In the pantheon of influential fashion movies, you'll find iconic films like Bonnie and Clyde (berets and maxi skirts), Cabaret (sexed-up sequins), and Annie Hall (menswear chic). While we adore these glamorous and trailblazing cinematic treats-and yes, there are countless others-in our hearts, one documentary trumps them all: Grey Gardens. Unlike the aforementioned silver screen gems, this morsel of cinema vérité didn't have a wardrobe department or a costume designer, yet the real-life looks are spectacular and unparalleled. Instructive too: apparently truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's also dressed in a more inspirational way!
If you haven't seen the original 1975 Grey Gardens, we must urge you to rent it immediately. Directed by Albert and David Maysles (the brothers also shot Monterey Pop and The Rolling Stones' Gimmie Shelter), the film takes an insider's look at the life of Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale. The duo came from a blue-blood background-they were Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' aunt and first cousin, respectively-but by the time the Maysles turned up, they were living in squalor. Eccentric and notorious, the Beales resided in a decrepit East Hampton mansion and were essentially penniless. Dressed in Jackie's cast-off clothing, they co-habitated with 25 mangy cats, turned the attic into a cafeteria for raccoons (the menu: stale bread), and fought with each other vociferously. Yet despite this True Hollywood Story-style situation, the outrageous pair are charming, intriguingly attired, and absolutely fabulous.
The Grey Gardens story is so shamelessly rich, so ripe with theatrical possibilities, it's really shocking that it existed for 30-plus years without being fictionalized in film. Now, finally, Hollywood's taking a crack at the legendary mother-daughter duo with HBO's original movie, Grey Gardens, which makes its small screen debut on Saturday, April 18th, at 8 p.m., starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. We've heard the costumes are incredible; it's definitely worth checking out!
Though we've yet to see HBO's version (or the Broadway musical, for that matter), we can only hope that it showcases the Beales' standout sartorial flair. There's much to spotlight: for example, in the documentary, Little Edie is never seen without some sort of scarf wrapped around her head, usually pinned in place with a twinkling brooch. Always ingenious in her wardrobe interpretations, she spends much of her time on-screen showing off new ways of wearing her clothes: a skirt becomes a cape, a sweater turns into a turban, diamond earrings are worn as shoe embellishments, and so on. Big Edie was festively dressed too, though she was primarily fond of oversized hats-big brimmed, brightly colored-and strapless muumuus for sunbathing on the deck.
We saw glimmers of the Beales' style on the spring runways, specifically at Dries Van Noten and Nicole Fahri, and found lots of wonderful products with the same transformative spirit. Read on for all the details and more suggestions on how to add a little Grey Gardens-esprit to your own wardrobe.
ABS Strands of Gold Necklace ($250)
Though the Beales were living in impoverished grime when the documentary was filmed, they once were part of society's upper crust. Accordingly, Big Edie had some gorgeously ornate heirloom jewelry, while Little Edie liked to rock a statement brooch. Of course, vintage diamond jewelry is rather pricey and pins aren't particularly popular, so rather than find exact replicas of their signature pieces, we chose a delightfully dramatic gold-and-crystal necklace instead. The multiple gold chains and chunky rhinestone accents would have undoubtedly appealed to the Beales and we approve of its luxe look too.
Milly Ruffle Blouse ($225)
We like to imagine Little Edie's formative years, when she was a debutant and living on her own in Manhattan, trying to make it big in show biz. That time in Edie's life took place in the late thirties through the mid-forties, so we found this sweetly retro blouse as an ode to that era. The lovely golden-chartreuse silk would help an aspiring actress stand out from the pack, while the ruffled shoulders lightly reference our current runway trends.
3.1 Phillip Lim Sarong Skirt ($342)
One of the hallmarks of Grey Gardens is a do-it-yourself style sensibility. Little Edie got creative with her clothes on a regular basis, transforming things like a too-small skirt into a serviceable item by wearing it upside down (the bottom hem is gathered and fastened to her waist with pins.) This sarong-style skirt from 3.1 Phillip Lim shares this casually creative sensibilities; just wear it with a body conscious top for a true Edie look.
Guerlain Terracotta Bronzing Brush ($46)
While the tattered fur coat is a Grey Gardens staple, we looked to another dependable reference for our next item: the sun. The Ladies Beale spent an inordinate amount of time on their deck, wearing swimsuits or muumuus, taking in the rays. We'd never advise you to court wrinkles (and more), so instead we'll recommend this technologically advanced product from Guerlain. The beauty brand updated their highly touted, beloved bronzer and created this foolproof tinted gel-to-powder formula with a built-in brush. All the glorious color, none of the skin damage-hooray!
Maje Idalia Aboriginal Print Scarf ($135)
Even if you have no intention of wearing one on your head à la Little Edie, we had to include a print scarf in today's product roundup. After much deliberation, we honed in on this pale gold and chocolate brown silk scarf from Maje (the label's our fixation du jour). The striking design will elevate a simple jeans-and-t-shirt or act as an excellent accompaniment to dressier fare.
Charlotte Ronson Helena Sling Back Platform Sandals ($180)
The footwear in the documentary's footage didn't wow us, so instead of giving you a stocky pair of white pumps, we decided to go a different route. These canvas-and-cork slingbacks have a moderately chunky heel and a slight platform, ensuring that they're just as practical as they are stylish. They will lend themselves to flag dances, certainly, and can be dressed up or down with ease.
Anika Tierney One-Piece Swimsuit ($178)
Our final item in today's Grey Gardens-inspired story comes from an unexpected place (Brazil!) but it definitely embodies our muses' spirit. In fact, the second we saw this striking rich-red maillot, it was obvious that we'd found a suit Little Edie would love just as much as we do. It seamlessly blends retro glamour (the bombshell color) with modern style (the flattering cut), plus the print-scarf halter offers a subtle riff on Ms. Beale's accessory of choice. All you need is a copy of Zolar's It's All in the Stars ($40) and a warm summer day and you're set!