You’ll Never Be This Cool: Women of a Certain Age Edition


You will never have a pet fox.

This is Vali Myers. If you’ve done your life homework and read Just Kids, you’ll know that Vali was the woman who tattooed a lightening bolt on Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel, where they both lived. Vali was an artist, and Patti had a big collection of her drawings.  Vali split her time between the Chelsea (where one of her paintings still hangs in the stairwell) and a 14th century cottage in Italy. She had that hair and those tattoos on her face and hands in like the 70s, when it was a wonder she wasn’t stoned in the street for being such a flamboyant witch about it. Luckily she hung out with similarly fabulous and artful misfits, like Tennesse Williams and Jean Genet. Needless to say, you will never bro down with Genet.  I love this woman. Let’s look at her for longer.


Cavorting with chickens!

If you had a pet fox, you would walk arond cuddling it all day, too. People do that with their babies, and babies are not as cool as foxes.

You know she kissed that thing and got some sort of druid-prince.

Vali died when she was 72 years old, from cancer. Here’s what she said about her illness from her deathbed: ” . . . you know love, when you’ve lived like I have, you’ve done it all. I put all my effort into living; any dope can drop dead. I’m in the hospital now, and I guess I’ll kick the bucket here. Every beetle does it, every bird, everybody. You come into the world and then you go”

Kristen McMenamy will have her revenge on Seattle.

You will never be the model who broke grunge fashion. Here is  Kristen McMenamy back in the 90s, wearing the clothes that got Marc Jacobs fired from Perry Ellis. Well done, everyone! She’s 46 years old now and keeps looking like a smoking hot mannish witch woman, and she’s still modeling, because really it is not about being pretty, it is about being magnificent.


You know that thing about how if you’re female and you get older you’re not supposed to have your hair long and grey? Yeah, right!

Stark naked on the cover of my favorite British fashion magazine, LOVE.


Kool Thing

You will never be in Sonic Youth, and whatever band you might be in right now, that band will never be Sonic Youth. This woman is 57. Let’s all try to aim for this, shall we. In addition to founding one of the most important rock bands ever, Kim makes visual art, and she writes about art, and she’s curated art shows. She showed up on Gilmore Girls. She named her daughter Coco. She’s designed the fashion lines X-Girl and Mirror/Dash. She’s besties with Marc Jacobs. Rodarte asked her to make prints for the show they curated at the phenomenal Collette boutique in Paris. She is Kim Gordon.


In Rodarte

For Rodarte. Sing it, sister.

And then there's Maude.

You’ll never be as cool as the actress Ruth Gordon, who lived to be 89 years old and managed to keep on acting, as a female, until she was 80. But you will really, really, really never be as cool as her most iconic role, Maude, the 79-year-old funeral hopper who lives an extremely lovely boho existence outside San Francisco, in a home filled with art and Wonka-esque aroma machines, and pianos and flowers and tea. Like many of these older, witchy women, Maude loved the earth, and stole a public tree that she recognized to be sickly and longing for a forest. In order to complete her heist she winds up hijacking a police motorcycle. You will ever be that cool.


This is a movie! Do not try this at home! You will get shot by the pigs!

Maude had a sweet girlishness about her, not in a creepy baby-woman way but like she had managed to retain wonder and innocence in spite of the world’s brutality (one scene shows a glimpse of a concentration camp tattoo on her arm). Her outfits are routinely adorable, as are the braids she wears wound around her head like a little crown. And she’s a flirt! That’s cool, flirting is hard. She totally charms young Harold, a proto-goth who drives around in a hearse and stages elaborate fake suicides to shock his mom, and they fall super duper in love, but that doesn’t stop Maude from going through with her plan to kill herself on her 80th birthday. You know why? Cause she’s not codependent! She planned to leave the party before she got stuck in some gnarly old-folks home, and she’s not going to change her life plans for her relationship! When a devastated Harold asks her not to die because he loves her, our plucky heroine says, “Harold, that’s wonderful. Now go out and love some more.” So Buddhist!


