My mom on the left, me on the right.
I have always liked clothes. They give us all an opportunity to express ourselves, make a statement, and have fun. However, I wouldn’t say that I am particularly into the fashion you see on runways or in magazines. While “fashion” usually is about trends, I believe that “style” is about personal taste. I would say that my style is pretty classic and modest, nothing too funky or trendy. But, there is always a hint of retro going on.
While I don’t subscribe to trends often, there are a few that I can definitely get on board with, and hope stay around, such as: sustainable fashion (investing in well-made clothes, instead of cheaply made clothes that you need to replace often) and repeating outfits (even the Duchess of Cambridge is doing it).
Some trends become classic and timeless, making an appearance in generation after generation. Think “little” black dress, etc. Like families, fashion grows through each generation. Some trends stay, some fall by the wayside. Some make an appearance again. It is a cycle. The constant reinvention of style, through family culture and history, is what has really made an impact on fashion today.
As my mom was preparing to giveaway some of her clothes that she had been saving, I realized, being the sentimental person that I am, that they actually were kind of “in.” Many of the iconic pieces from this Fall Fashion Season, like menswear for women, 80s style, and autumnal coloring, were just sitting in my basement having not been worn for years.
So, I rummaged through the bags of clothes and found some absolute gems with meaningful stories behind them. Once I had pulled out my favorites, I asked my mom about each piece, and got to know her, my nana, and my great-grandmother better. It was a special way to feel connected. And it has been even better to wear each piece, knowing I am wearing a piece of my family’s’ history.
Instead of going out to buy another piece of clothing “made in China,” I can wear a vest made by my Nana, specially made for my mom when she was younger. Or, I can wear my great-grandmother’s swing coat, in “millennial pink.” Or, I can adorn my right ring finger with the beautiful and elegant engagement ring my grandfather, who I never got the chance to meet, gave to my grandmother, who I am named after.
All this came together, to create a blog post on how to wear some of your mom’s or older family member’s clothes from the past. I’ve included some instructions on the best ways to wear the pieces, why the pieces may be relevant today, and the stories behind the particular pieces I am wearing.
Fashion comes and goes, but like family, style is as personal as your DNA.
In a world where we can feel so disconnect from others, take the chance to physically connect with your family history by wearing pieces made and worn by your family. In your family’s closet you may find your new statement piece, iconic jacket, or holiday get-together outfit, that couldn’t be more “you” if you tried.
Shoulder Pads -> Symbolic of Changing Gender Norms:
Pair the shoulder pad top with tight fitting pants or a skirt, to emphasize the difference in size between the shoulders and your hips. Make it futuristic with some pleather and some kick-ass heals (that you borrow from your sister!).
With all that is going on culturally/politically for women, #ImWithHer Presidential Campaign, the #MeToo Movement, and more women taking on leadership roles in corporations, women are having a broader impact on society. And, we need the broader shoulders to match! I predict that these “woman spreading” tops will make a big comeback, or at least I hope they will!
Family Story: My mom bought this top in 1987 to wear to work with the black pleated skirt, seen below. At that time, everything had shoulder pads.
Oversized blazers -> Menswear for Women:
You could wear a jacket like this as a piece of outer-wear or as a fashionable jacket. Pair it with tight pants to show the difference in size between your shoulders and your legs. Add a little pocket square for fun! You might need to ask a man in your life if you can borrow one.
Menswear for women is very “in” at the moment. And so are the scotch plaids and houndstooth patterns. While this double breasted blazer is not as big as Lady Gaga’s most recent super-oversized suit, I hope it makes you just as powerful.
Family Story: It’s my mom’s blazer that is actually part of a suit. She bought it in 1987, when she had just finished her Master’s Degree in International Economics, and was working at BLS. It’s a working-girl look!
This outfit feels the most everyday “me.” I’m in my infamous Banana Republic, black, 5 pocket, sloan fit, pants, and also my gold flats that I have re-bought over 8 times and a plain, black turtleneck sweater. The blazer jacket gives it a more studious look, and adds some color.
