Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Visit from the 3-Penny Queen

If there was anyone who could ever one-up the 3-Penny Princess in the quest to find a good bargain, it could only be the queen mother (whom we'll call the 3-Penny Queen). From my earliest days growing up, I can remember vivid memories of standing in line on Black Friday to catch the best deals, or sifting through the clearance racks at TJ Maxx in search of a rare marked-down designer shoe that no one else had.

To be fair, our tastes didn't exactly converge for many years. She had a penchant for the artsy, liberated, and off-the-beaten-path -- "Contemporary European" she called it -- while I was firmly planted in wholesome, American, girl-next-door classics. This was the source of endless teenage angst followed by adult loathing on my part for her complete refusal to fit into the Donna Reed housewife mold. And she was always into her career -- which wasn't a traditional female career, either. Watching her now as she manages important projects and helps get our country onto a better energy track is exciting. But as a child, I just wanted a mom who would bake cookies, make dinner for my friends, and pack lunchboxes with peanut butter sandwiches on Wonderbread with chips and applesauce. Hence, I spent more time in my dad's care than my mom's as his profession offered more flexibility (which was fortunate, as his cooking skills were always more amenable to my palate).

"Can't you be like all the other moms who wear smart sweater sets with pearls and neat polo shorts with cuffed shorts to kids' outings?" I would beg incessantly as an only child growing up in the Carolinas who just wanted to fit in.

"Why should I be like everybody else?" she would demand. "I get tons of compliments from friends and coworkers on my innovative sense of style."

"But why do you have to make me wear these weird clothes?" I would plead. "I don't want to stand out. I want to be just like the other girls in school who wear fun, casual sporty clothes and Keds. I don't want to be different."

"My dear," she would console me, "One day, you're going to realize that you're unique, and that being unique is a good thing. People try their whole lives to be different, to find that singular personality that makes them special. You're lucky -- you've already got that uniqueness. It's just waiting to come out."

"Aaargh!" I would march off into my room, hating everything that was "unique" and "special" and wanting to just be "normal" and "boring".

Which led naturally to a late high school and college wardrobe monopolized by clean-cut American classics, preppy basics from J.Crew and Gap, lots of khaki, and of course the requisite pearls that any Southern girl carries over, no matter where she moves. This took me pretty far in the Jackie-O inspired ambiance of the nation's capital and the nostalgically traditional Georgetown University, where some dorms were still single-sex and where priests still taught many classes (albeit Jesuit ones, thank God).

In the years after college, my ideal work ensembles came straight off the racks of the elegant Ann Taylor, then the epitome of grace in my limited world view. I also liked the clean lines and modern professionalism of The Limited and some timeless career classics from Banana Republic and Gap (when Gap still produced a line of refined work wear). This was supplemented by a sassy, cool evening vibe from such stores as Urban Outfitters, Express, Bebe, and Benetton -- all of which were easily accessible in the District without a car. For countless summer weekends spent largely on the Delaware beaches, I scoured the J.Crew and Banana Republic outlets (on the way to the beach) and the sale rack at Abercrombie & Fitch (before their pre-teen transformation).

Then I met my husband, which, among other changes, led to a ban of those countless summer weekends in the group beach houses. I also left my post-college stints on Capitol Hill to try my luck in the corporate world. This paid off financially, but it also changed my workwear needs. While the Hill was known for being a bastion of beige suits with medium heels and Kate Spade bags, along with knee-length dresses and pearls (no matter which party you worked for), the business sector had a little more variety. My husband also liked it when I wore girly pleated skirts, shades of (gasp) pink, and short dresses with heels.

During this period, I developed an insatiable appetite for shoes. Now, I should point out that this was not something I was born with. In fact, I never really understood my mother's overflowing shoe collection containing a most unsettling assortment of crazy platforms, killer stilettos, and a fetish-worthy stockpile of knee-high boots -- none of which were in style during the greater part of my youth. When would she ever wear those, and why on earth does one need a pair of fuchsia heels anyway? My shoe anthology, on the other hand, had been primarily composed of various specimens of brown, black, and the occasional tan sandal. For work I had usually subsisted on low pumps, slingbacks, and loafer heels. For play I chose beachy wedge flip-flops or ballet flats.

Thus it was with a fair amount of shock that I discovered that I was starting to enjoy shoe and handbag shopping more than I wanted to admit. It was even more disconcerting that I was beginning to appreciate styles that were not particularly practical. Worse, I had developed an unexplained tendency to buy shoes and bags in colors other than the aforementioned black, brown, or tan. All of a sudden I liked red, white, and silver shoes. I bought orange and pink bags. I even started to dabble in metalllics. It was disturbing that I was buying green shoes when I barely owned any green clothing. For some reason though, this trend continued, and I ended up with not only interesting shoes but higher and higher heels. All of which made me feel more like a woman than ever.

