The beauty of sewing your own clothes is the unlimited creative freedom in putting together your own style. Part of the reason why I started sewing was my disillusionment with trying to hunt out my style of clothes from a fairly monotonous selection. Finding clothes in high-street shops is made all the harder by the fact that I handpick inspiration from a variety of eras, not usually reflected in current fashions.
After a few questions about the source of my style, I thought that it would be a good idea to introduce a series of running posts that feature my most prominent fashion role models. Today, I’m celebrating the unique style of – the little-known – Little Edie Bouvier Beale.
Little Edie is in part known for being the cousin of Jackie Onassis Kennedy (a fashion goddess in her own right). But following a scandal in which health inspectors declared the Bouvier Beale mansion ‘Grey Gardens’ uninhabitable, Little Edie was herself thrown into popular attention. In 1975, the Maysles brothers – two documentary makers – decided to make a feature about the eccentric and reclusive life lived by Little Edie and her mother (appropriately named, Big Edie) in their dilapidated and decaying mansion. The resulting film, Grey Gardens, is a poignant and revealing insight into the lives of these two women, dealing with a reality in which “it’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.”
Little Edie in her youth
One unexpected consequence of Grey Gardens was the sudden position of Little Edie as something of a fashion icon. Watching the documentary, it’s clear why. Little Edie is a woman who marches to the beat of her own drum entirely. Her style reflects this.
Due to the onset of alopecia in her twenties, Little Edie spent much of her life without any hair. As a result, Edie adopted her signature headscarves – a defining feature of her fabulous look.
Little Edie’s life at Grey Gardens, poverty-stricken and centred around looking after her elderly mother, ensured that her style was a pick-and-mix of past eras. As Edie herself says of her wardrobe:
“My costumes? That’s a protest against having worked as a model for the Establishment, believe it or not. A lot of models feel that way. Sometimes their lives are protests against having worked as models. Besides, I didn’t have time taking care of mother to get out and buy any clothes. So I used what was left of mine and mother’s in the attic.”
Little Edie’s style is perhaps best known for the fabulous vintage headscarves, fastened with gorgeous vintage brooches. This is such an easy detail to recreate. Grab a silk (or polyester) scarf, pop it over your head, and fasten at the neck with a brooch. I have a variety of brooches – some vintage, some vintage-inspired. Really anything works.
Little Edie also inspires a love for faux fur (although I’m sure that her furs were real, please AVOID). I was hugely drawn to my new coat because of the faux fur edging, reminding me of Edie’s gorgeous looks.
Edie has inspired modern designers. Marc Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi have both created garments based on Edie’s unique style. For a quick look at her most inspired ‘costumes’, see ‘Little Edie’s Top Ten Outfits from Grey Gardens’.
Taking this all back to sewing, it is easy to find patterns that allow for a recreation of Edie’s infamous style. One of her classiest looks is a long-sleeved shirt worn underneath a simple shift dress. Decades of Style’s Given A Chance dress would be perfect to recreate this sleek look. Sew Over It’s Cowl Neck dress would also work really well.
One of my absolute favourite looks sported by Edie is her amazing one-piece bathing suit.
To recreate this look and create a wearable, versatile piece, take a look at Sew La Di Da Vintage’s Margo 70s Playsuit. I’ve yet to make up this pattern so I can’t vouch for its ease of use – but the finished product certainly looks fabulous!
I love Edie – for her imagination, optimism, and general resilience. She is a role model for more than her style. Find a free 90 minutes and watch Grey Gardens to discover this relatively unknown icon.