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They say the gypsies are wonderful!
She was Jackie Kennedy's cousin, but she is best known as one of the two subjects of the 1975 documentary GREY GARDENS by the Maysles Brothers. Born into an aristocracy from which she was rejected, she became the unlikely hero of the film that launched her reputation as a fashion icon. But why would someone living in a run down mansion with her ailing mother still hold the fascination of millions of people over 30 years later?
It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean? It's awfully difficult.
I first heard about her when I was 13 or 14. My mother would talk disapprovingly about those "crazy relatives of Jackie's living in that filthy house with all of those cats." It was only background noise to my teenage brain, but I still filed it away in the section for "things not to be when I grow up."
I never had a split personality. I have a hell of a temper! It's Southern!
When my daughter Katie graduated from high school, I decided to take her on a mother daughter trip to New York as a gift. I knew that something called "Grey Gardens" had just won the Tony for best musical and bought tickets. I had only heard that Christine Ebersole was brilliant but didn't know anything about the play itself.
'Course, I'm mad about animals, but raccoons and cats become a little bit boring. I mean, for too long a time.
We were lucky enough to get seats in the third row and when it started, I was instantly mesmerized by the characters in this bizarre family drama. It wasn't until I read the playbill at intermission that the "crazy relatives of Jackie's living in that filthy house with all of those cats" memory resurfaced.
We've had 300 cats altogether. Now we have twelve. It's true about old maids, they don't need men if they have cats.
Psychologists and psychiatrists have cyber diagnosed her "condition" and the general public still psycho babbles about her odd behavior in countless blogs and chat rooms. At first, I questioned my own sanity and decided that I must be a little crazy myself, because I found "Little Edie" to be refreshingly genuine. Ultimately, I concluded that though she did, most likely, have some type of mental health issue, and that I am still maybe a little crazy, I am mostly just bored. The world is full of trend following, society pleasing, status seeking, self promoting, imitations of socialites, politicians and celebrities, and in Little Edie, I was relieved to finally see someone unapologetically being real.
Eventually everything will grow back; then they'll rush in and pull it all down again. They do it to everybody. They want everybody to be the same. You can't have anything different.
Since my job is centered around fashion, I am hyper aware of the tendency to follow styles and keep up on the latest thing coming out of Paris, New York, Milan and in recent years, L.A. But a part of me wishes there would be a massive rebellion of everyone following their own definition of style. It's enough to drive anyone crazy; "the 40's are in" "the Hippie look is in" "the 80's are back", "asymmetrical dresses are hot" etc. I try to keep a healthy balance between what's in and what is timelessly beautiful. Staying on top of it all is exhausting and those on the slippery slope of staying ahead of trends, convinced that they are original, are actually, the most predictable of all.
No, no, this is the revolutionary costume! I never wear this in East Hampton! I went to two cocktail parties in East Hampton to stop the gossip about my being a recluse. Most of them looked at me like I was from Mars. I shouldn't have gone; I don't drink. If you don't do what everybody else does out there, if you don't go to the Maidstone Club or join the Garden Club, you're written off as crazy.
Edith Bouvier Beale wasn't a fashion designer, and though Vogue and other fashion magazines devoted issues to her style, it wasn't brilliant or truly groundbreaking. It was just her own and that's what made it revolutionary, even to designers themselves. Calvin Klein and John Galliano have created "Little Edie inspired fashions" and Marc Jacobs even designed the Little Edie bag, but it was the younger Beale's courage and originality that made her style so memorable. Ironically, copying her style goes against everything her very unique character represented.
But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn't know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there's anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman... S-T-A-U-N-C-H. There's nothing worse, I'm telling you. They don't weaken, no matter what.
The head scarf with a rhinestone brooch, the leotard, or dress tied in a knot just below the hips are now definitive Little Edie style statements. People have grabbed on to her identity and tried to make it their own. She has even become a popular character for party goers to emulate on Halloween. Now, there is an HBO movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange that will most likely increase the world's fascination with the original residents of Grey Gardens. But did we all miss the message of Edie's publically exposed life? I hate to spoil the party, but I think so. I believe we should all be in search of the "little insert your first name here" that is uniquely our own. That doesn't mean that we can't look at Edith Bouvier Beale's life and take delight in her contributions to ours, it just means that we don't need to imitate everything turn everything unique and interesting into something standard.
This is the best thing to wear for today, you understand. Because I don't like women in skirts and the best thing is to wear pantyhose or some pants under a short skirt, I think. Then you have the pants under the skirt and then you can pull the stockings up over the pants underneath the skirt. And you can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape. So I think this is the best costume for today.
Don't get me wrong, original style doesn't mean ignoring the creations of talented fashion designers. But even within the safe harbor of current runway styles, people can individualize their own look. You can reject those styles that don't work and refuse to compromise when it comes to quality! You can wear a Galliano top with an Alessandro Dell'acqua kimono jacket and Target jeans (some of the best, in my opinion). Mix any of those with something vintage, and you have a truly original look. That's what I love about vintage clothing; it can always blend into whatever is happening in fashion today and add a one of a kind twist to any outfit.
I didn't have time taking care of mother to get out and buy any clothes. So I used what was left of mine and mother's in the attic.
So relax, slow down, you don't have to rush out and buy everything with fringe for "that runway look" or put on a big hat because "hats are in." If everyone "who is anyone" is wearing this season's hot shade of green, dare to wear something in your own shade of yellow or orange, or whatever color makes your complexion glow. Just pick and choose clothing that makes you look and feel your best. I, of course, hope that Vintage clothing and accessories will be among your first choices, but most of all, I hope that you never lose the "little you" that will courageously show your own uniquely beautiful style to the world!
All bold italic phrases are quotes from Little Edie, Edith Bouvier Beale.
Edith Bouvier Beale
Christine Ebersole as Edie
Edie Beale in famous fur coat
Edith Bouvier Beale Italian Vogue
Marc Jacobs "Little Edie" Bag
Galliano does Little Edie
Drew Barrymore in HBO's Grey Gardens
Big Edie and Little Edie