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The octogenarian trend spotter

This is the second part in a series about stealing style notes from seniors.

What makes you come alive? The world needs people who know and live by that, according to Bill Cunningham, the street photographer for the New York Times. Bill rides the streets of New York on a Schwinn bicycle (hair raising!) shooting street trends and charity benefits, a job he’s had since the 1960s!

Now in his 90s, Bill is a walking illustration of why you might want a driving passion to keep you working every day of your life. He is also a convincing human ad for frugality, simplicity, joy, individuality, and a private spiritual life.

I developed a deep crush after seeing a documentary about him last week at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Bill Cunningham New York is a must-see film for all fashion lovers and it’s on the list of the top 10 documentaries of 2011. Bill defends fashion against charges of frivolousness in a world filled with serious problems, calling it the armor we need to deal with life.

To do away with fashion, he said, would be like eliminating civilization. He cares less about what’s fashionable (read: cool) and more about what’s interesting. Other cool things about Bill: 1) he felt the same way decades ago, when freedom in fashion wasn’t so cool; 2) he’s been known to refuse pay because it obligates him to do things a patron’s way. Money is cheap, he says. It’s freedom that costs.

When you download the New York Times Ipad app, The Collection, you can hear Bill narrate his weekly exploits. (On a side note, my friend Ingrid appears in a recent NY Times style video! She’s the girl in the red dress–and also author of the blog, The Magpie Librarian: A librarian’s guide to modern life and etiquette, where she covers everything from style to children’s books.)

Whether you’re 20 or 50, if you’re into style, know this: you’re still 40 to 70 years behind Bill Cunningham. It tickles the cockles of my age-persecuted heart to imagine such a lengthy apprenticeship! But better yet is to imagine a more enlightened world where people of all ages are valued and embraced.

Who is your favorite experienced style maker?

P.S. Watch our Facebook page today, where we’ll announce the winners of the last August giveaway!

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.