Your Mother's Style (Or Lack Thereof)


I love stories of women being inspired by their moms’ styles. Maybe because I can’t relate at all.

Mother-influenced fashion is the basis of a new book, photographer Jeannette Montgomery Barron‘s lovely paeon to her own late mother, a ladylike fashion-lover who in later years suffered from Alzheimer’s. As the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan says,

The fur coat, with her mother’s name “Ellie M.” embroidered in the lining, is spread out on the green grass. The princess lines of the coat swing out jauntily. That lush lawn emphasizes that the choice of fur by a woman who lived in Atlanta had little to do with practicality and everything to do with style and desire. A single gold slingback looks suspended in midair. It’s angled downward as if a photographer captured a ghost in the middle of a pirouette. The gold brocade pattern of an Yves Saint Laurent coat competes with the gold and pine green print wallpaper in the background. It is a cacophonous image of indulgence. You can practically hear “Ellie M.” walking into a party, the swish-swish of her coat as it brushed against her legs.

This inheritance of style, the conjuring of prior generations through a garment, is also a staple of Vogue‘s remembering first-persons, in which writers reminisce fondly about raiding their mothers’ closets. In her book I love Your Style, Amanda Brooks showcases designer fashions from generations past – a surrealist cape, a diamond bracelet, a Dior original. And an interview with the HuffPO, fashion blogger Garance Doré reveals,

During the ’70s and ’80s, [my mother] was really very stylish. She would travel and go to The Palace, a discothèque in Paris. She was wearing crazy things and she was a little bit rebellious. She would wear Thierry Mugler, and you couldn’t really wear that in the little city where she lived [in Corsica], but she didn’t care. She was doing it.

In a recent photo contest, the Sartorialist (Doré’s partner, incidentally) called for stylish family pictures and the response was enormous: generations of dapper folk in Schiaparelli and Chanel or ingenious homemade masterpieces, gallivanting around the world in high style. I briefly thought about submitting a picture. I dutifully looked through the photo-albums my aunt had helpfully uploaded and scanned through hundreds of pictures. And there was nary a one. Clearly, “style” was not a priority for any member of my family ever — be it in Europe, Arkansas, the South Bronx or a depression-era Washington D.C. My grandparents seem to have been wholly disinterested in the New Look. Their parents totally missed the memo about at-home dressmaking. And as for the 70s, when everyone’s mom was supposed to be the epitome of Me-Decade glam, well, I guess my mom was busy doing something else. (Although the great-great aunt pictured above looks undeniably awesome.)

I mean no disrespect to my mother when I say this; she’d be the first to say — not without a certain pride — that she could care less about clothes. And it’s also not to say that, in these pictures, she doesn’t look beautiful because she does (and, as she’s quick to point out, when her three gay roommates dressed her, she looked perfectly stylish and was never once turned away from Studio 54, thank you very much.) And let me add that even were her closet a cache of vintage Halston, it’s not like I could wear it: she’s more than three inches taller than I and with none of the curves. There are associations, of course – her “dress sweats,” or the controversial linen jumper she wore winter and summer until, one weekend when she was out of town, my dad and brother bundled into the car and drove it two states away, then denied all knowledge of its whereabouts. But I can’t say any of them are of the style-inheritance varietal, and it must also be said that I looked positively bizarre for the years she dressed me in a series of oversized flannel sacks. “Well, you have the books,” she said matter-of-factly when I jokingly brought it up. “And you’re welcome to the dress sweats.”

Jeannette Barron Tries To Draw memories, Knowledge From Mother’s Clothes [Washington Post]
Garance Doré Talks Blogging, High Heels & Being The Sartorialist’s Girlfriend [Huffington Post]

The Sartorialist Talks About His Vintage Photo Contest
[Huffington Post]

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