Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to age: become exquisite or eccentric?

To me, there mainly seems to be two types of old ladies. The first one is prim and proper in a tweed suit with gloves, stockings, pearls, thick-heeled loafers and a little chic hat on top of her bluish pin curls. In high temperatures, she might forgo the suit for a plissé just-below-the-knee skirt with a silk blouse and a Hermès-style scarf. This is how I remember the one of my two Grandmothers whom I got the chance to know before she passed. And more importantly, this is what I would love to look like when my age finally forbids me to dress in cage heels and mini dresses - if that ever happens?!

The lady look is not as easy to pull off as it might seem - the imaginary line between elegant and chic on the one hand, and drab and shapeless on the other, never seemed so fine! While material and fit may indeed always make or break any outfit, they are extra critical in the case of minimalistic, figure hugging tweed or bouclé suits (pictured right: classic Chanel; left: vintage 60s Dior). A mature look like this one leaves little to no room for fun or crazy accessories (unless you actually are a crazy lady - more on this below) to compensate for a too nipped-in waist, a lost button or an unflattering slit -- once the simplicity is gone, the elegance is, as well. And unlike many other styles, you cannot really shop a believable version of ladylike chic at H&M, Zara or Forever 21! Below: stylish captures of Carmel Snow (with Diana Vreeland) and Coco Chanel:











..... evening looks on Babe Paley and Grace Vanderbilt, both of whom always got it right:











... and some really frumpy looks on Pat Nixon and Nancy Reagan. Sorry to be disrespectful, but Mrs Kennedy aside, I have yet to see an American first lady, whose sense of fashion I approve of.











The real life, down-trodden version of the suit lady: two New York seniors on the downtown M15, whose non-stop babbling made my ears seriously sore. A parrot would have seemed quiet and soft-spoken in comparison.

























As for that second kind of old lady, there are all those crazy, eccentric originals who seem to never leave their house without donning mismatched animal print, DIY henna hair, strange headwear, feather boas at all occasions, ragged furs, not one lapdog but three or more, color combos that hurt your eyes, more bling than a [insert low-class New York suburb of choice] trophy wife after a shopping spree on 47th & 6th.... somewhat well represented below by Betsey Johnson, Viv Westwood, Patricia Field and Isabella Blow:






















... and some glitter-lovin' old New York ladies, in the Lower East Side projects and Hell's Kitchen, respectively.


























Indeed, these women (along with many others, who have not yet unknowingly stepped in front of my iPhone street-stalker lens) are the living proof that regardless of which style you preferred during your prime, aging will not automatically conduce you to develop a penchant for suits, tucked scarves and preppy loafers. Fair enough - I put an end to my own crazy phase long ago, when I was still young enough to file any sartorial experiments under "fashion risk taking", rather than "eccentric lady garb"... and I have already started saving for the Chanel, Dior and Carolina Herrera, that I plan on wearing once I reach granny age!

That said, I will never cease to be immensely fascinated by the extreme and the eccentric. Yesterday evening when I walked home from Silvercup Studios (yes my darlings.... all over the bridge from LIC and down to the East Village - I have the blisters today to prove it), I suddenly found myself in front of the most lovely, tacky vintage (I think?) boutique on 58th Street and 1st Avenue, footsteps from the Queensborough bridge. The window display was beautifully dressed, effortlessly balancing the thin line between delicate and kitsch, carrying everything a crazy lady could possibly ask for: glitter, gold and epaulettes... cat-eye spectacles... wide-brimmed, befeathered Isabella-worthy hats.... in-your-face prints... fake fur... plumes! For about a minute, I was completely thrown off and mesmerized. I forgot about 30 Rock, the studded royal blue one-shoulder dress with a long sleeve that I could not decide whether I liked or not, the possible fat content of the sandwich I had grabbed in crafty.... but was instead lingering in front of the window, taking in the jewelry, millinery and plumage, conjuring up one image after the other in my head, of the women whom I imagined must be regulars at the store.

