Films for the Fashion Adventurer: ‘Grey Gardens’

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Grey Gardens

Directed by Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Muffie Meyer

1975, USA

Costume Designers: Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale & Edith Bouvier Beale

No journey in adventurous fashion choices is complete without a trip to the decaying East Hampton mansion where the Beales make their home. Little Edie in particular has a chaotic and yet completely realized sense of style. Head wraps, bold patterns and daring textural combinations are all a staple of her everyday wear. Form always rules over function, and a sweater could easily be a skirt or head-scarf in Little Edie’s world. Her costuming had a whimsical sense of play, reflecting her perfomatory nature.

The film veers a very fine line between celebration and exploitation: it seems you feel that these two women are off their rockers or merely eccentric iconoclasts. I personally side with the latter opinion, as the two seem to cognitively orchestrate the direction and action of the film. Little Edie’s pontification on gothic literature in particular arises multiple times as she seems to guide the Maysles towards a particular narrative structure.

There is an undeniable air of paranoia in the way Little Edie says “You know, they can get you in East Hampton for wearing red shoes on a Thursday… Do you know that? They can get you for almost anything”, but it is also a self-reflexive commentary on her life choices. The same applies to the way she explains to the camera her new outfit (a towel held together with a brooch as a head scarf, a swatch of brown fabric held together with a safety pin as a skirt and pants underneath). Of course, the flexibility of the outfit is stressed when she says insists that “you can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape. So I think this is the best costume for today.” Little Edie’s fashion is in her mind, a means of escape and ultimate self-expression.

The Beales, in particular Little Edie, have been cult fashion icons since the film was released in 1975. In recent years, there seems to be a revivalist interest in the Beales as characters and designers. Numurous fashion editorials have been inspired by them (like the Italian Marie-Claire pictured below, photographed by Wendy Bevan) and last year, there was the TV movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange based on their life and relationship.

Justine Smith

The fashion adventurer is someone who takes risks and is not afraid to draw upon a variety of influences and cultures in order to create the perfect style. This list is designed for those who have already seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), those who are ready to move into the depths of the under appreciated and obscure world of filmic fashion. This list will focus largely on the 20th century, with maybe a dip or two into post-modern fashion adaptations of the distant past.

Please note that this list is not in any particular order.

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