Camel, what a wonderful Fall and Winter color. While this blazer was not as oversized as the one before, it was just a bit too big. In these cases, you could either get the suit tailored, or you could just wear it large. That’s up to your personal taste!
Family Story: My mom went to visit my uncle in Paris in the Summer of 1983. She got the fabric at a “la-di-dah” fabric store on the Champs-Elysées. With this camel hair fabric she made herself a blazer. No shoulder pads were included!
Wool Vest -> Menswear for Women:
Look at the colors making up the vest and play up one of the colors, by wearing a shirt or sweater of the same color underneath. Try doing the same thing with the pants color that you choose. If the vest is not a tight fit, keep the buttons open and wear it loosely.
Oversized pieces of clothing are not usually my style. However, oversized is very “in” for women. I think it has a lot to do with emphasizing the differences between the female and male bodies. So, when you are wearing oversized clothing that makes your shoulders or chest area appear larger, juxtapose the look with something feminine like a hairstyle, make-up look, or jewelry.
Yearbook photos from when my mom taught art. Note the vest and the matching skirt in the left photo.
Family Story: My Nana made this vest for my mom when she was teaching art at a high school in New Hampshire in the early 1980s. There was a skirt that goes with it, that my mom actually made, but has unfortunately been lost. But, you can see it pictured above.
If you find a vest that matches pants you already have, wear a bright and almost opposing color sweater or shirt underneath for a bolder look.
Similar to what I have said before, when wearing something that has a masculine flair, add in the contrast of a feminine piece. With this look, it is a more masculine look up top, so going with some heels on the bottom adds some feminine playfulness.
Family Story: My Nana made this vest for my mom at the same time that she was making the vest above. I particularly like the fun buttons, which my mom picked out. They are pewter, with a Celtic design to them. Good to know my mom has had the same taste for a long time.
Long Pleated Skirt -> Midi Skirt:
Wear a sweater or shirt that is a similar range of colors (red vs. pink) but still bolder. Wear some fun, dangly earrings to emphasize the “long length” of all the pieces.
Midi skirts have a retro vibe to them. And, they always look best with some high heels. While women don’t have to be as modest about showing their legs as they had to be in the past, there is something so sweet and girlie about wearing a skirt this long. It would be a cute piece to wear for a day-date.
Family Story: This skirt has never been worn. In fact, I actually found it with the tag still attached. It turns out that my mom had bought it right before she found out she was pregnant with me. Sorry, mom!
With black bottoms, you can wear almost any color for a top. Do you want to go for a warmer look to pair with gold, or a cooler look to pair with silver? Again, jewelry completes this look.
Family Style: My mom liked this and wore it with the first top on this post. This informed her decision to get the pink skirt, pictured just above.
Tribal Print Dress -> Boho Chic:
With a very busy patterned dress like this, it is best to play it simple. Go for shoes that match (or are close to) some of the main colors. Pair with “dainty” jewelry, since the dress is so intricate.
Boho is so “in.” And, I honestly want nothing to do with it; it just isn’t my style or my taste. However, I did like the autumnal coloring and pattern of this dress. It would be a great dress to wear to a family gathering or event.
Family Story: This was my mom’s and she bought in late 80s. She liked the tribal print to it as well, though it definitely stands out from most of her other clothes, which gives me the hint that maybe my mom and I have similar personal styles.
High Neck Blouses -> Office Sophisticate:
With a top that covers the collarbone and arms, you can afford to show a little leg. Adding a black pleather skirt to the look modernizes the top, which has puffy sleeves and a crocheted lace look.
While lacey-looks have been fashionable for a while, I usually find they resemble some sort of lingerie. This crocheted lace has more of an “everyday-look” to me, rather than the going-out look of most lace outfits. In fact, I even liked the flowers, which had a bit of a hippy vibe.
Family Story: This is the top that is in the featured picture. My mom got this especially for her senior year college yearbook photo.
Since the sleeves of this blouse were so loose, I paired it with some flared out black pants too. Some cute studded earrings would look great with a high-necked blouse.
