Slater, a clinical associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS), has long had an interest in fashion, although it usually was only in service to her personal wardrobe choices.
So, she never expected that just a year after launching her fashion blog, Accidental Icon, she would top 21,000 followers on her Instagram account, make the cover of Grey magazine, and amass fans worldwide.
“Somehow, accidentally, while living my ordinary life, people seem[ed]to think I was a fashion icon,” she wrote in her first post. “Every day a person approaches and asks, ‘Do you work in fashion?’ (no) . . . or asks what fashion magazine I work for (none).
“If I got this far ‘accidentally,’ how far could I really go if I start learning and thinking about fashion with people who really do it and know it?”
An Accidental Icon
Slater is an unlikely candidate for fashion iconicity. She is the former director of the Child Sexual Abuse Project at Lawyers for Children, and is a designated child abuse expert for the New York City Family Courts. In addition to co-publishing the go-to book on social work practice and law, Slater established the first child advocacy centers in the city and developed a handbook for family court judges. At Fordham, Slater helped develop of the Law School’s Interdisciplinary Center for Family and Child Advocacy, and she currently teaches child welfare at GSS.
Over her four-decade career, fashion was not so much a hobby as an integral part of her daily routine. She dressed up to give lectures and even took classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. As she approached her 60s, fashion became a means to confront the aging process.
“I began to use clothes and my appearance as a way to counteract some of the invisibility that comes with age,” she said. “As I started to take more risks, it in fact made me very visible. And people began to say, ‘You should start a blog.’”
With her daughter grown and her career settling into a steady pace, Slater decided to investigate the fashion blogosphere more deeply. Almost immediately she noticed the dearth of blogs written by or for older women.
“They weren’t really speaking to a woman like me—women who are not famous or celebrities, but are smart, creative, fashion-forward, engaged,” she said. “So I designed my blog almost in opposition to everything else out there.”
Slater launched Accidental Icon in September 2014. Barely a month later, a stroke of serendipity came during Fashion Week.
“I was decked out that day—I had on a Yohji Yamamoto suit, a top from Japan, and a Chanel bag,” she said. “I was walking by Lincoln Center, and all of a sudden, I was swamped by photographers taking my picture. And then tourists started taking pictures, because they saw the photographers doing it. And it was all because they liked what I was wearing.”
The encounter landed Slater’s photo in Downtown magazine and put Accidental Icon in the spotlight.
A Fashion-Forward Rebel
Accidental Icon largely consists of short essays that reflect on some aspect of Slater’s life and how her apparel gestures to her various identities, including as an academic, as a New Yorker, and as an older woman. The essays are paired with photographs taken by her partner Calvin in various spots throughout the city.
Later in the week, Slater posts an itemized list of what she was wearing in the photo from that week’s essay. Fridays feature a “Fashion Bibliography” of articles that she found unusual or inspiring that week.
The blog offers an outlet from the constraints of academic writing, Slater said. However, she doesn’t consider blogging to be inconsistent with her work as an academic or as a social worker.
“I think academia has always thought that fashion is a frivolous topic, but it’s not frivolous at all,” Slater said. “The more I research fashion, the more I realized it’s a powerful force. We talk a lot about how it’s oppressive, or how it promotes ideal body types, but we don’t talk about how it can be productive.”
To that end, Accidental Icon has helped shatter age biases in fashion. In a culture that extols youth and beauty, a fashion blog run by a 60-something college professor has been an act of rebellion. Surprisingly, the majority of her followers are young people who are drawn to the fearless authenticity that she promotes.
“There is a tide change among the younger generation. They’re getting sick of celebrities and want to think more about style and who they are,” Slater said.
“There aren’t age parameters in fashion. My motto has become, ‘Don’t tell me there are rules.’”