I had dreamed of a family fashion affair for the ages—featuring my style for the senior set, my daughter-in-law’s for the woman-in-her-prime set, and my granddaughter’s for the teenage set—ever since 4-year-old Béatrice had donned a tutu & rubber boots as the outfit to go watch her older sister & brother play soccer. We are all fashionistas with distinctive styles. We don’t just put on clothes in the morning; we dress up for the day, and then select just the right accessory to finish the look.
I dreamed that we would begin with a blog on my website written & created by me, maybe once a month or once a quarter, and follow that with an Instagram account contributed to by all three of us, maybe weekly or biweekly. Then my dream went technicolour with visions of an atelier nestled in the heart of the city dancing in my head. As dreams often do, my dream crashed down to reality when the excitement at its reception cooled quickly and then evaporated into a trail of sighs. I gave it up.
But Béatrice surprised me this Christmas with the perfect gift, and my dream revived. At least for the first step, and at least for the senior and the teenage set. Maybe this will blossom into a family fashion flower (alliteration is so fun!), or not. So here it is, the first step on the fashion runway.
The look of youth
The child. Béatrice started out bold and eclectic, choosing outfits that at first glance were bizarre—why would anyone put that top together with that bottom? And then she’d add a cap, a scarf, a ribbon in her hair, and—pop!—it would become just her, a splash of style on the playground.
The preteen. As a preteen, she started to sketch, creating looks for the different persons she may want to be. They were whimsical and happy, capturing a 10-year-old’s visions of life as a party with costumes to wear for each occasion. The roles included…
Dressing up. From the sweet beginnings of lavish colour combinations in the toddler years to the fantasy outfits of her child’s imagination, Béatrice is now becoming sophisticated. And her style choices reflect this more subdued colour palate…
So many things to do. Her interests often collide because there are only so many minutes in a day. Then her prowess in ballet & dance is crowding out other activities—for example, ski-racing at which she showed fearless speed—as it demands more & more of her time. And school must take precedence in her very full schedule, with the effort & time spent on lessons increasing as the grades climb up the school ladder. Fashion in ballet and school, at least, is a done deal—leotard & tights for ballet and a uniform for school—with a little more leeway in the other parts of her dance regimen and extracurricular activities at school. Now that she no longer ski races, her ski outfit is hers to choose, and she has chosen—wait for it—black…
And a little time to relax. Betwixt and between all these activities, Béatrice does get time to relax. And her choice of colours is subdued here, too. Jeans & tights dominate today’s fashion scene across the ages, so it’s not surprising Béatrice, too, favours them for lounging around the house. Nevertheless, a touch of colour wouldn’t hurt, is what Grandma says.
Having had only boys, whom I dressed to the nines until they rebelled and insisted on jeans & t-shirts like all their friends, I was thrilled when my three granddaughters made their appearance on the world stage. So Christmas and birthdays were my chance to shop for and buy the prettiest dresses on the rack. Well, two of them eschewed these gifts as soon as their mothers let them, leaving Béatrice the only one who loved Grandma’s gifts.
But now that she’s 13, going on 14, she’s very particular about what she wears and most of my choices are just too bold & bright…& different. I cannot complain because she fulfils to a T another fashion requirement of mine: Always be well groomed, at home and away, and present a pleasing picture to the world. (Her brother, too, always looked polished, his hair falling just right, even after a boisterous bout of soccer in the backyard.)
The look of a senior
From the freshness of youth to the wisdom of seniors, a leap of many years in this leap year of 2020. And the fashion leap is huge, too—from a grandchild just beginning her teenage years to a grandmother in her 70s, from pastels to primary colours, from the subdued to the flamboyant, from long straight blonde hair to short curly grey hair. In short, from the beginning to the end of creating one’s style signature. And I’ll tell my story backwards.
My latest look. When I saw the sky-blue, suede sneakers, I knew they’d reside in my closet. When my friend asked me what I’d wear them with, I knew they’d look smashing with a pleated gold dress I’d recently bought in Collingwood. The finishing touch was a jean jacket set off by a scarf-of-many-flowers, and I sallied off to dinner and the theatre the very next day. Throughout the long evening, I felt stylish while being oh, so comfortable—an achievement devoutly to be wished.
The beginning of a new decade is the perfect time to turn over a new leaf, and I decided to be a little more eclectic in assembling my outfits. Maybe add a different colour or a bold accessory to my usual tailored look. At first I thought, “I’m too old,” but then I thought, “What the hell, it will be fun!” so sneakers & dresses is one of my new looks.
And I just bought a pair of slouchy boots, which go perfectly with skinny jeans, a white shirt and a suit jacket for a tailored casual look. Another new look is a long grey cardigan over a pale aqua pencil skirt & angora sweater with puffy sleeves, jauntily finished with a pillbox tam of grey & aqua.
Oh, the possibilities of mixing & matching are so many, adding & subtracting necklaces & bracelets, scarves & cuffs, flowers & hats…
From grey back to brown. It’s only been a year and a half since I decided, encouraged by my hairstylist, to let my hair turn grey. So the grey started to show, at the roots and in random streaks, and I loved it. And I continued to wear my clothes of many colours. In the span of a week, I changed colours and my look, always complimented by a flower—silver, orange, navy—to match or contrast with the dominant colour.
Back to fully brown. For years, I had kept my hair ‘naturally’ brown, sometimes with a touch of auburn, sometimes with chocolate predominating. And I loved it, too. That was the prime of Ms. Bevelyn, a prime that spanned my 40s, 50s and 60s. Ah, the years & years of dressing stylishly at home, at work and abroad.
The reason why
Fashion is frivolous, many people say. They are right, but only to a point. I come to fashion as someone who believes tradition is important, rituals are important, institutions are important to human civilization. Without them, we are savages, and contrary to Rousseau & Co, there is nothing noble about savagery. I concur with Michael Knox Beran in his praise of institutions, and fashion is an institution: “At the bottom of every really vital institution there is always a whiff of poetry or mysticism….Why does the judge don his robe, the priest his surplice, the scholar his gown, the barrister his wig, the queen her crown? …The art of the civilizing myth, the pleasing illusion, which once did something to hallow the institution, has given way to a dress-down cult of the merely functional, a culture of drabness.” (Review of A Time to Build by Yuval Levin, National Review, Feb. 24/20)
Drabness dampens the spirit, raining on the gift of life in all its fascinating complexity. Drabness leaches the light out of the joy of a sunny day with things to do and places to go. Drabness never puts a smile on a passerby’s face, but dressing up does: I get compliments from young & old, men & women, everywhere I go at home and away because my splash of colour & style makes people smile in the midst of the black/grey/beige clothes of the crowd. Yes, fashion is a personal statement, but it also fulfils the obligation to enhance one’s community by presenting a pleasant public face.
And as you can see, I take that obligation seriously.