Wearing a blouse or shirt that is loose and covers your neck almost completely to work looks very sophisticated. While women don’t have to be as modest nowadays, a fashionable top that shows a lot of personality can be just as fun as any other top you have in your closet.
Family Story: This top goes with the black oversized blazer pictured near the beginning of this post. My mom used to wear this to work, when everyone got a little more dressed up for work than they currently do.
Swing Coat -> Joan Holloway In a Woman’s World:
Like most “oversized” pieces here, I like to pair this coat with tight pants and some funky/modern looking boots, to contrast the 1940s modest look of this coat.
This is a Spring coat so it is not the warmest coat as it doesn’t button down to the bottom, but it is so cute. The color is fun, and is what some nowadays consider “millennial pink.” I love the style of this coat and hope we see more of this cut in the future.
Family Story: This coat is actually my great grandmother’s coat. My mom remembers when she was little sitting in her lap while her grandmother wore this very coat. We think she bought this in 1941 when she was going to my great uncle’s ordination. Later on, my mom wore it when it was in style in the mid-80s and overheard people on a bus commenting on it. (Pink was in at that time as well.)
Crocheted Beret – > Wintery Cute!
I would just feel silly trying to inform you on how to wear this cute little hat. Wear it anyway you’d like!
Last winter, I remember seeing everyone in pom-pom hats. Hopefully that continues to be a trend because I love the style and look. It’s just positively cute!
Family Story: My great uncle took a group of people on a tour to Ireland. While he was there, he visited some cousins in Limerick and brought back crocheted hats that a cousin made for my mom and her sister.
Black Beret -> “I’m Cultured”
Make sure to wear the beret a little off to the side of your head.
The beret is a pretty timeless look. I’ve seen people for years wearing these hats all over the world. While they may not be as warm as a beanie, they still do a pretty good job during the winter of keeping your head warm.
Family Story: My mom actually used to call these hats “Tams.” So weird! But I discovered that a Tam o’Shanter is a flat hat, like this one, that men wear in Scotland, so the name reflects my Celtic roots. My mom used to wear Tams when she was a schoolgirl.
Rings in particular usually have a sentimental meaning. In fact, just this weekend I learned that one of my best friends wears her mom’s push present as an everyday ring. She happens to love rings and the meaning behind the gift is special to her. It was a fun coincidence, as I was working on this post, to hear about how family gifts get passed down.
Left ring: my Nana’s adjustable ring. Right ring: my Grandmother’s engagement ring.
For me, I have two rings that mean something special to me. The onyx with diamond chip ring, pictured on the left, is my Nana’s ring. My mom thinks my Grandpa gave it to her as a birthday present. It has a vintage vibe to it and luckily has the ability to be tightened or loosened depending on the wearer’s finger size.
The ring pictured on the right is actually my Grandmother’s engagement ring. My Grandfather, whom I never got the chance to meet, gave it to my Grandmother when they got engaged in the 1930s. After my Grandmother passed away at 100 years old, and as the granddaughter named after her, I got the chance to wear it, and decided to wear it every day. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ring actually fit my finger perfectly. I wear it on the right ring finger as a little reminder of her.
For men, I know some who have inherited rings as well as watches that are very meaningful to them.
Make sure to keep these items safe! While they may have market value, the sentimental value is worth so much more.
You never know what you may find when rummaging through your family’s attic or basement. You may even be surprised to find, as I did, that my style was not just personal to me, but rather a shared “family style.”
Remember, if pieces don’t fit, you can get them tailored. Some pieces might also need to be dry cleaned and stitched because of all the wear and tear over time. Make sure to check with the person who is currently holding onto the piece, to ensure it is okay to wear it.
Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of asking about the stories behind the pieces. Our parents most likely didn’t shop at as many clothing stores as we do now, and often made their own clothes sometimes. Knowing my Nana sewed a piece I am now wearing gives me a sense of connection to my past. It makes a piece more personal in a world full of impersonal and meaningless material clutter.
Trends come and go, but family is forever.
Be sure to comment below with some items that you wear from your family members!