I don't style myself by looking at what others are wearing and that helps me from going out and buying things unnecessarily. When I do go shopping and find something I love, it's hard to describe it, but sometimes I just have this indescribable feeling that something is me. I'll put something on and be like, 'Oh my effing god, this is perfect.' And often it's very unexpected."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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