I love love love the new Beauty and the Beast movie. One of the best parts, of course, is the Beast’s library, so I wrote “Belle Would Be Enchanted by These 10 Lovely Libraries in Hotels” for USA Today 10Best.Read All Entries
It’s a total shock to the system the first time you realize your mother had a life before you were born.
So you can only imagine how my sister and I felt, at ages 7 and 10, when we were grocery shopping with our mom one afternoon and were stopped in the cereal aisle by a nice-looking man who looked up from his cart and said, “Edith?” My mom smiled, greeted him enthusiastically and introduced him to us as someone she used to work with. “She was a cute tomato,” he grinned, and I can’t tell you anything that happened after that because I was transfixed by those words.
CUTE TOMATO? My mom was a cute tomato? [Read more…]
Many of you were inspired by our interview with Piper Weiss about her book and blog, My Mom, Style Icon, and Lois’ tribute to her own cute tomato of a mother. We will be posting these submissions periodically so feel free to send stories and photos of your own moms to us at email@example.com.
First up: Maria Elgar’s Mom, Style Icon
My mom, “lovely Rita,” is a very glamorous woman. These shots were most likely taken around 1965. In those days, she made a lot of her clothes. We were living all over the world – Hong Kong, Greece, Athens and Manilla (where she modeled, and was the only American girl).
Inspired by the fashions and looks of the ‘30s and ‘40s, her style icons are Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth – for whom she was named.
Mom was a model and an actress. Brilliant and beautiful, she became the first female muni bond trader on Wall Street circa 1970.
Okay, you have to get this book because it will make you see your mother in a whole new way. My Mom, Style Icon is Piper Weiss’ ode to the women our mothers were before we came along. Based on her fantastic blog, it’s filled with incredibly personal photos and stories submitted to her by sons and daughters all around the world. It has so inspired me, that I’m going to write a piece about my own mom this week. (Mom, if you have any objections, speak now!)
Read what Piper told me about her mom, other moms, and even her dad! She is so warm and funny, and the kind of woman you feel is already your friend.
I have to tell you I gasped when I first looked through My Mom, Style Icon because I really thought you had gotten hold of some of my old photos! The book feels so personal, so intimate, I want to keep it with my own scrapbooks — I know these women! Tell us how you discovered your mom was a style icon, and how she inspired all of this.
Thank you! I have a bit of voyeuristic tendency. I grew up in New York City peering into other people’s apartment windows day and night, which may be when I first realized how close you can feel to some people you’ll never meet. They can kind of become a part of your family. Meeting all these incredible women through the eyes of their proud kids is especially wonderful. We all come with our unique experiences and maternal relationships but there’s a unifying thread: we’re all in awe of our mom’s untold or unexpected histories.
It all started when I found my mom’s old photo album from the late ‘60s in my parents’ place. We have loads of family albums, but these photos were just of her early 20’s, before we were a family. It was her personal history, not all of ours. Looking at those photos sent my imagination going. I had so many questions for her and she had so many spectacular answers. Her style in particular struck me because it was so experimental and unique. It was so ‘60s and yet exactly the type of clothing I’d been coveting without knowing it was retro. I was shocked that we both wanted to present or express ourselves in the same way without knowing it.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about your mother from those old photos?
I was surprised by her extensive travel and the random guys in the photos. Not even guys she dated but just met on trips she took with her girlfriend. My mother was a bit of a travel warrior. She hitchhiked, she’s in photos in a tank surrounded by Israeli soldiers. In another photo she’s on a camel. She looked so natural and never surprised by her surroundings ever. In a word: cool.
How did your image of her change as you found more pictures?
She always been special to me but I had this vision of her being introduced to me as a peer, and what it would be like. And I realized I’d probably be a little intimidated and want to be her friend.
Why did you decide to devote a whole blog to the idea of moms as style icons?
I first posted the photos because I wanted my friends to see them and I knew the only way that would be possible would be to scan them at my parents’ house. I uploaded them onto a blog because then I had the idea that it would be cool to see my friends’ moms’ photos. But I had no idea that’d I’d end up with moms from around the world. I feel very lucky and grateful to everyone who’s shared their personal archives.
What was your mother’s reaction?
She’s loved it. She signs her emails to me “style icon” now. It’s also allowed her to more freely give “constructive criticism” on my looks. Not that I don’t need it. I do. But I’m still resistant to offered advice. Hey, I’ll never grow out of parts of my inner-teenager.
How has your relationship changed?
We’ve definitely grown much closer. We understand each other more. And I’ve so appreciated her being a part of it and so cool with it. There were certainly times when I thought I was pushing it by putting a photo of her in a bikini on the internet. But true to her photos, she’s a bit fearless. I love her.
What was the initial response to your blog? How did you feel to learn that your feelings about your mother were so universal?
The initial response was radio silence. I sent the photos to my friends who loved my mom but nobody had their mom’s photo or a scanner. When I started to realize it had a wider reach I just wanted to spend all day looking at photos and getting more in.
I’ve always had a passion for things past. Growing up, my favorite thing to do was look at ‘60s and ’70s rock photos. I’ve also always been interested in (sometimes crazed by) the complicated relationships between moms and kids, the way we see them vs the way they see themselves. It’s gratifying to find a niche and feel like you’re not alone in your obsessions.
I thought it was so touching when you were talking about the submissions that came in from around the world, and said, “While the countries, eras, and fashions varied, the subtext of the submissions was the same: awe.” That makes me teary! What are some of the most memorable stories women have shared with you?
One of my favorites was submitted by a son whose mom had passed away. He sent me a photo of her at her sixth wedding. She looked so much like Gena Rowlands or a woman in a Hitchcock movie in the late ‘60s, I wrote him back to ask if she was famous. Turns out her life could have been an epic movie. The book has her story as told to me by her son, but here’s a teaser: She met her last husband in AA after he’d just gotten out of prison. She and her son were very close, and he carried on her work as an addiction counselor. I wish I could have met her. And I was so moved by the stories her son told of her and how beautifully he told them. Another favorite is a photo submitted by Susie Felber, a hilarious writer whose mom was best known as a prodigious romance novelist. Susie shared her unique style and how it crossed over into the characters she created in her books. There was a mom dancing to American music in the former USSR at an underground dance party. And another mom playing hookie from Catholic school. One of my favorites was a photo of a mom in a cowboy hat (this is on the blog, not the book) looking straight at the camera. All her daughter wrote in the email was “this was my mom in her lover’s cowboy hat.” That was a loaded line. I loved it.
What makes this book so special is that it deserves a place both in The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on the shelf of a psychologist’s office! Which part of it has been most rewarding to you?
Oh my god. I love you. I’m just going to be using that as a pull quote on my website starting now. Definitely the worldwide connection with strangers, and even those passed. I get to meet so many more people than I ever would have — but through the image of their moms. It’s an intense introduction that’s so special. Old photos also really make you think about the arc of life. Looking at photos of moms falling in love or at their wedding as if the story ends there, and then finding out they remarried. Lives are much more complicated than a photo but when a memory is burned into one square, it’s all kind of contained. Looking at the photo, you can appreciate its beauty. But you also have that overarching knowledge that things will change even if the woman in the photo doesn’t know that. It’s totally hokey, but that’s why people love flowers too, right?
So, is there a My Dad, Style Icon in the future?!
I do have a site called Don’t F— with Dad. It’s less about style, and more about, well, balls. I’ve received some great photos of dads who are not to be reckoned with, even if they’re wearing ridiculously humbling outfits. But ultimately, I’d like to open up a whole different subject. Not sure what yet, but some ideas are percolating.
Read Lois’ tribute to her own mom as style icon here!