As I crossed 57th Street a couple of minutes later, I spotted an old woman wearing a fox stole with spotty patches of missing fur, a heavy load of gold chains, too much lipstick in a shade much too dark, and a head of unkempt, self-dyed red hair. But for once, instead of fidgeting around with my phone to get a grainy paparazzo shot for my fashion faux pas photo collection (yes, I have one... I know, I suck!), I chose to just give her a glance of admiration as I passed by. How could I not?!

Today, on the other hand, I regret being so dreamy and soft-hearted - she would have looked great on my blog!

What about you? Does your mom have a closet of Park Avenue fashion that you will inherit one of these days, have you started a Chanel savings account, or do you just plan on going crazy with plumes, leopard and multi-layers of plastic necklaces as you grow old? Let's hear it. :)

70 comments:

  1. so gorgeous-I plan on amassing an incredible selection of Chanel and couture suits before my 70th bday xx

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  2. mmm.. i hope definitely to be of the exquisite genre once that time comes.. haha

    and love your sneak attack photos

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  3. Haha great post. Hopefully when I became a little old lady, I will be a little bit of classy (St. John suits, pearls) and a little bit of crazy (Betsey Johnson). :P

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  4. if i admit that by that age i might be tired of caring and just want to have a little fun, will you still speak to me?

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  5. I love the idea of older women pushing aside tradition for eccentricity. Although it is difficult to pull of the Diana Vreeland/Coco Chanel lady look, Vivienne Westwood's and Betsey Johnson's tastes tell stories far more interesting and engaging than any first lady could. The most interesting thing to see though is a crash collision of both. The "lady look" with obnoxious/over the top accessories.

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  6. I think I am headed for the classic route... I'm always fond of doing the safe mode.

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  7. Fabulous query and pics, darling! I think I will be a combo of the two!!

    xoxox,
    CC

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  8. Ooh, I so adore this post. It's hilarious; but definitely makes you think. I've already decided...I want to be Coco Chanel when I age, plain and simple! :)

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  9. I will be in head to toe missoni everyday after 40 and loving every minute of it!

    www.bagpoor.com

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  10. The librarian at my high school was pretty much Betsey J. She memzomoried me. Every day I couldnt wait to see what kind of crazy plastic bangle she was going to match with her rhinestone studded bright colored turtleneck.

    My sister used to always say that I was gonna grow up to be like Mrs.Z.

    My savings account will probably never grow big enough for Chanels and Diors. But I see it being pretty simple and classic, with minimal accessories. We shall see.

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  11. I'd like to think that I'd have a crazy, eccentric taste in clothes as I grow older. I'm sure life would be so much more fun! Although, I would like to occassionally don an elegant and classy look, with pearls and Chanel suits.

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  12. I think you should look into writing for a fashion magazine or some such thing. You have a great eye and are a good writer. :O)

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  13. im so going to be a crazy eccentric granny and embarass all my grandchildren by haivng pink hair and wearing a metallic cape ;)

    batty old women are the best!

    sugar
    xoxo

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  14. Love your spying on old ladies photos LOL! I think I pretty much dress in so much Chanel and Westwood already I am well on my way to being a bizzar Jekyl and Hyde of the two! Oh but I must have a stick, I love irrate old ladies with sticks!!

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  15. Great post. I vote for the crazy eccentric for sure!

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  16. i think both types are great. they work for the specific person and i just can't see them in any other way.

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  17. my grandparents are both completely on different spectrums. one is frumpy and comfortable and the other looks like she just stepped out a dallas episdode.

    but honestly id go for the eccentric older woman than the other type. adds character haha.

    xo ash

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  18. Coco was pure elegance.. I want to be like her or instead of that.. mm.. Jane Birkin?
    x

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  19. aahaha i approve of the random street stalker shots of the little old ladies (esp the ones on the bus)i was wondering about your opinion on michelle obama's style...i think she's getting up there with jackie o. as for myself, i hope someday to inherit my mom's vintage handbags, plus i'm sure she has lots of other goodies i have yet to know about. again great post!

    www.amoreeggrorr.blogspot.com

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  20. Hello there!

    About your question, yes, here rains a lot! Even at summer!!!

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  21. Now that is an awesome question. I would personally go for the exquisite.

