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. :)
Man in a Can, 57th & Madison. - Because we all need a break now and then.
5 years ago