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The Maude Squad 

Our tribute to Harold’s gal, the ultimate granny-chic icon

Wednesday, Mar 29 2006
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I met my granny for the first time in October 2004. She lives in São Paulo, Brazil, in a bullet-riddled cement block in a neighborhood called Wobbly Frog. And like all Brazilian women, she looked hot.

She’s nearly 90 — yet there was something daring about her knee-length stripy wool socks. An elegance to the way she tucked her silver hair inside a brightly patterned knotted head scarf. Nothing she wore matched, yet she was far from dowdy. Her mix of garish greens and mustard yellows, her wools and her nylons — those things to me spelled insouciance, quirkiness, an innocent joie de vivre. That moment marked the beginning of my appreciation for “granny chic,” the frumpy-is-fabulous style that makes it cool for youngsters to rock visors, gloves, brooches, netted hats, string pearls, alligator handbags and face-eating glasses. And don’t forget the Kleenex. Never forget the Kleenex. Because the key to granny chic, the thing that separates it from plain vintage, is practicality. Grannies wear their knickers big and their shoes orthopedic — and they don’t give a damn.

The phenomenon was spawned, some say, when Prada found its new muse — old Italian peasant ladies — and fashion entered what Vogue would dub its “senior moment.” Skirts skimmed the knees, and youthful celebrities sported fashions that wouldn’t have looked out of place in their nanny’s closet. The Olsen Twins wouldn’t leave the house without their long string pearls or oversize beads. And remember Christina Aguilera’s Norma Desmond–esque head wrap? In 2004 Katie Grand, the British über-stylist working with Prada and Miu Miu in New York, announced the new crop of style icons: Margaret Thatcher, the Queen of England and TV detective Miss Marple. (And if you’re a guy, it’s Sherlock Holmes — time to dig out Grandpa’s houndstooth and pipe.)

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Some say that granny chic is a backlash against the hoochie-mama-show-me-more-skin/Paris Hilton celebutante phenomenon. They call it a return to modesty. Maybe it’s no coincidence that in a time obsessed with aging, dressing like seniors has become de rigueur among the youth. Either way, now it appears we are entering the second wave of granny chic, as announced by Vogue last month. “The new granny chic is all about appliqué and eyelet. Spring’s catwalks have been flowing with clothes apparently made from tablecloths.” Marc Jacobs, Chloe and Dolce & Gabbana sent their models mincing down the catwalk in pristine eyelet lace — “broderie anglaise” — and linens.

The new senior styles are, according to Vogue, more elegant than before. Looking like a curtain may be their fresh and dainty new take on granny garmentry, but frankly I’m a purist, a fan of the old-skool granny who, like Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude (the ultimate hot granny), looks sexier than hell in her musty faux furs, sagging stockings and clashing nylons. Echo Park stylist Charon Nogues, who rocks the AARP chic better than anyone I know, agrees, and came up with the following recommendations on junior-senior fashions for 2006:

If you’re going granny, your trouser should always be high-waisted and wide-legged. “Grannies don’t like things clinging to their pendulous bodies,” says Nogues. “And the high waist makes your legs appear longer and your ass smaller. Think sailor pants.” As for materials, it’s rayon, rayon, rayon all the way. Buy a cloche — a small 1920s felt hat that clings to the head, kind of like a skullcap. “Mark my words, that’s gonna be a hot item,” says Nogues. Basically, any hat with a feather or a veil says elegant granny. Don’t forget wide-brimmed gardening hats for the summer. The 1920s, 1940s and 1970s are key decades when you are putting together your granny-chic look. “Those eras celebrated bold patterns and simple construction. And the best part is, you can mix and match the decades to come up with a totally original granny ensemble.” Good pairings are ’20s with ’70s styles, or ’40s with ’70s. 2006 granny-chic hair is all about the finger wave — the Marcel. Think Charlize Theron at the Oscars, or Christina Aguilera of late and Maggie Gyllenhaal all the time. “The Marcel is a classic hairstyle that lends itself to granny chic if you wear it with a cloche, a big sweater and some clumpy shoes,” says Nogues. If you are going for the Palm Springs granny look, then a visor is essential (Prada put their models in visors and saggy gray stockings for a recent ad campaign). The truly committed should buy BluBlockers, preferably purchased from QVC. As for colors, always go bold and primary. Red-orange is hot right now, and green is a granny perennial. It doesn’t have to be putrid algae green — think crocodile green, avocado green . . . But the key to making granny chic sexy is to always wear garters. And here’s Nogues’ insider secret — buy designer tights and cut them off at the top. “The better made they are the less likely they are to run,” says Nogues. At night, you could try a little silk chemise worn beneath a kimono, à la Maude. And keep a boy toy in your bed at all times.

Lastly, remember granny chic is not just fashion — it’s a way of life. While we’re not suggesting anyone wear Depends or carry mothballs, you should at the very least brush up on your granny lingo (it’s not a dress, darling, it’s a frock), watch British soap opera Coronation Street (character Hilda Ogden, who was always in a pinny, curlers and head scarf, is a granny-chic icon across the pond), and whatever you do, don’t forget the Kleenex . . .

Reach the writer at caroline@carolineryder.com

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