Vancouver's 84-year-old fashionista

New York might have Iris Apfel, but in this city it's Dorothy Miller turning heads

Dorothy Miller’s first experience modelling was when she was named Miss Port Moody, in 1950. Not long after, she got married and stopped working for 26 years before a random trip to Lougheed Mall made her reassess her life. She began a new career as a salesperson for luxury goods and later started modelling for local brands and stores. Now 84, she works full time at luxury jeweller, Palladio, in downtown Vancouver and can still strike a pose with the best. Lifetime talked to her about fashion, style and being your best at any age.

Dorothy Miller
Dorothy Miller at work at luxury jeweller Palladio in downtown Vancouver. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Q: What were you like as a child and how did you dress?

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A: I wore navy blue skirts, white shirts and long black stockings. There was no discussion — my mother thought it was a neat way for me to be dressed for school and that was that. I was the oldest, with two brothers, one 16 months younger and one who arrived seven years later. I was a tomboy and would fight their battles for them — the aggressive one who would go home with scraped knees.

 

Q: How did your relationship with style change as you grew older?

A: I was married at a fairly young age by today’s standards. I got so busy looking after my three children and husband that I didn’t dress that well. I became very overweight — a size 20 — and, I felt, not a particularly interesting person. Then one day, after 26 years of marriage, I went into Rayson’s shoe store in Lougheed Mall and on a whim, asked if they were hiring. I left my phone number and they called me back. When I announced to my family I was going to do part-time work it was as if I’d said I was leaving home. They were horrified! I decided to reinvent myself — at this point I was in my late 40s or early 50s. I lost 90 pounds in a year from eating 1,000 calories a day, swimming and going to the gym — not a fancy one. A sweat one. That boosted my morale and I began to discover I was an ambitious, aggressive woman.

 

Q: How did you get into modelling?

A: After I lost the weight I found that the clothes I was wearing didn’t do anything for me. I started working for Alberto Leone downtown and on my commute I would see how other women dressed and that’s when I began to become more interested in fashion. Then a lady from Blanche McDonald Modelling School came into the store and suggested I do a course there. The school helped me put together a portfolio, which I brought around to some of the department stores. The stores told me they weren’t interested because only 10 per cent of their customers were like me and most people wanted to look younger. I told them, “We’re the 10 per cent with the money so maybe you should start doing something for us.”

Dorothy Miller
Dorothy Miller recommends investing in a few high-end pieces of clothing that will last for years.  Photo Dan Toulgoet.

Q: What are your style rules now?

A: What’s important is not dressing to the trends, but finding a look that works for you — and you don’t need to spend money to do that. I feel comfortable in a pantsuit, camisole and very nice jacket. My clothes are expensive, I’ll admit to that, but they’re classic and I have had the same pieces for many years. I have a Jil Sander coat that’s just coming up to its 13th birthday. Every time I wear it, people admire it. I wore it with Prada boots when I went to visit my family in Prince George. I fell getting off the plane and people were trying to help me up in the snow and as I was on the ground a woman complimented my boots and coat. She said, “You’re not from round here, are you?”

 

Q: Did your family eventually come to terms with your new life?

A: I’ve just lost my husband, who had been so much against me going into the workplace and felt my place was home as a mom. But when I went through his things, I found he had a special portfolio of all my clippings. And apparently he was very proud of the things I have done. When I went to do fashion shows or a photo shoot, at the time he might not have seemed happy about it. But I hear from other people now, they say, “Bill was so proud of you and how you look and what you did with your life.” And I know my children are proud of me too.

 

Q: Are you more relaxed about how you look these days?

A: I still care about my appearance as much as I did the day I reinvented myself. If I get up three times in the night, three times a night I brush my hair and put on lip gloss. And I have strict instructions that when I die, my favourite Jimmy Choo shoes and cosmetics bag go with me. Even if I’m home by myself I’ll wear a 2.5-inch heel. That’s vanity for you! I’m very critical of the way that I look. I’m very happy with it too. I always strive to put my best foot forward.

 

Q: What advice would you give to other women?

A: For the past 21 years I’ve been working at Palladio and I enjoy coming to work every day. I do feel that being positive and motivated keeps me young and sharp. Women need to know that’s the key. I have a lot of arthritis, but I get out there. None of this came easy to me. I’m the one that knocked on doors and said, “Here I am, and I think I can do something for you.” There are a lot of women my age who perhaps feel, “What’s out there for me?” Well, all you’ve got to do is put your feet on the floor every morning.

lalor.aileen@gmail.com

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