6 Timeless Style Rules I Learned From My Grandmother

My grandmother is the most stylish woman I know. It is ultimately because of her that I work in fashion, it's because of her that I don't know how to get through the day without changing my clothing at least once (for better or for worse), and it is because of her that I'd rather spend my grocery money on shoes. All of that said, though, what she also taught me is that style is an innate feeling — a gene to be cultivated — and not synonymous with a price tag. While she introduced me to the Parisian runway icons, timeless greats, and wardrobe essentials that you will pass through familial generations, her lessons have made everyone who looks to her as mentor a five-star deal-finder as well.

It's true that I consider her closet my personal heaven and I could surely play dress-up with her vintage fashion collection for hours on end (and have definitely been known to do so on occasion . . . ), but it's her lessons on style, more so than the individual pieces that fill her apartment, that have stuck with me the most. And it is those tidbits of advice that I have taken with me into my own (decidedly less-impressive) closet. It's getting there, though.

Though my grandmother would more than welcome a lunch date on the subject of style with every reader of this article, I'm sharing my favorite tidbits and stylish life lessons from my personal fashion icon in a slightly more accessible forum ahead.


If the shoe fits, buy it in every color.

Ok, maybe not every color, but you get the point. Did you find a pair of shoes that you absolutely LOVE in tan? Do they come in black, too? Don't think: buy them. While your wallet may not thank you at the time, your wardrobe surely will. And isn't that what's most important? True, I've had a recurring nightmare (or shall we call it a dream?) since I was little that I would wind up living in a cardboard box, surrounded by nothing but my shoes, but it's the style-loving sentiment that should be driving you here. In short? Go ahead, stock up on a rainbow of your favorite t-shirts, sweaters, and jeans . . . don't let the good ones get away.


When it comes to bags, always go for the unexpected.

I'm slightly obsessed with my grandmother's vintage bag collection. While I'm still plotting a way to adopt some of her most classic bag styles (I've already volunteered to babysit them when they're feeling neglected, though I'm not sure she will ever take me up on my offer . . . ), most of her bags stand apart from the crowd. Whether it's an unexpected shape, color, or fabric, nearly every single bag in rotation is one I'd bet few have ever seen before — which brings me to her next lesson . . .


A great bag instantly elevates any outfit.

I'd like to think she didn't have my personal rarely-seen-not-in-denim style in mind when she offered up this particular nugget, but I'll take it all the same. Whether you're wearing a ballgown or boyfriend jeans, you'll be able to totally fake pulled-togetherness with a great bag. And it is with this piece of style advice that she forgave my decision to wear a striped t-shirt to our last dinner . . . because I was carrying my latest Mark Cross sample sale score. Bottom line? It's all about (fashionable) distraction.


High-low dressing is essential.

Among Christian Dior dresses designed by the couturier himself and Yves Saint Laurent coats that transport you to Paris in the 1960s, my grandmother boasts equally as much of her proud finds from Zara and J.Crew alike. To her, it's not about labels, it's about what works. The most important lesson in mixing high and low, though, is that it's about your personal style, which is somewhat of a mantra for her. It's about taking someone else's creations and truly making them your own. Don't be afraid to style that beautifully tailored blazer with a fun sequin mini or mix a black-tie skirt with a clean white t-shirt. She's even been known to reconstruct designer pieces to her liking, depending upon her fashionable mood. The possibilities are endless.


Go for the inexpensive sunnies.

While she will always support a splurge-worthy goodie, my grandmother will rarely be seen in designer sunglasses (and it must be known that she counts this particular accessory among her year-round wardrobe essentials). Sunglasses, she insists, are just too easily lost or broken and not worth the investment. While this piece of advice stems from the memory of leaving a pair of day-old designer frames in a taxi cab decades ago, it's one she vehemently insists upon and (sadly) a voice I have in my mind every time I lay my eyes on a pair of retro-shaped Miu Mius.


Buy less, but better.

While many are of the school of thought that your closet should be a massive collection of separates that, while they may not last forever, do the job in a chic way right now, my grandmother is the exact opposite. Invest in that amazing jacket that's going to last you decades, not months. Splurge on the pants that are tailored to such perfection that they're going to be in rotation for so long that the silhouette has gone in and out of style seven times and you still know they'll make you feel like the best dressed person in the room. Go ahead: spend your rent money on that bag — just once — and you'll want to take better care of it than your own child. I promise, it'll be worth it.