We all have our fashion icons and inspirations; my grandmother, Mimi, is one of mine. Mimi doesn’t dress in a stereotypical grandma style but rather as I imagine Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn would if they were still alive today. Her style is elegant and timeless but remains current and an inspiration for me as I wade through all of today’s trends.
Recently, on a visit to my grandparents’ house, I stopped and admired the photographs of my grandma from the fifties—she was elegant and beautiful, and truthfully her style formula hasn’t changed much to this day. I realized that instead of being overwhelmed by the maximalist trends of today, I need to step back and simplify my approach to fashion—and who could be a better guru than a woman who has embodied style and grace for more than sixty years?
01. Buy Clothes That Last
Mimi said that she grew up with the understanding that clothing should be timeless and of high quality. As a young woman, Mimi started with a small wardrobe. “We didn’t have a lot of clothing,” she said. “In my younger days the fashions changed really slow; you could start with a very small wardrobe and just build on it every year.”
After starting her first job, she remembers buying a well-constructed pencil skirt and changing it up with different blouses and accessories for the duration of its use.
She made me realize that high-quality investment pieces serve as the bones of our wardrobe and are flattering and versatile. The times may have changed, but as Mimi’s experience proves, the usefulness of a well-structured wardrobe has not.
02. Wear Distinct Styles Based on the Occasion
Mimi said that when she was growing up, clothing had a purpose per occasion: Sunday clothes, school clothes, going out clothes, etc. Dressing distinctly set the tone for each of these events. As a young woman, if Mimi were to go out, she would pull out her beautiful dresses and skirts and don high heels, but church would call for a simpler look.
Mimi said that she finds dressing by occasion easiest to do if she plans her outfits ahead of time. “I have learned that I have to do it the night before,” she said. “Sometimes I will pick out an outfit and I think it is going to look fine, but then I put it on and it is horrible. If I find myself wasting too much time picking out an outfit, I feel guilty. I trained myself to lay something out the night before.”
Personally, I can think of countless occasions where I have been rushed and did not put as much thought into an interview outfit or worn a makeup look that would have suited another event better. Mimi’s thoughtful approach will definitely serve me well in the future as I seek to dress appropriately and comfortably for an occasion.
03. Dress Your Age and for Your Body Type
Although fashions in the fifties were slow to change, Mimi did point out that fashions change with age. She said that length of clothing, colors, or accessorized features should adapt with age as they reflect who an individual has become.
One of the most impacting pieces of advice was that personal acknowledgement and acceptance of different body types can lead to confidence. “Accept your body type and love your body type,” Mimi told me. “Every body is beautiful, but you have to work with what you have. Things look better on us if they fit us properly.” It doesn’t matter what the clothing tag says but how each item uniquely flatters our bodies regardless of size.
04. Remember That There Is a Language Spoken in the Way We Dress
The people in Mimi’s Chicago neighborhood were inspired by the stunning, well-dressed men and women of Hollywood. The influence of these classy movie stars inspired and uplifted them, making them want to embody that same elegance.
“The way we dress either elevates our sense of beauty or brings it down,” she told me. “Styles are a reflection of how we view the dignity of the human person.” Mimi’s take on fashion and style is inspired by her life experiences; She grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. Resources were scarce and people had very little money, but they always did their best to dress in a way that highlighted their dignity. Mimi has always embodied grace—her inner self has been expressed so perfectly through her outer appearance.
Through my own experience with clothing, I’ve come to see that Mimi’s life lessons are still true, and I don’t think they’ll ever not be true. I always feel more comfortable when I dress in something that looks good on me and conveys what I want to say about myself and where I am in life. Mimi’s lessons are simple but provide a straightforward structure on how to always dress in a way that is elegant and inspires confidence but is also practical. Now every time I shop, I hear Mimi’s voice in my head, and you know what? Dressing like a grandma has never been classier.
Photo Credit: Jake Thatcher