As shoes became a priority in my closet, accessories hit it big all over the retail spectrum. Over the years, pearls had remained the mainstay of my jewelry. I could experiment with big pearls, little pearls, single strands, and multiple rows, but pearls were always present. Gold was vehemently off limits for me, as I had long preferred silver and platinum as my more subdued metals of choice. But there was no denying that fine, delicate jewelry was becoming a bit passe and big costume jewels were hitting the scene with a force unseen in decades. Gold too made a huge comeback, as did beads and stones of all colors and sizes. Seeing the J.Crew models wrapped in rows of bright baubles undoubtedly ignited a need to re-decorate my wardrobe.

While this didn't exactly happen without some resistance on my husband's part -- he strongly objected to the sudden disappearance of his beloved pearls -- I continued to experiment with new looks. Don't get me wrong, I still loved my pearls -- but I felt that I needed to break out of the mold that I had been trapped in for so long and try something different, something bolder and more dramatic. I now wanted to wear colorful statement jewelry and unexpected combinations of accessories. Turquoise, coral, and quartzes that my mother had given to me years back now saw the light for the first time in ages. The pearls that did stay out on my dresser got an overhaul, being suddenly paired in never-before-seen ways, as necklaces became bracelets and single strand chokers were melded with longer, differently shaped beads. I even discovered that pearls came in all different colors, which led to a revelation that beigey, gray, and pinkish shades looked smashing on me.

Looking back at what my mom used to wear, I realize that she was years ahead of her time (or was it years behind?). Flipping through the old photographs and seeing her in the belted suit jackets, shirtdresses, chunky necklaces, tall boots, platform shoes, bug-sized glasses and turtlenecks with wide-leg trousers that are all the rage now, I find myself wondering if maybe she wasn't onto something. Even crazier, I am astonished to discover that I actually wear many of those things now -- with alarmingly similar results. Will my kids look back on my photographs one day and wonder why mommy dressed so weird? Probably. What goes around always comes around.

Fast forward to the present. When my mother came to visit last weekend, I actually looked forward to showing off my newfound style. While rooted in classics and wrapped with a colorful, feminine flair, my look was undeniably different than before. I wanted to show her how I had infused the flavors of the exotic, hints of the artsy, and essences of Parisian chic into my American, J.Crew-dominated wardrobe.

My efforts did not go unappreciated, as mom not only took notice but even complimented my style and my new accessories. And for her part, the recent years of sunbathing (bad!) and enthusiastic enjoyment of the easygoing Florida lifestyle had imparted her with a decidedly more laid-back, tanned, and carefree vibe. This in turn took some of the edge off her take-charge persona and gave her wardrobe an airier, less accessorized, and more feminine aura -- which both my father and I found pleasing.

For the first time, I felt like we could walk down the street together in harmony instead of me dreading her attention-grabbing ways and her complaining about my dreadfully boring ways. She even let me accessorize her for a change, and I actually took note of some of her ideas for some upcoming outfits I wanted to try. And she is warming up to J.Crew better than I expected....

Here she is in a J.Crew navy Corinne sweater jacket, white jeans, yellow tank, and pewter Cole Haan wedge sandals (left).

I took the opportunity to debut my Crisp Cotton Shorts in Shocking Pink with a navy Jackie cardigan and older navy polka-dot top. I accessorized with the Cherry Blossom Necklace in Deep Rose, worn here as a bracelet, and pink multi-colored sandals from Target bought last year (below).

I foresee a beautiful future for us, one where we can finally shop together in the same stores and find common ground. And shopping there will be, because one thing hasn't changed: this women still loves to shop! After 3 days of touring the area and visiting just about everyone she knew, she dragged my tired feet all over the discount stores in search of those must-have bargains. Some of her scores included Cole Haan sandals, Vera Wang Lavender Label jackets, and a new Italian-made handbag.

I took home a gossamer-thin (yet surprisingly warm) Theory ivory cashmere henley for pennies and a fetching Tory Burch shift in a most bewitching pattern that was on clearance. They will go nicely with my J.Crew pieces and fun new accessories.

Today, on this chilly and rainy day, I decided to bring out my Theory cashmere henley to road-test it. I paired it with a tea rose tank, dark bootcut Calvin Klein jeans, and my Frenchie trench in khaki (not shown). I accessorized with the Cherry Blossom Necklace in Deep Rose, a pink-orange multicolored cuff bangle from the Talbot's outlet that I picked up for $8, and a pair of Delman peep-toe slingback heels in tea rose that I plucked from the clearance rack at Marshall's for a mere $15 while shopping with my mom in Florida this winter (left).

