Posts Tagged ‘Chronicle Books’

When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco on the occasional Sunday afternoon my father and I would drive to Chinatown, park (because you still could), and walk around looking in all the shops. The stuff in the stores was fun to peruse but I was more captivated by the older Chinese people I saw strolling along Grant Street and the unique way they dressed. Their style was was bold and bright – mixing patterns with checks, layering unexpected color combinations such as red with yellow, and sporting something like my Mary Janes but made from black fabric (they looked so cute and comfortable).

Fast-forward quite a few years and not only is Chinatown style still thriving (with a new generation of older people), but we have a recently published book on the subject by photographer Andria Lo and journalist Valerie Luu, Chinatown Pretty: Chinatown’s Most Stylish Seniors (Chronicle Books, 2020).

As second generation Asian Americans, Lo and Luu have a shared fascination with the clothing of poh pohs (grandmas) and gung gungs (grandfathers) in San Francisco Chinatown. Curious about the people behind the clothes, they began to approach individuals on the street and ask how they put their outfits together. “The Chinatown seniors’ dress and demeanor,” the authors explain, “also reminded us of our own grandparents – their permed hair, their sock-and-sandal combinations, and the way their expressions could switch between extremely tough (and intimidating) and overwhelmingly affectionate.”

Their interest turned into a book, which covers six city Chinatowns – SF, Oakland, LA, Chicago, Manhattan, Vancouver, BC. – and dozens of stylin’ seniors. The people are as varied as the clothing with ages ranging from 60 to one woman over 100. Most immigrated decades ago from China or Vietnam, and they have worked as seamstresses, gardeners, store clerks, vendors, accounts, and social workers. Each person featured shares a lot or very little of their story and the authors say that 90 percent of the people they approached declined to be photographed or interviewed.

A theme among those featured was that their style is unintentional. They just wear what they have, some of it vintage, some hand-me-downs or purchased on sale. “At my age we don’t care about fashion,” says Show Chun Change from Vancouver Chinatown. “We just wear what’s comfortable.” How it’s all put together is more of a practical consideration, such as layering to keep out the cold. One gentleman had hand stitched several hats together for warmth and another used safety pins to close a buttonless vest, which made for a very cool look. I love that their style came from their ingenuity. (See slideshow.)

Several among the group do dress with intention. Anna Lee is in her 90s and immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 1989. She worked as an accountant and a social worker and although now retired she still enjoys dressing well in her custom-made dresses, high-waisted pants, and silk blouses, all accessorized with beaded necklaces she makes herself. (See first picture in slideshow.)

Another woman’s more artistic flair reminded me of the Advanced Style set, a group of older women in NYC who have become style superstars thanks to photographer Ari Seth Cohen. Dorothy G.C. Quock (called Polka Dot), 75, was born and still lives in SF Chinatown and works as a tour guide there. (See picture nine in the slideshow.) Growing up, Polka Dot spent a lot of time where her mother worked as a seamstress at the sweatshop that manufactured Levi’s:

As a preschooler, she got her first experience trimming thread ends. In second grade, she learned how to use an embosser to stamp the Levi’s logo onto the leather tag. At age ten, she mastered the buttonhole, which appeared on Levi’s before zippers became the norm.

I enjoyed the glimpses into these people’s lives and I also appreciated that the authors included a brief history of each of the six Chinatowns.

Chinatown Pretty is a fun read, a visual treat, and important documentation of an overlooked segment of fashion history.

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My Mom Style Icon by Piper Weiss. Image courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Writer Piper Weiss never knew her mom was so cool, until one day while digging around in her mother’s closet she discovered a 1960s crochet belt. (A retro look Piper had been searching for in vintage shops.) Amazed that her mother, Marilyn, ever owned something so hip, she dug some more and began asking questions. She heard stories about parties in the West Village, world travel, and gentlemen admirers. Piper realized her mother led an exciting life before becoming a mom, and she did so with great style. 

Inspired, Piper found photos to go along with the stories and started a blog, which eventually included not just her mother but photos and stories of other moms.   
Now we have a book, My Mom, Style Icon (Chronicle Books, 2011), based on Piper’s blog of the same name. The book presents 200 photos of everyday moms from around the world, Texas to Moscow, living their lives and dressing with flair.
Submitted to Piper by proud sons and daughters, each photo includes a paragraph telling where and when the photo was taken and who this woman was – student, traveler, model, performer, wife, and of course, Mom. The photos date as far back as 1925 and up to the 1980s. The book is nicely formatted and divided into sections. It’s a visual treat, but there is no shortage of content. Piper includes an introduction, tales of her mother, and a little fashion history.
It is both fun and touching to look at all the pictures and read about engaging women, including a jazz singer in San Francisco and a fashion publicist in New York. One mom was a model and the sixth wife of Norman Mailer. Another was a fashion illustrator for a Philadelphia department store. There are car enthusiasts, rebels, and trendsetters. Moms in gingham, leather, maxis, minis, hats, gloves, wedding dresses, date dresses, and bikinis. Women under the radar, but just as inspiring.  
As a proud daughter of a stylish mom, what I like most about this book is that it honors women who haven’t stepped one foot on a red carpet. In contrast to celebrities and celebrity-wannabes, there’s something really appealing about the ordinary mom, who in fact is pretty darn extraordinary.

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