Why Wrinkles Are The Best Accessories

The one thing you need to ace your style game? Age.

BY JANIE CAI | Apr 13, 2017 | Fashion

Uncle Unknown, Chinatown, 2017.

Look around you and try and find someone older than 65 (if you’re in Singapore, that shouldn’t be too difficult). And, if you live in the Marine Terrace heartlands, like I do, it would be almost impossible not to bump into the ever-smiling 86-year old Uncle Kwan, the bevy of 70-year old paciks[1] that gather to exchange news over teh-tarik[2] not once, but at various times during the day, and, a spritely 72-year old runner with skinny legs and perchance for colourful chino shorts, the brighter the better, whom I bump into most of the time (mainly because he’s my dad). Once you spot someone of the right age group, take a closer look. Observe what they are wearing and how they wear it. There’s an extremely high chance that Ah Wong senior is the most stylish person around. Not the best-dressed, which would denote that he (or she, there are a fabulous bunch of chic elderly ladies around the area too) spend a lot of time, effort and probably money, on their attire (although some do), but these ah peks are the ones with legit STYLE.

For the majority, reaching the stage where you can pull off a moth-eaten singlet with a towel thrown casually over one shoulder, too-large trousers—once the right size but age, alas, has made the body shrink such that said trousers now fits like a pair of $400 wide-cut Yohji Yamamotos—belted at the waist with a leather belt that sports an unknown but gratifyingly shiny buckle, is a lifetime’s work. And, if you lament that Singaporean men don’t wear jewellery then give yourself a wake-up smack and look again. These uncles tend to don statement rings—oval agates set magnificently in silver that gleam like cherished heirlooms, thick, cloudy jade rings and the occasional plain gold signet, its soft surface cross-hatched with scratches from years of wear, not to mention intricate gold or silver chains of varying thicknesses, slung like medallions around a creased neck—worn with the insouciance that only being a septuagenarian can bring.

Detail from EnTWINed, mixed media painting by The Singh Twins, 1966.

The best part is that there is a whole spectrum of unflappable senior-style to inspire—Uncle Kwan’s decades of ingrained decorum leads him to put on every morning: an immaculately ironed short-sleeved shirt, a white singlet, neatly pressed trousers, spotless socks and leather shoes, even though his daily route is to the market for breakfast, his tiny frame supported by a meticulously polished walking stick. Then there is the cut-sleeve T-shirt, ripped jeans, aviator shades and ragged flip-flops sported by one awesomely long-haired Malay uncle, who sometimes escapes the scorching afternoon heat by catching a snooze beneath a leafy tree in the community square. I’ve also noticed faded T-shirts on some geriatrics that would make Virgil Abloh weep with inspiration. One silver-haired, bespectacled uncle in the queue for drinks the other day, had on a “Singapore Thai-Chi Association” white T-shirt that proudly showcased rudimentary hand-drawn figures in various Tai-chi poses (bet you that would sell out at Colette in no time). My personal favourite was worn by a gentleman with fastidiously combed ivory hair, his skin speckled with liver spots, sporting a grey T-shirt whose faded print read: ‘Life is not for losers’.

Left to right: Stephen from Thumbtack who came to help me hang up my painting, wearing his 10-year old Champions sweater. Vetements X Champion S/S16 piece, the men's version of which retails for approximately SGD816.95 on MR. PORTER.

That elusive X-factor, that Shangri-la of style—the pursuit of authenticity… why, isn’t it literally just a matter of time? Consider how much cooler a pair of leather boots will look after a year of attrition, the shiny newness of something as supposedly hardwearing as boots somehow gives rise to a mild discomfiture, like a tickle in your throat before the onset of a bad cough. This is down to the provenance of the attire—menswear is intrinsically influenced by workwear and military uniforms—the twin pylons upon which the styles of so many articles of masculine clothing are derived from, both of which require actual, active service before they can attain any sort of validity.

Another explanation can be found in the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, eloquently explained[3] in this extract from Leonard Koren’s book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers

“Wabi-sabi …is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional…”

The book also goes on to add that the word sabi indicates “the kind of beauty that can come only with age, such as the patina on a very old bronze statue”… in other words, the kind of effortless style that comes only with the disaffected confidence that age and experience bring. Just check out all the crazy DGAF ensembles that so many of our seniors wear with aplomb. Exactly the kind of look that hipsters try to appropriate (often at ruinous expense) but never come close to mastering, simply because they fail in one aspect—they’re trying to look like a 70-year-old man. And no one is better at that, than a 70-year old man.

[1] Malay for ‘uncle’.

[2] Delicious hot and sweet milk tea beverage with a frothy foam cap, created from pouring the tea from cup to cup at increasingly extended lengths. ‘Teh’ is Malay for ‘tea’ and ‘tarik’ means ‘pull’.

[3] By the way, I haven’t actually read the whole book itself but this explanation does sum the meaning of wabi-sabi up much better than my initial attempt of “Yo, old is gold!”