While we no doubt still have our disagreements about style (and which hair color looks best on me), it makes me happy that we are finally learning to appreciate various elements that make up our own unique styles. Especially now that I no longer shudder at the very thought of being "unique". I am also grateful to her for conveying to me at least part of the artistic whimsy that she embraces. I hope that she is finally able to see some of my more classic ensembles as timeless rather than boring.

I have always dreamed about having little girls one day so I can dress them up and go shopping with them. I hope that they will like to play in my closet and borrow my clothes and shoes in ways that I never really wanted to in my mother's. Although, if they're anything like me, they'll be just as obstinate as I was and hate everything that I like. Oh well, at least they can play in my mother's closet.


HeidiG said...

Oh, I just love this post! It's so interesting to hear about your evolution throughout the years in finding your own style. I think you look fab in all those pictures and it's fun to see your style evolution. I'm so glad to hear that you appreciate your mom so much now - don't we all do that as we age? What a fantastic visit! (and where were you shopping)

RatsOnParade said...

What a wonderful and touching post! You (and your mother) have the most fabulous sense of style, and an envious ability to mix and match colors! Such a lovely tribute to your mother and how you were raised. Just loved the vintage photos, too! :)

Emily said...

How sweet. This was such a lovely post to read and I really enjoyed the seeing the pictures of you and your mom.

Drewablank said...

3PP, you've always had such a gift for words, and you have, once again, told the most marvelous story of fashion, style, your mom and you. Your mom is, and was, quite the chic fashionista! It's easy to see where you get your stylish eye. :)

Thanks for sharing! You, like so many JCAs, do have such an impeccable eye for styling outfits - color or not!

**Ok, why was my word for verificaton "prune"? :p

Stephanie said...

What a nice post! You both have wonderful style and it's always interesting to look back on where we come from and how much we have grown.

3-Penny Princess said...

Thank you all so much for your sweet comments! It was definitely a trip down memory lane for me too.

Heidi - you're right about appreciating our mothers as we get older. I'm glad I'm not the only one. When I'm a mom (hopefully), I'm sure I'll appreciate her even more!

RatsOnParade and Stephanie - thank you for your compliments about our styles! I'll also pass it on to my mother:). And I'm really glad it touched you. I do owe my mother some nice things to say for a change!

Drewablank - thanks for enjoying my reading and my styling! I also love reading your writing and seeing your one-of-a-kind ensembles! BTW - you cracked me up when I read about your verification word. I hear prunes are the new superfood now:).

tastymoog said...

Love the pic of you in red tights and a caftan! :D Thanks for sharing.

My mom used to dress me funky, too. She had some crazy get ups herself, one I remember in particular was a green cashmere tunic/sweater dress with sequined pool balls all over it (and yes, it had shoulder pads)! Looking back, I don't know how she did it because we were poor, but I always had 012 Benetton, esprit, guess, bum equipment (LOL), and limited too (remember when it was cute and preppy, and not fluorescent club wear for tweens?). She was really into doll collecting and I her only daughter, so I guess it was interactive dress up for her, I dunno. But she definitely passed on her love of quirky fashion to me, for better or worse. :P

Anonymous said...

I loved this story so much I had to read it twice and think about it before responding. What I think I love the most, 3PP, is that you are not afraid to tell the truth, good and bad. It made me think a lot about my relationship to my mother and the fashion she tried-and actually succeeded-to impose on me, what I do and don't want to do with my daughter, and how my own fashion sense has evolved. Thanks. What may seem like a frivolous post to some (ie, about fashion) is really rich and complex. You should consider writing a collection of short stories based on fashion (but delving into deeper questions) along these lines! It would be a great read, penned by you.

I think you look adorable in every picture, from standard preppy to more sophisticated (and what a beautiful yellow bag!!!) Not to be age-ist, but as someone in her late 30s I can really relate to the notion of coming into your own-in terms of style, but I think style really reflects so much more about the self-in your 30s. You have more life experience, know yourself a bit better, are more secure in your relationships, and don't care as much what others think. You also ostensibly have more money to spend. So congratulations for reaching this point-it looks like you are having fun and embracing fashion and life in its fullest. And all best to you and your mom!

HeidiG said...

I'd like to ditto what Anon said about the collection of short stories - please, please, please!! You would be so amazing at that!!

Rosa said...

