Scott Schuman's shot: La mode and memories

One of the most expressive of all Scott Schuman's street shots ran this week on his blog, The Sartorialist, drawing comparisons to Robert Doisneau and, I thought, Lisette Model–though unlike some of Doisneau's most-known shots, this one was not posed.

Did you ever, in your youth, draw the appraising gaze of an elder? 

I remember my mother's friends looking appalled at my braless state and once, in church, a stranger walked over and draped her coat over my minidress, her mouth a pinched seam of disapproval. 

Now that you're older, do you regard the more exuberant and expressive youths with approbation? I sometimes have to remind myself not to stare, but I hope my expression is neutral to admiring. 

If not, I try to wear sunglasses!

Last week, I was in a boutique when a little punky girl of seventeen came in, all studs, graffiti'd moto, copious piercings and fuchsia hair. Her look was not really new, in fact quite retro, but she carried a great beauty under that hard shell, a face of timeless grace.

She had been transfixed by the Les Néréiades necklace in the window, dripping with crystals, beads and flowers. 

When she put it on over her slashed tee, she transformed not into an ubiquitous Katie Holmes clone, but into her next, singular self. She bought it, murmuring that she had never spent so much on any item of jewelry, but figuring she would "wear it for life".  

I had a sense that the hardcore costume was near the end of its shelf life, that she would transform her style very soon. Equally interesting was the way she adroitly negotiated the price, securing a 30% discount by politely asking to talk to the owner after the bored salesgirls brushed her off. Ah, I thought, brains and beauty.

Youth will ever extend and provoke our sense of what's "appropriate". And though we may no longer essay the bolder effects of these aware young women, they are reminders to resist generic blandness, even as we assign higher priority to comfort and value.


Anonymous said…
Great post Duchesse! I also hope my look is neutral to admiring :) I do take it all in with a determinedly open mind. Cathy Wong
Kristien62 said…
Before tattoos became ubiquitous, I would find myself staring and probably frowning. They are not my taste, but I have learned to appreciate the art when done well. A stunning young woman serving in a Boston coffee shop caught my eye last winter. Her hair was edgy, but beautiful and the entire effect of dark clothing, dark eyes and pale skin was mesmerizing. She really was a beauty. Nothing that I could pull off, of course, but I could imagine her evolution into a stunning older woman.
Susan B said…
That's a wonderful photo, and a great commentary.

Blogging (and reading other style blogs) has actually opened my mind a great deal to individual expressions of style, even when they differ a great deal from my own. I'd much rather see someone young who is "out there" experimenting with expressive style, than someone who seems to be doing everything they can to wear the "right" labels.

materfamilias said…
This is a wonderful post, Duchesse. I have my own instance of such clear disapproval, a friend of my mother's who found my very early '70s platform shoes (bought in London, England and loved passionately), offensive enough that she gave herself permission to be rude. Speaking across me to my mother, on the couch, she said, "Don't you just think these clunky shoes are the ugliest things?" I won't say I put hand to heart at that very moment and swore I'd never do the same thing, but nearly . . . So often, I think, envy or even just sadness at youth long gone, is behind a look such as Schumann caught. Far more rewarding to enjoy, to catch a little reflection of that exuberant play with style. (I think your daughters-in/out-of law/love are lucky women!)
Anonymous said…
I think young people need to experiment to accomplish their own true style . It seems rather sad to see lovely , fresh young women going down the designer / logo route . As a young girl i felt those things were for the 'oldies' , we wanted young street style . So I applaude the quirky ones -wendy
I love seeing the "fashions" of the younger generation. Although they're often not what I would ever wear, I'm always interested in what they put together and how they express themselves. I liken it to "trying on" different personalities until they find who they are.
Beth said…
Mainly want to comment that I too loved that photo on The Sartorialist and thought it was one of his best, if not THE best, I've seen on his always exemplary blog. Looked at it for a long time.
Beth said…
..and p.s., great story about the punk girl and necklace! In the 70s I too drew disapproval for my braless state, too bad!
Oh I can almost see this young woman as you have described her so well...what a lovely coincidence to be in the shop at the same time.
My long hippie style hair brought on much consternation by elders in the family who called it caveman hair...they thought it long enough that a caveman could drag me off to his cave!
(it never happened!)
Marilyn said…
"And though we may no longer essay the bolder effects of these aware young women, they are reminders to resist generic blandness, even as we assign higher priority to comfort and value."

Well said, Duchesse! And could I add that this thought applies to more than just we choose to wear...
sisty said…
That photo reminded me of the famous one of Sophia Loren sizing up Jayne Mansfield's cleavage -- same expression.

That's a darling story about an obviously darling girl!
Jill Ann said…
Love the story. I've always been pretty judgmental about what people wear, I admit. But I have come to realize that if everybody dressed in ways that I approve, the world would be a less interesting place!

I do find it interesting, and a bit puzzling, that my own daughters (ages 19 & 20) dress more conservatively than I did at their age. Neither one would wear the braless halter tops that I did! Although they are bustier than I was then, so maybe that's for the best....

Anonymous said…
What a marvelous story, and thoughtful commentary. So important and rewarding, isn't it, staying openhearted to beauty? We took the daughter of a friend out to dinner recently when visiting her city. She arrived at the restaurant, windblown and fetching, a little kerchief tied I-Love-Lucy style around her short hair. She looked like the sweet bird of youth to me.

Duchesse said…
Cathy: Sometimes I burst into a wide smile but gigure that's OK.

Kristien62: She sounds like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

unefemme: I admit to being far more judgmental when I see women my own age, especially of the "eccentric/arty" genre. With youth I am far more tolerant. Hmmm, thanks for helping me realize that.

materfamilias: There is something else behind that comment, the failure to see the young person as someone deserving of respect. I recall my grandmother saying to my mother (in front of me) "She hasn't got very much on under that", but it was friendlier than your mother's friend's tone.

Wendy: Ah yes, I remember that, and you gave me pause to think when exactly did logos become so intensely desirable?

Sandy: They can also change their look in a flash; it's fascinating.

Beth: It seems that we both l conformed;)

hostess: Well the bungalow, though not a cave, is a very comfortable, cozy retreat ;)

Marilyn: I had my children later in life; they and their friends bring in so much vitality and new perspectives. Grateful for that.

sisty: This shot!

The two were rival actresses so I think a little different dynamic and I suspect "are those real?"

Jill Ann: Perhaps it is their form of rebellion?

C.: You evocke the charm and unwitting glamour of youth. Some are artless beauties and some, like the Milanesa in the photo, are more recherché.
Eleanorjane said…
I am not that old and reserve the right to be judgemental about people displaying more than I want to see. Just tonight I walked past a girl wearing transluscent leggings who (hopefully) didn't realise that she was showing her leopard printed underwear to the world. At least she wasn't wearing a g-string (I've seen that before too, and I wish I hadn't!).
LPC said…
What a lovely story.

And yes, I try to stay open to youth and its ways, as much as possible.
What I can't figure out is what the older woman could find to reproach in the younger woman's outfit, which seems rather elegant. Surely not short skirts - the elder has lived through the original minis in the 1960s, 50 years ago. Jealous? Or a bit racist?

I try not to look at very heavy, dark tattoos, thinking (this ages me) what on earth will those look like in 20 or 30 years?

One thing that got me was a young man, whom I highly doubt was from Montréal, going to a corner store in pyjamas... Just ignored him.

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