Jul 22, 2012

The Rich, The Help and My Fashion Legacy

Vogue, August 1981
RIP Grandma & Princess Diana
Anyone who has a penchant for fashion has a memory of the person, place or thing who ceremonialized his/her fashion rites of passage.  We all have an old picture of a matriarch or patriarch in our family circle who influenced us to start down our own style path. 

My mother wasn't really into it.  Being a late 60's kid, of course I have pictures of my mother with bell bottoms and big collar shirts on, but nothing out of the norm for that time.  Personal style development just wasn't her thing.  The next level was my aunt.  I always laugh to myself on those nights I spend 1-2 hours doing a twist out because I have vivid memories of my aunt sitting in the bed braiding her tinted afro with Miss Cool 5 Minute Fast Set.  The next day she would take her hair down, put on dark brown lipstick, big hoop earrings and a Johnny Taylor album.  I would marvel at her easy coolness, but my greatest fashion legacy came from my grandmother.  She truly provided all of the tangible, as well as intangible tools that gave me my sense of style.

I was an awkward girl.  I was chubby (still am) and the oldest of 3 children.  I was the responsible one who did all the cleaning and babysitting.  I never took issue with any of it though...what else was there for a four-eyed, chubby, minimally popular girl to do?  I believe to this day that my grandmother either felt sorry for me (she was very vain about weight and presentation) or was attempting to do something really special for me. 

My grandmother was a housekeeper for a VERY influential family in St. Louis.  Their influence went all the way to The White House (2 times).  She would always fret about her misunderstanding of rich people being so untidy.  One day, within the untidiness, she found something that turned out to be a true treasure to me. 

One weekend while visiting with my grandmother, she told me she had something for me.  She came out of her room with a magazine.  She said, "I thought you might like this Vulga (Vogue) magazine."  I remember being excited, probably just to have some new to do, but the trickle of excitement I was feeling then was nothing compared to how I would feel once I started turning the pages. 

If my memory serves me right, I went through that magazine about 10 times from time I got it.  I was truly amazed at the glossy pages of high and sometimes unusual fashion.  I wasn't taken a back at all.  I was thrilled!  I'd been introduced to a whole new world.  Everything in the magazine peaked my interest--the clothes, the make-up, the perfume, the designers, the photos of well dressed people at social events!  I found something to dream about.  A few weeks later, my grandmother gave me another magazine, Elle.  I couldn't believe it!  There's more!  Month after month, my grandmother continued to christen me with more Vogue and Elle magazines.  I assume these were the 2 magazines that the women in the family she worked for subscribed to.  I also assume that she would wait until a couple of new issues arrived, then she would bring me the older ones and she kept doing this either until they stopped subscribing, or she saw I was finally catching on.
Elle, December 1988

Besides introducing me to high fashion, my grandmother was a God fearing, yet feisty lady who taught me that a walk is not about the steps, but the confidence and attitude with which you do it.  She also taught me that even a trip to the grocery store is worthy of a little lipstick.  Although she was born of little means, she owned her own home, always saved money and never ever bought cheap clothes or perfume. 

Many other memories exist that would give you an even better idea of my fashion legacy, but for now, the best way for me to honor it is to continue striving to live it. 

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