I loved this post. After reading, I had to call my mom.
You should really consider becoming a writer. Your stories are amazing and very touching.

Cloggsy said...

What a wonderful post! Can I just say that you look fab in your pink shorts! And I love the old photos!

My Mother and I now share clothes (she's forever stealing my J.Crew and taking it back to England!) but growing up, she was more classic, I was more boho. Actually, it's still that way! To make up for her stealing my J.Crew, I'm lucky enough to steal her very expensive bag collection (best nab yet: my birkin that she was "done with"! - score!)

Emmy said...

those old photos are absolutely adorable! i love going through old photos, the memories that come rushing back are always fantastic :-)

3-Penny Princess said...

tastymoog - that is funny to hear! The green cashmere tunic/sweater dress with sequined pool balls sounds priceless! Yes, shoulder pads were the bane of my existence. I have some choice photos of my mom in football player jackets:). It's good to hear others' fashion experiences growing up. Thanks for sharing!

3-Penny Princess said...

anon - thank you so much for your heartfelt response and for sharing your reflections! It's so neat to hear from women who have now become mothers and how their mothers' styles affected them. But you're right, each of us really has to find our own style. I think I did a lot of that in my 30s, and it's been a fun ride so far:) And thank you so much for reading!

3-Penny Princess said...

Heidi and Rosa (and others who suggested that I write stories) - you are really nice to say that! I always wonder if people really are amused and inspired by what I write. Having this blog has really opened up a lot of opportunity to share, and it makes me extremely glad that people really do want to read it - not just for the photos and J.Crew stuff but for the writing. Thank you! I will continue to write here and will think about what you said!

3-Penny Princess said...

Cloggsy and Emmy - thanks for the compliments on the clothes and photos! It was fun for me to go back through the old photo album. I'll need to do it more often!

Cloggsy - thanks for sharing your stories as well! Can I just say that the Birkin is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment? Bravo on that score! We must celebrate on the town with it. When are you coming up again?

Slastena said...

Such a sweet story, and pictures just add their own timeline to it. Your mom is very beautiful and it's beyond fantastic that she is here with you and for you. I have lost my mom early on to terminal cancer and miss her more then anything in the world.
On a happy note, I am absolutely delighted to hear stories like yours and have to tell you you look spectacular in all your transitions- from preppy to whimsical to sophisticated. Such apleasure to know you, I can ony hope to meet the 3-PP Queen IRL one day!:)

Lady Jane said...

First time here and wanted to tell you what a lovely post this was. I love how yout pictures with the story!

RedCurlGirl said...

what a cute post! i loved it!

Francesca said...

3PP, I so enjoyed reading about your style evolution and your mom's fashion influence. She sounds like a fun lady to shop with! I have similar memories of my sartorial evolution with my mom.

By the way, if the "At what point should over-25 women wear their shorts?" debate ever comes up again, don't ever doubt that you can rock a pair of those short-shorts! You look great in those pink ones! It inspired me to hunt down a pair of the papaya Frankie shorts (I have the slate pair which I LOVE!) and yes, I'm over 40 and still wearing them!

3-Penny Princess said...

Slastena - Thank you so much for your sweet thoughts! I am really sorry to hear that you lost your mom early. So many of us take our mothers (and other family members) for granted that it's always a poignant reminder that their relationship with us is truly a gift. I hope that out of your tragedy you have been able to find more meaning in your current relationships and that motherhood will be a very special experience for you. On a lighter note, I will definitely let you know when my mom is in town again for a visit!

3-Penny Princess said...

Lady Jane and RedCurlGirl - welcome and thank you for your nice comments! I am really glad you liked the post and the photos!

3-Penny Princess said...

Francesca - Thank you for your sweel compliments about my shorts! Yes, I've become strangely infatuated with the shorts and shorter skirts lately, whereas before I have to admit I was pretty hesitant to wear them. It's forcing me to walk more so I can keep my legs in better shape! And congrats to you on the Frankie shorts! They are so comfy, aren't they? I will be reviewing them (and other shorts) shortly.

I'm also glad that you were able to relate to my story. It's also great that you are able to finally able to take the best of both and develop your own style. Thanks for sharing!

3-Penny Princess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
3-Penny Princess said...

Oops, I meant "sweet" compliments!:)

gigiofca said...

I *so* love the photos! And when I saw the pic of your mom rocking her white jeans, Target necklace and other cuties, I laughed out loud. You both are so cute. Thank you for sharing a part of your heart & your mom with us!

Needs Help said...

Love this post! So cute!! Glad you've branched out with your wardrobe :)

Alexis said...

Love the family photos and the post! Thanks for sharing!!! :)