Original Cougar

Warm Leatherette

You will never be Grace Jones. You will never even come close. Because I don’t even know if Grace Jones is human. Grace Jones might actually be an alien who benevolently left her far superior planet of androgynous amazonian humanoids with impeccable style (can you imagine what the architecture would be like on such a planet?) to come down to our busted, two-bit Earth in order to blow our minds. (Read Alvin Orloff’s amazing I Married an Earthling if you like this idea) Don’t you think an alien wanting to blow minds and raise consciousness would arrive on our planet as a model who radicalized notions of beauty and sex, and then transition into an iconic new wave-disco artiste? I do. As we can never be Grace Jones, let us at insure that her mission as not been in vain, and allow her to blow our minds.



Let's all let Patrick Nagel do our makeup and wear little gold records on our heads.

Sister Morphine

It’s going to take more than a simple drug problem to make you as cool at Marianne Faithful. You would also have to be the muse to a number of Rolling Stones songs, you would have to have been the one to turn Mick Jagger on the the reading materials that would then inspire Sympathy for the Devil, you would have to write Sister Morphine and then have the good fuck-you sense to sue those bastards when they try to rip you off for your songwriting credit. Listen, Marianne Faithful has hd a hard fucking life. She indulged the infamous gateway drug marijuana with Anita Pallenberg in the 60s and before you know it she’s homeless out on the streets hooked on cocaine and heroin and anorexia. She’s got a hard-won feminist duh intelligence, saying things like, “To be a male drug addict and to act like that is always enhancing and glamorising.  A woman in that situation becomes a slut and a bad mother.” So true! Her great-great-grand Uncle was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose pervy classic Venus in Furs inspired the beloved term masochist, so Faithful has hardcore outsider weirdo artiste in her blood. She got had a comeback, got clean, had a comeback, etc. a few times, once rehabbing at the famous McLean Hospital, where Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and many of my trust fund friends from high school got to convalesce (jealous!), and eventually stayed clean and sober and she remains so today. Her voice is the ravaged result of smoking and drinking and drugging and it is totally amazing and all hers.


What you wear to court to support your boyfriend on a drug charge.

About her first hit, the Jagger/Richards-written As Tears Go By, she says, “Forty is the age to sing it, not seventeen.” And about taking her care of herself as an aging artist: “I’m not prepared to be seventy and absolutely broke (she’s 65). I realised last year I have no safety net at all and I’m going to  have to get one. So I need to change my attitude to life, which means I have to put away 10 per cent every year of my old age. I want to be in a position where I don’t have to work. I should have thought about this a long time ago but I didn’t.” Help a foremother out and go buy some of her songs on iTunes! I recommend the blistering Why D’ya Do It, an infidelity anthem; the sexy, genderfucking Serge Gainsbourg remake Lola R Forever, and her cover of the Shel Silverstein poem The Ballad of Lucy Jordon, which you may remember from Thelma & Louise.

This is Emmanuelle Alt, the brand new editor of French Vogue and longtime fashion icon. She is forty-two years old. What is ‘A Certain Age’, anyway? No one seems to know, so for my purposes I am making it – on the cusp of my own 40th birthday – anyone in their forties or older.Check out Ms. Alt in her leather pants and Balmain jacket. She is one of those people who adopt a certain style as a uniform and carry on impeccably ever after.

Leather pants? Check. Deceptively ratty t-shirt? (You know it’s Balmain and cost – for reals – $1,000+) Check. Perfectly tailored jacket? Check. Mussy hair + intense cheekbones? Check. Thank you Ms. Alt, you’re ready to go.

Hitting the Fall-Winter 2011 shows at the Tuileries.

Stripes, leather, skinny denim, boots. Plus, a hand draped casually near your crotch. You will never be this cool. Good luck trying to get a job editing French Vogue. Sigh.

This is Anna Piaggi. She is eighty years old. She is a for real style icon. We throw this word around, but she is the legitimate, authentic reality. She’s been writing for Italian Vogue longer than you have been alive. She has 2865 dresses and 265 pairs of shoes. Her wardrobe has been shown in museums. She never wears the same outfit publicly twice. She wears little hats all the time, by Vivienne Westwood’s milliner Prudence Millinery, or by Philip Treacy.

