I’ve never fit well in “trendy” clothes. I always have to hem my pants, I wear size 5 shoes (most stores don’t sell that size), and designers tend to over-look the petite and curvy market (of which I am both). Growing up my mom always took me to thrift stores, which, at the time, was horribly humiliating. But after enough trips, I started to find items I couldn’t resist. As I’ve grown familiar with thrift and vintage shops I’ve tailored my style to what fits my petite body, an ageless style that surpasses trends, a style I call “Grandma Chic.” Through a series of events I found my fashion niche, and urge others to flaunt this look proudly.
The first, and most essential, step to achieving Grandma Chic is to actually own the clothes of grandmothers you know. Freshman year of college, my best friend’s great grandmother passed, leaving us a treasure trove of hand-sewn outfits, and vintage jewelry (her great grandmother and I happen to be the same size). It was her wish that these items were given to her family and friends—those that would appreciate these items. Through wearing her hand stitched chiffon blouses while donning brooches circa 1955, I’ve celebrated her life, while also expressing my unique style. These series of events led to the formation of “Grandma Chic,” and I haven’t looked back since.
If you don’t know a grandma that will pass on her clothes to you, your second best bet is scavenging thrift stores for items that will allow you to play the part. Unfortunately, most San Francisco thrift shops are picked over, but if you know where to go for specific items, you are sure to walk out with that pair of arch-support loafers or over-sized cardigan you desire. For shoe shopping, hit up the Goodwill on Haight and the Salvation army on 4th and Geary. These shops contain the petite penny-loafers straight off the feet of Richmond-inhabiting Chinese grandmothers. I recently picked myself up a pair of 1990’s Nine West (slightly lifted) loafers at Salvation Army. For $5.99 (and 50% off on weekends) you simply can’t go wrong.
One cannot properly execute Grandma Chic without a chiffon, silk, or synthetic blouse. Bonus points for a bow at the collar. My personal favorite stop for blouses is Mission Thrift, on 21st and Mission. They tend to be a more upscale thrift-vintage hybrid, but have a rack of elegant blouses for $5.99.
It’s important to remember that a woman of this age and class does not wear mini-skirts. When defining myself as Grandma Chic, I know this means completely abstaining from any sort of provocation. There is nothing finer than a high-waisted wool skirt, and thrift stores host a multitude of these. You can find some fabulous wools in the “Vintage” section at Thrift Town (17th and Mission). The price ranges from $4.99-$9.99. Of course, tights are always necessary.
Finally, we arrive at hair and accessories. Luckily for me, I have wispy hair, not unlike many grandmothers. On occasion I let it run wild with reckless abandon, but I prefer the classic bun. A bun that perches softly on the crown of my head allows me to portray that wise-sophistication both my Granny-Barb and Grandma Brown exude. I’ve also found myself a pair of cat-eye glasses. This can lean towards Schoolmarm Chic (another look I adore), but I find it appropriate when aiming to look like a grandmother as well. With accessories, the more authentic, the better. Vintage frames are encouraged; although mine are new, they’re based on the original cat-eye design. The same goes for jewelry. Costume jewelry is always appropriate—no need to shy away from the kitsch.
For me, Grandma Chic means class, wisdom, and sophistication. For others it may mean something else. I prefer the gentle grandmother, but there is also the role of the Southern Florida grandmother in her pink gingham shorts and polo, or the woman who feels fabulous for the first time at 75, sporting a full-length fur coat with exquisite over-sized rings. Whichever look you prefer, commit to this look with a sense of pride. Know that you are exhibiting that unique vintage find, while paying homage to the ladies that deserve our highest respect.
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