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  22. Oh god- I would love it if I turned out to be like Audrey Hepburn- I guess she would most definitely go under lady like and elegant, but instead of suits she wore polos and jeans and her hair up off of her face. But who am I kidding. As part cajun I'm already heading down eccentric lane ;)
    I think it's great that you've started a saving account for chic-ness, I should totally do the same to combat some of the glitter I'll be wearing when I'm 60.

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  23. So great post !
    http://mimietnini.canalblog.com/

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  24. This is such a great post - really something that I always think about but never talk about. I think I would like to be the elegant chic lady, HOWEVER I seriously love Betsey Johnson and her style! What a beautiful concept to ponder.... :)

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  25. ha great post! I think i want to be in the first category but i know deep down that I am destined to be in the 2nd category. alas!

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  26. I'll start working on that right away! xoxo

    SC

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  27. I'm having so much fun reading what you all have to say about this. One thing: I do agree that the eccentric ladies seem to have an awful lot of fun getting dressed (up). However, I have come to terms with the fact that I don't have the personality to match that kind of fashion extravaganza... so I'll stick with photographing them in the street. Maybe one of those days I will have the balls to actually ask them first if they want to be in a picture. :)

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  28. I'll probably end up going with style number 1, although I adore both. But a lot depends on your personality and I wouldn't expect Dame Viv or Betsey Johnson to look anything else but crazy and out there. I'd prefer not to have that much attention drawn to me, especially when I'm going to be that age ;-) My mom is definitely in category one as well. To be honest though, I think those older ladies that dress a bit frumpy were probably never that stylish to begin with (i mean there are plenty who dress frumpy in their 20s as well) and also never update their wardrobe. I'm hoping when I reach that age, I'll still be paying attention to the trends and what's new, even if I won't be following every one of them.

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  29. Awesome post!!!
    I love reading the comments about my Top 5 List!
    You are too funny about the "see through" stairs!


    xo Laura

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  30. I think I love the classic elagant look with a flare..

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  31. I think I'd like to be all kinds of crazy in my old age! This is a fantastic post, and my first visit to your blog. LOVE IT!!

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  32. I'm an old lady still sporting long blonde hair, mini sundresses and stacked heels (getting harder to walk in them though). I hope they bury me in this garb. Great and informative post as per usual . . .

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  33. I like this most muchly.

    I'm really looking forward to my style progressing throughout my lifetime. =] I shall be a cross betweed the two I think- I love Chanel suits and pearls, but will throw in the odd eccentric pattern, and just generally be myself.

    Florrie x

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  34. Those bus pictures are HILARIOUS. Here's what I had to say about how I'd be when I was older....
    http://wendybrandes.com/blog/2008/02/adventures-in-arizona-part-ii/

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  35. My mom would fall on the frumpy side of things. Lots of elastic waistbands. But we work for the State and, as I found out the hard way, if you show up for work stylish, you just call attention to yourself and eventually people complain if things are too tight and such. It's a scrutiny that's tough to be under every day.

    I was debating whether or not I still "had it" enough to wear leggings the other day when an older woman showed up wearing them. She'd paired them with boots and a sweater dress and it all looked very classy. I think wealthy people generally manage to have a certain look that just...works. I choose to emulate that.

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  36. when i'm old i'm just gonna wear Chanel suits and hope for the best!

    Missy
    For all things fashion:
    http://thefashionfusion.blogspot.com

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  37. Hi, thanks for the comment, come check the new post! I love this ^^

    Link me, follow me
    @ MaisonChaplin.blogspot.com

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  38. when i am an older lady, i want classic elegance with a dash of boldness once in a while but not eccentric though.

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  39. what a great post!! ageis nothin but a number! ;)

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  40. I agree with the other comments about this being a great post. One of my Nana's was eccentric and I idolised her (she used to be an opera singer) my other is prim 'n' proper classic Nana. I love her too, but I'm hoping to go the same route as Nana No.1-bring on the crazy-answer-to-no-one dressing!!

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  41. I wish I was inheriting a closet full of Chanel. Ah ha. I'll have to accrue some of my own and pass it on to my daughter.