She is like the insane royalty of her own crazed country.

I was at this same Stella McCartney show, and saw her there in the front row, and was like Who the fuck is that!!!!!!! Now we all know, and can all Respect. And, there is such a thing as age-appropriate fashion: the blue hair, the Baby-Jane rouge, the clashing brights: if you were 20, 30, 40, even 50, 60, wearing this, I would be like, Stop. Really. But 80? 80 is PERFECT. Please everyone look like this when you are 80.

Will you be in your 70s wearing a micro-mini, stilettos and wrap-around shades, like Yoko Ono? I have to admit – it’s what I am aiming for. I have the same birthday (February 18th) and while I know I will never, ever, ever be as cool as the coolest woman in the world, I do aspire to sport a micro-mini deep into my golden years.

The great thing about older women who are cooler than you – they’re cooler cause they earned it, not because they’re riding some youthy wave, are It Girls or lady trustafarians. They may have been all these things at one point, but eventually the bottom will drop out and it’s your style, your unique taste, your skillz,  attitude and female witchery that will sustain you. Whatever our ages and our genders, let us all aspire to such noble greatness! And I’m out.

About Michelle Tea

I chanted "I am a fashion magnet" in the shower and subsequently found a Gianni Versace - era Versace skirt at Buffalo Exchange for $17. Once I got a beyond-my-means Fendi purse for free and sat staring at it, crying. Also cried at Olivier Theyskens' last show for Nina Ricci in Paris. Other things that make me cry: a good lip synch; my emotions. I have stolen two Jeremy Scott swag items from two Jeremy Scott events I was not quite invited to. Sometimes I want to age into Patti Smith, sometimes Baby Jane Hudson. I frequently dream I am in a magic thrift store where I can have whatever I want. I regret not buying the Alexander Wang purse when it was half price at Barney's. Like a delusional guy at a strip club, I feel special when the people who work at Barney's remember me. Having a Leo rising gives me big hair and a need for attention. My favorite designers right now are Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Proenza Schouler, Vivienne Westwood, Viktor Rolf, Rick Owens, Rodarte, Helmut Lang and Surface to Air. I was once shamed by an employee of a high-end department store for pronouncing 'Rodarte' incorrectly.


  1. Michael von Braithwaite


    Also, when can I have a pet fox? It’s my spirit animal. Additionally, ALL of these women are my favorites. They’re cooler than anyone can ever be and that’s that. Best. Blog Meme. Ever.

  2. pagemcbee

    SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. lula

    Eff yea, Michelle. I am totally sending this to my mom.

  4. Don’t forget Ari Up from The Slits. How could you forget her?!

  5. Kath

    It is fabulous to know that at fifty I still have twenty or thirty years to develop some style,

  6. DiosaNegra1967

    Fierce! I rolled on over here via a link from Stacey Bias on FB! Several of my fave icons are listed here….And, I found a few more! Being of “a certain age” myself (44)….I’m feeling this!!!!! Thanx, Michelle!

  7. Beth

    Great one, Michelle! And now I have a new fashion crush on Emmanuelle.

  8. Who are you? How do you know so much about every iota of the music, fashion, film, industry? I absolutely love this post. I read it twice and I never do that.

  9. carrieleilamlove

    This is my favorite post of yours to date, and that is saying something, because you did a post about my fantasy inner child, Willow Smith! I want to be Vali when I grow up. If I ever grow up.

  10. Pingback: Upcoming Contributor: Michelle Tea » Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art -

  11. Pingback: ISSUE #49 CONTRIBUTOR: MICHELLE TEA » Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art -

  12. I got here via a post about Ann Magnuson, and certainly SHE should be included. thanks !!! p.s. yes that’s me with John Waters…I’m halfway there….

  13. shindancer

    Maude is my icon on how to live, live live!

  14. Michelle, I fell in love with you right now. Really I did.

  15. bigsandyb

    onward and upward!

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