Seniors Strut Their Stuff in Fashion Show

By Amy Zimmer on November 18, 2011 7:01am 

Debra Rapoport, 66, showed her duds off for the 10th Annual Carter Burden Fashion show on Thursday, Nov. 17.
Debra Rapoport, 66, showed her duds off for the 10th Annual Carter Burden Fashion show on Thursday, Nov. 17.
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DNAinfo/Paul Lomax

UPPER EAST SIDE — They primped and preened backstage, getting their hair and makeup done before strutting down a "runway" in front of a crowd of onlookers and a gaggle of photographers.

Anna Wintour was nowhere to be found, and the cameras were mostly point-and-shoots, but that didn't detract from the excitement.

Dressing up for the annual fashion show at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging's Luncheon Club is something that members look forward to all year long, said Valda Webster, the event's coordinator and a senior who models in the show.

"Everybody's clapping. The cameras are flashing. You feel the spotlight for a couple of minutes. You feel like a model," said Liz, a member of the center with chic short blonde hair, wearing a designer skirt suit, who declined to give her last name or age.

When she was younger, many people told her she should become a model, she said. "I became a secretary instead for a regular salary."

The basement of the Jan Hus Church on East 74th Street — which dishes out nearly 1,000 meals a week to seniors — was filled Thursday with the beats from Rhiana's "Only Girl (in the World)" as elderly men and women showed off fancy threads alongside the center's volunteers and staff.

It was the 10th of the annual events.

"For a lot of these women, you reach a certain age and people stop looking at you. You become an invisible, generic senior," said Marlena Vaccaro, director of the center's luncheon program. "They go weeks, months, years without people saying, 'You look beautiful.'"

Some of the Carter Burden members, Vaccaro said, go days without speaking to anyone at all. She provided an example of such a scenario. "You're an 85-year-old woman, your husband died, your kids live in L.A., and you're in a fourth floor walkup."

But the fashion show gave members a moment to be the center of attention. The women even had escorts.

"The guys from the kitchen throw their aprons off and throw the tuxedos on, and they escort the gals down the red carpet," Vaccaro said.

"We'd prefer Brad Pitt," joked Gwendolyn Holmes, 69, who borrowed a black cocktail dress for the occasion.

She topped her outfit with a yellow shawl she crocheted at the club, which boasts many elite knitters. Some of the club's handmade items were being auctioned off at the event.

Holmes beamed after her turn down the catwalk. "It's like walking into a wedding reception where you're the bride," she said.

Debra Rapoport, 66, in a jaunty hat and dramatic scarves, relished her turn in the spotlight.

"I dress up all the time," she said, "because that's what life is all about."

Onlooker Theresa Keis, an Upper East Sider who described herself as being 65+, said it was her first fashion show.

"It was really fun! It made me feel young again," she said.

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