Fashion & Beauty

Iris Apfel, Style Icon, Dies at 102

March 1, 2024

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Style icon Iris Apfel was an inspiration for Zenni Optical, above, at age 100. The company designed a whole line of eyeglass frames based on her I-know-who-I-am style. / Photo from the Zenni Optical website.

MyLittleBird posted the following appreciation of the dramatic style icon Iris Apfel, famous for her oversized “owlish” eyeglasses, on the occasion of her 100th birthday. She died on Friday, March 1, 2024, in her Palm Beach, Florida, home.

By Nancy McKeon

ON SUNDAY, August 29, 2021, Iris Apfel turned 100. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, just picture an older (truly older) woman with short, sometimes spiky white hair, red lips and enormous eyeglasses playing to the cameras that have been trained on her for the past 15 or 20 years.

Apfel clearly disagrees with Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s style edict. To her, less isn’t more. No, no, more is more. More loops of chunky necklaces, more bangles marching up her arm, more toys in her apartment. And more commercial endeavors that have kept her in Bakelite beads since she and her late husband, Carl, sold their esteemed fabric house, Old World Weavers. (Apfel is behind a “Zentennial” collection of eyeglass frames as bold as her own for Zenni Optical. There is an Iris Apfel Barbie doll. She recently put together four collections of home goods for Lowe’s, including “Palm Beach in Your Backyard” and “Modern Maximalism.”) And there’s a makeup mini collection (lipstick, plus pearl-trimmed pots of eyeshadow and rouge in a little red keepsake case) in collaboration with Edward Bess.

From the Iris Apfel Zentennial Collection for Zenni Optical:
LEFT: “Good to Be Square” frames, available in solid green, plus Serengeti and Swirl patterns, are $49.95 ($66.90 to turn nonprescription lenses into blue-light blockers).
RIGHT: “The Iris Apfel” signature frame comes in black and a red crackle pattern ($45.95, blue-light $62.90). All the Zentennial styles come with a solid tri-fold case and lens cloth, both special editions to mark the occasion. (There’s also a Zentennial soft pouch that doubles as a lens cloth.)

Despite the #IrisYourCloset hashtag, Apfel doesn’t wish to visit her style on anyone. In interviews over and over she has told women young and old that she does what she feels is right for her; we have to do what we feel is right for us.

And we’re doing just that! Just look at “Billie” (below left), the 93-year-old shopper my friend Jane met while wandering the cosmetics aisle of a southern Maryland Walmart (Jane was wandering, Billie clearly knew what she was there for). And the exuberantly dressed woman (below right) I encountered while she and her gentleman friend wandered the Upper East Side in search of “a cocktail lounge” (he said he’d settle for a bar).

LEFT: “Billie” is more than a match for the cosmetics at the Prince Frederick, Maryland, Walmart, where my friend Jane encountered her. Note the silver Birkenstocks! “Surely the most stunning female in Calvert County,” says Jane. Amen. / Photo by Jane Firor.
RIGHT: Thirsty on the Upper East Side pre-pandemic, this colorful couple were searching for a place to stop for a drink. / MyLittleBird photo.

Ari Seth Cohen has made something of a cottage industry out of recognizing and promoting stylish older women, to wit his Advanced Style blog and Instagram account plus a 2014 documentary (available in Amazon Prime Video) and two books, Advanced Style and Advanced Style: Older & Wiser. 

Ari Seth Cohen’s inspiring Advanced Style: Older & Wiser and the original Advanced Style.

But Cohen’s not alone any more than Apfel is. Check out Judith Boyd’s Instagram account StyleCrone (“Aging with hats, style, and the mysteries of yoga”). Also blogger (and “positivity model”) Cathi Rae, Karena at Style Begins at Sixty (a more casual approach to dressing), and of course Kim France’s Girls of a Certain Age site.

A new friend recently expressed surprise that MyLittleBird seemed to be so focused on what “beautiful people” are thinking about.

Well, yes, we are focused on beautiful people: you.

Women who haven’t abandoned personal style, whether chic or exuberant or just-try-that-with-me, all images from Ari Seth Cohen’s 2016 book, Advanced Style: Older & Wiser.


MyLittleBird often includes links to products we write about. Our editorial choices are made independently; nonetheless, a purchase made through such a link can sometimes result in MyLittleBird receiving a commission on the sale. We are also an  Amazon Associate.

5 thoughts on “Iris Apfel, Style Icon, Dies at 102

  1. Nancy G says:

    She is/was an inspiration for living well, and long.

  2. Nancy G says:

    Love Iris! My role model for aging well!

  3. Carol says:

    Love Iris! Happiest Day to her ❤️❤️

  4. Kathy Legg says:

    I’d like to have cocktails with the Upper East Side couple. And I’d love to go shopping with Billie.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      The Upper East Side couple are probably still wandering around so it may be possible! (They were too far north on the UES to find a “cocktail lounge”–there don’t even seem to be many bars up there in the 80s and 90s.) As for Billie, Jane keeps going back to Walmart in an effort to find her, get her to come over for dinner. Just looking at how gorgeous she is makes my heart melt a little every time I look at that snapshot.

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