Most women who talk about appreciating a progenitor’s style are speaking about a mother superior: one who takes you to grand department stores and buys you skirts while dissecting your social circle; one who finds you little earrings, or the perfect fall coat, or handbags, or sweaters that make up Christmas; one who calls you when they see a killer jacket in a shop window and tells you why you need it; one who lets you borrow her Chanel flats when only the real thing will do.
But in my house, this mother superior has always been paternoster. This isn’t to say my mother isn’t stylish. She wears really charming costumes–and they truly are costumes. She has hats to wear to horse races, an opera coat to wear to the opera, a barn coat to wear when she sits outside in the morning to watch the sunrise. That she rarely goes to horse races or the opera is irrelevant, and besides, she says, you could see a barn if you crawled up on the roof on a clear day. I’ve always found the way she’s inspired, if not riveted, by themes to be charmingly old world.
If my mother is in revolutionary costume, my father’s style is an exercise in the elegant uniform. He’s a maestro of the dad style: a drolly rote regimen of khakis, a white oxford, and a sweater with Church’s loafers. When he’s having dinner with someone, he’ll exchange the sweater for a blue blazer. When he’s at work, his suits are all perfect. The whole thing is a great lesson in tailoring, a primer on looking polished without drawing attention for being so. For a daughter, it’s the sartorial equivalent of a dad tossing the football with his son.
Dad style is no high accomplishment (unless you’re not a dad, I suppose). My father’s trick is that he knows when to go a little nuts. He loves neon sneakers. Sometimes he’ll wear a red sweater and grey slacks with neon green sneakers–much more street style on Crosby than golfing in chateau country. The sweaters he wears with his daily uniform are knitted fantasias: llamas clomping up a mountain, lobsters drinking martinis, and many in those wild neon shades. He is also mad about capes. I believe he has five or six capes, in tweeds and waterproof cotton and one for black tie events. Sometimes he wears a cape with a touring hat and looks like he’s solving a crime committed with a candlestick.
He also knows how to talk about style. Too often, a conversation about style turns into a comprehensive bore. People are always making stupid pronouncements that sound like the spoutings of a robot who hasn’t yet been deprogrammed: “I love a cigarette pant.” (Sure, but I’d rather you love a cigarette.) My father gets in quick and closes the book. “The preppy thing never goes out of style,” he’ll say as he gives himself a final once over in the mirror. “Now what do you think the polio outbreak means for Syria?”
Perhaps his finest lesson is that it’s no good if you have to be serious about it. Last Christmas, he appeared downstairs in black velvet trousers embroidered with lobsters, topped with a red cashmere blazer. It would have given NYFW peacockers a run for their money. Except that he looked at my mother and I said, in total self-deprecation, “Do I look like a fashion plate?”
Here are some of our favorite “progenitor fashion looks,” courtesy of Advanced Style: