There are many ways we find inspiration in how to dress: social media, magazines, movies, and people on the street but often there is one person who is somehow a guiding influence over many years and despite fashion trends. For me, that person was, and remains despite her passing, my maternal grandmother: July 31, 2016 would have been my Nanan's one hundredth birthday!
Here she is on the left of this photo with her older sister. When this photo was taken, her father still owned several textile factories in Peterborough and Leicester UK. Her mother was trained as a concert pianist but was mostly at home caring for her family which also included my Nanan's brother. My Nanan was bookish and quiet as a child but did well in school, loved sport especially horseback riding and cycling, loved poetry and beautiful clothing, and was an excellent dancer. She wanted to attend university but like many young woman of the time, was discouraged from doing so. By the time she was a young woman, her father had sold his factories to own a pub and become a publican in his 'retirement'. It was working behind the bar that she met my grandfather who was a young RAF officer and they married one week after the start of the war.
From her hairstyle, I am sure this photo was taken during the war when she was a young mother. Despite wartime shortages and rationing, she was soon known for her skill at entertaining and dressing herself and her young family. After the war, the family moved to Dublin, Ireland where my grandfather opened a business. As a child, I remember my mother telling me of how her mother had stylishly decorated the houses they had lived in with paint and slipcovering of outdated furniture. Her outfits were always noticed. Even when she stepped off the airplane that brought her home from her mother's funeral in 1948, her picture was taken and published by the Irish Times. It upset her that a photo was taken of her deep in grief but she was pleased that even grief did not detract from her style. She loved clean lines without fussiness, interesting but wearable shoes, and simple but dashing hats. She knew exactly what suited her and, more importantly, what did not. She never wore much make-up but enough to always look well-groomed. Lauren Bacall was the only Hollywood star that I remember her admiring.
When I was a young child living on what was then the Queen Charlotte Islands and is now known as Haida Gwaii, my grandparents also moved to the islands. My Nanan opened a woman's dress shop in a fairly modest and slightly rustic building they had purchased. She stocked it with mostly Canadian made garments. Canada had a thriving garment industry at the time although most of the names have been lost to history. I do remember that she would buy some of her stock at Marjorie Hamilton's showroom in Vancouver. The photo above shows the detail of a necklace in my collection and one of my Kay Silver dresses. I am not sure that she stocked the Canadian designer Kay Silver but this garment is very much in the spirit of what I remember being in the store.
Here is a full length shot of the dress. The fabric is a beautiful cotton with an embossed piqué effect. As the daughter of a master jacquard weaver and textile mill owner, I know that she loved great fabrics. I remember walking by Fluevog and Fox shoes in Gastown with her on a shopping trip in Vancouver when she no longer had the clothing store. I am fairly sure that she would have loved my Fluevog sandals as they are beautiful and well crafted with a slight eccentric flair which was also found in her shoe collection. She also loved great leather work: this Fossil handbag that I found at the thrift store has the equestrian details and tan colour that would have appealed to her.
My Nanan did not have a large jewelry collection. At a fairly early point in her life she realized that she had a nickel allergy so that even a gold wedding band was unwearable. When I was a teenager, she gave me her Majorca pearls which were very good quality man-made strings. After closing her dress shop, she opened up a bookkeeping service and government agency where fishing licenses could be purchased and provincial auto insurance renewed. She also made space for a few imported items like teas, soap, and baskets as well as local artists' work. Most of this artwork was Haida but she also featured some other islander's work. This cuff style bracelet was hers and she was able to wear it as it is lined in copper. I find that it is a piece that works with almost anything I would want to wear it with.
My Nanan also loved a good hat! This hat is made by the Canadian company Parkhusrt out of paper straw which works very well for this simple shape. The company also has a knitwear division and she likely carried some things made by this company. I have memories of her hats but I don't remember which hats she had in the store but I do remember that she carried Vera scarves. I have some of the scarves that she gave to my Mum.
Whether inherited or nurtured, I am so thankful to have had her style inspire and guide me.