Jul 24, 201409:58 AMAn Element of Style
Inspiration can occur in the most unlikely of places and at the most unexpected time. A few days ago while strolling around midtown Harrisburg, I came across a seemingly abandoned house from the late 1800s. I had often admired its wild and unexpected beauty while driving past in a car, but this was my first time within its proximity as a pedestrian. My viewing of this charming yet somewhat dilapidated structure brought to mind one of my favorite films, the Maysles brothers’ 1975 Grey Gardens. This off-beat documentary chronicles the live of an eclectic mother-daughter duo. Former members of high society, these odd yet winsome ladies dwelled in a ramshackle mansion in New York. Their unusual story has long been the topic of social controversy and an inspiration to those who wish to create style.
Distant relatives of Jackie Onassis, a far more popularly celebrated fashion icon, Edith Beale and her daughter (also named Edith Beale) present a distinctive and unusual example when it comes to the topics of both life and personal clothing preferences. Living together in isolation and reclusion brought about a number of odd changes to the Grey Gardens estate and to the women who dwelled within. The house itself, once a stately mansion of elegance and luxury, fell into extreme disrepair with the additional nuisance of a raccoon infestation. Upon watching the documentary, one can clearly see the visual defects upon the structure itself and the items within. Random items clutter the hallways and unused portions of the house, holes and crumbling plaster pepper the interior walls, and vines and foliage grow rampant across the front yard and gables.
In the same way as the physical estate of Grey Gardens bears an air of forlorn and dysfunctional beauty, the Beales (known affectionately as “Big Edie” and “Little Edie”) are symbolically wilted roses from a bygone era long passed. Formerly quite the fashionable pair of ladies, the Beales are most famous for sporting an odd conglomeration of rather questionable garments. Throughout the film, “Big Edie” is typically seen wearing brightly colored and unflatteringly loose fitting clothing items, topped with her signature wire-rimmed spectacles and often a floppy striped sun hat. “Little Edie” is famed for her prominent love of headscarves, which she wore due to baldness induced by illness. Festooned with lavish costume jewelry brooches, these head coverings were often creatively implemented with other objects of clothing such as blouses or sweaters. “Little Edie” also had a penchant for wearing swimsuits, leotards, tights and her iconic oversized brown fur coat.
Although these physical aspects of the Beale ladies and their estate are undoubtedly intriguing, their mental attitude provides the greatest inspiration. From a realistic point of view, “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” are two extremely odd and possibility mentally ill ladies who spend their days shut up in a house that’s not fit for human living. But they are happy. What we may consider to be a weird and undesirable way of living, they considered normality. During the documentary, the Beales are generally cheerful and in good spirits, both possessing wit and intellect. They may have customary mother-daughter arguments, but they both possess a mutual and genuine air of care and affection for each other.
We can learn from their self-confidence and fearlessness. “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” truly did not care what other people think of their lifestyle or personal decisions. They were happy with their zany wardrobe and zany selves. If these two women could fabulously revel in a dilapidated state of clutter, then it should be no great task for us to step out of our comfort zones and throw caution to the wind concerning the judgment of others. Too often, we hold back in our personal self-expression in who we are and how we dress for fear of ridicule from our peers. All it takes is confidence. Be yourself. And be free.
To check out photos of the ladies from Grey Gardens, click here.