13 Times My Grandma Was More Stylish Than I Could Ever Hope to Be

I will never, ever have the outfit-building instinct and style confidence that my grandmother never failed to display, not to mention I don't have access to many of the beautiful vintage pieces of the decades she lived through.
Publish date:
February 27, 2015
grandmothers, vintage, glamour, outfit inspiration

More than a few times, I've been told that I have a pinup-girl look; that with my buxomness and beauty mark, I should've been born in a different era. As much as I love vintage style and take that as a compliment, though, I've never been one to wish I'd been born in an earlier decade. I mean, sure, women got to live through some enviable fashion trends throughout the 20th century, but I wouldn't trade our sociopolitical progress for the chance to hang out in the '50s. It blows my mind that my maternal grandmother was born only one year after women got the right to vote in the U.S.

That said, Grandma Bea didn't seem to let anything hold her back from living a pretty awesome life, and that included dressing like a street-style blogger's dream, even though that was a thing that definitely didn't exist. I've written about her before because anyone who was essentially the Jewish prequel to Sophia Loren and Dolly Parton deserves a kabillion articles highlighting their awesomeness; and this is yet another one, due to the fact that my mother recently scanned hundreds of old family photos and sent them to me on a thumb drive that I regularly leaf through in awe of my grandmother's style throughout her adult life.

And with that awe comes the stark realization that, even though I'm not inept when it comes to dressing myself, I will never, ever have the outfit-building instinct and style confidence that Grandma Bea never failed to display (not to mention I don't have access to many of the beautiful vintage pieces of the decades she lived through). But that doesn't mean she can't serve as inspiration to me — and to you.

I'm pretty sure my obsession with puff-sleeve sweaters was borne of this late-1930s photo of my grandmother in her late teens. I am constantly looking for knits like this, and I love how she wore it with what appears to be a multi-strand necklace. Her might-be-cropped-length slacks reveal that she was wearing flats with a wrap-around ankle-strap — OVER SOCKS. And it looks CUTE! I literally have no idea how to wear socks.

In this early-'40s photo of Grandma Bea with my grandfather, Rufus, she's wearing the greatest plaid skort romper I ever did see — and perhaps the only plaid skort romper I ever did see. I probably wouldn't wear this to the beach, but I would wear it absolutely everywhere else, including weddings, funerals, and job interviews. (Also, please note that my grandfather is wearing socks with shoes on the sand.)

I have no idea if this robe-like thing was intended to be worn outside the home, but I absolutely love the wrap style, stripes-and-floral print combo, and contrasting cuffs. I can't tell if she's wearing wide-leg pants or a maxi skirt, but I would argue that it looks fabulous either way, especially with those two-tone shoes.

"Strapless linen jumpsuit with ruffled sweetheart neckline and checkered newsboy cap" doesn't sound like an outfit I'd sign up for based on description alone, but seeing my grandmother wearing it in this picture with all the poise in Queens makes me think twice.

Once Grandma Bea became a mother, her style actually became more flirtatious. It wasn't unusual to see her wearing a sexy bathing suit with heels — or in this case, open-toe, ankle-strap platforms in which I would surely tear multiple ligaments.

If you saw this woman walking down the street in her midi-length black dress, high heels and hood-scarf thingy, would you not think she's a movie star? COME. ON.

My name doesn't start with B, I don't wear cap sleeves, and my grandmother was smaller than me in this photo, but I would give almost anything to have the monogrammed sweater she's wearing here. I especially love how it looks with the black midi skirt and heels.

Speaking of heels, I don't remember my grandmother wearing anything but, so I'm not surprised to see her wearing them in photos that predate me — even ones like this, where she appears to be hanging out in a windy parking lot wearing a leopard-print bathing suit and teal button-down shirt. I never would've thought to pair those things, let alone wear them with a white pointy-toe pump, but I'm nothing short of obsessed with this "outfit."

Have I made it clear that my Grandma Bea saw swim-wear as an opportunity for glamour?

In the early '70s, both my mother, left, and Grandma Bea had clearly mastered the fitted-sweater-with-super-wide-leg-pants thing, but I really have to give it up for my grandmother: The two-tone sweater, patterned pants, and belt she seems to have stolen from a superhero really take this look to the next level. (Sorry, Mom. Love your jewelry in this photo, though. Did you keep it? *hint hint*)

Come the '80s, my mother and I obviously succumbed to trends, but my grandmother kept it classic with a black dress and piles of gold accessories. THIS is how you dress to attend your step-granddaughter's high school graduation, am I right?

Grandma Bea never stopped treating pools like runways, even into her 70s. By the late '80s, she'd taken to tropical sarongs and turbans — and though you can't see it in this photo, she was definitely wearing heels.

As she neared the end of her life, nothing made my grandmother happier than using fabric paint to personalize clothing. In the photo above, she's standing next to one of her award-winning creations (who knew they gave awards for that stuff?) while wearing one of her masterworks. Although I may not want to wear these particular pieces, I have to hand it to Grandma Bea for having unabashed personal style.

Is there a member of your family who has/had enviable style? Do you ever look to old family photos for fashion inspiration?