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  42. ah i LOVE crazy old women in crazy monochromatic outfits, especially if they're wearing colored fur stoles haha :) aaah a wardrobe full of chanel is every girl's dream !!
    xx
    neutraltuesday.blogspot.com

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  43. I want to be both, always wil!
    XOXOX
    Libby
    http://fashionconfectionairy.weebly.com

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  44. This post is hilarious. I think I'm pretty certainly headed for eccentric old lady territory, but that's prob pretty obvious, HA.

    I love crazy old women like Vivienne Westwood- these are my style gods!! They all have this personal sense of entitlement to living and dressing the way they want, and a conviction and confidence that I REALLY admire. It's like, at some point in their fabulous lives, they thought, "who the hell cares?!" and went balls-to-the-wall with their style. Age can develop great things, confidence and interesting stories among them.

    I love Isabella Blow. She's a great example, by the way. Her apartment is as amazing as she was... I did a post on it a while back (here).

    Lauren

    (IN)DECOROUS TASTE

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  45. Oops! Messed up the link for Isabella Blow's apartment in my comment above...The address is actually:

    www.indecoroustaste.com/2009/02/ode-to-isabella-blow.html/

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  46. Lovely post! I can see myself when I get older wearing the exact same style I wear now, bohemian, but of course I'll probably add a little more lenght to my skirt/dresses' hems ;)
    xxx
    Giovanna
    www.bohomarket.blogspot.com

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  47. Great post!! I feel like every time I say the same but I enjoy your posts so much. What a true description of reality you just made. Those old ladies are for real and I have seen and met them! I feel closer to the first time. But the second one is so easy to identify!!

    xoxo
    B* a la Moda

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  48. defs plan on being a polished older lady haha

    just love your blog girl

    myglitteringcreation.blogspot.com

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  49. great post - gorgeous pictures! I love grannies, they allways seem to know what's lady like.

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  50. Just wanted to let you know, there's an award for you waiting at my blog :)

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  51. I def and must became an old fashionable lady ^.^
    kisses

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  52. I liked this post very much darling, fab photos and good thinking!
    Have a lovely weekend!

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  53. very very true i want to be a crazy and eccentric old lady! haha
    olivias-pizzazz.blogspot.com
    xx

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  54. Great post - sorry I've been so busy with my work. It's so nice to catch up on everything.
    I have this dilemma, it seems more immediate to me! I think I prefer the chic look but I know I'll be more crazy old lady!

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  55. oh and another thing :) thanks so much for putting me on your blog list! :D means a lot!
    xx

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  56. Thank you everyone for commenting - I will catch up on your blogs tomorrow. I need to marry a rich guy so I won't have to work and can just sit back and hang out on Blogspot instead! Plus, if I did, being able to afford Chanel wouldn't be a problem. :D

    Haute Shopper: Thank you! Will head over ASAP!

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  57. Good post. Thanks for sharing! :)

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  58. I absolutely love this! And I must admit I hope to be a bit exquisite and a bit eccentric.

    Thanks for your kind note on my guest post on DreamSequins!

    * Kelsey

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  59. HI I gave you an award to get it check my blog www.fabuleusevie.blogspot.com

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  60. Hmmm . . . I like a combination of Issy Blow and Audrey Hepburn: tailored with a wicked twist. Although I adore Viv's clothes, her personal look is not one to which I aspire!

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  61. I hope to fall into the "exquisite" category one day so I'll start buying vintage Chanel now so I'll be ready when the time comes.

    Unfortunately for Miami, there are many, and I mean many, eccentric older ladies who, to put it mildly, look like fools. I feel very sorry for them because they don't have a clue.

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  62. I absolutely adore that gray jacket that you opened your blog up with. It is so fabulous. :) I love jackets that can be dressy but dress casual if need be. :)

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  63. My vote is Exquisite Rock n Roll - that's my style ; )

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  64. Betsey Johnson is exquisite, feminine, artistic, fun-loving, and works at her fashion constantly. I've seen her on Hampton's Plum TV a lot being interviewed by Lauren Ezersky of the Plum TV show Hey Lauren! What a doll! Her fashions usually are lacy an frilly and so very feminine. They make a wonderful joyous feminine statement. She is just to much together to consider her eccentric. What a joy to be around. I was happy to see her photo here in this post.

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