A Fashionable Age

May 05, 1994|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Sun Fashion Editor

You've seen them, mother, daughter and granddaughter out for a day of shops and lunch. They have clothes in common. With some allowances for size and proportion, chances are they're wearing similar outfits -- shorts, jeans or stretchy pants, an easy top and comfortable shoes with some zip.

It's a fairly new picture for the women of the family.

Fashion today has relaxed the conventions which bound generations of women to "dressing their age." Grandmothers show their knees and wear strappy sandals, mothers shop funky boutiques and sis wears sophisticated black to her seventh birthday party.

They've come a distance from the time that had grandmothers laced into sensible shoes and corsets, mothers buttoned into gloves and modest frocks and little girls starched and pressed into being seen and not heard.

Those starched little girls are grandmothers now, and this Mother's Day, their gift packages are just as likely to contain hot, stretchy workout wear as a frilly, romantic blouse.

Mothers, young and old, now have freedom to move and experiment with fashion, the same freedom they encourage and foster in their daughters.

That independence starts early, says Joanne Manna, who teaches children's wear design at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. "Girls at the age of 2 are dictating what they want, and those decisions are supported by mother and grandma," she says. "Children are in tune with what's happening in the world. They know fashion. Think about the 500 catalogs that come to the home each day. Children check them out and some of the more precocious kids are ordering from the catalogs themselves."

Designers, too, have blurred, if not totally erased the generation fashion gap. Consider the top trends of the past two years. Last year's hot look was the long granny dress worn with laced-up granny boots. This year it's the baby-doll dress worn with little girl Mary Janes. That's bending the age bracket. Variations of the same can be found in kiddie designer departments -- all geared to different figure types and budgets.

How does a baby-doll dress translate for three generations? Sandy Hunter, who designs in girls sizes 7 to 14 for Bryan Industries, says her biggest task is in not making the design look too young, a concern common to little girls and their grandmoms. "Little girls want to look older, they don't want to be babyish." So they are getting kid versions of the junior version of the designer version of the baby doll. "This season's baby doll for girls has the flowing rayon look you see in juniors and misses. Darker prints, ecru and ivory lace rather than the crisp white trim." For mothers, it may mean extra length and more sleeve.

"It all filters up and down in many ways," she says. "The dresses we see in fashion magazines are out there for girls. Even in Tulsa, Okla., which is our home base, the fashionable moms are dressing daughters in the same way they dress themselves. Scaled down yes, and sweeter, but still in the fashion."

Petite and energetic Harford County grandmother Jennie Paolino, 67, says she is now dressing along with her daughters. "The daughter who is closest to my size will go through my closet and borrow clothes. My other daughter, Sandy, will borrow shoes. That didn't happen in my day. Grandmothers today don't dress like they did 30 years ago."

Daughter Sandy Morgan, 37, remembers her mother wearing those unnaturally bright polyester pull-on pants outfits and snap-front housedresses in the '70s -- a far cry from the slick suits and separates her mother wears now.

Twenty plus years have done wonders for mother style.

Ms. Morgan admits that she's the flashy dresser in the family. "I trade shirts with my daughter which we can both wear, but our sizes are not a match. Even so, she's more conservative. I may shop at Merry-Go-Round for something clingy. She shops at Macy's. She'll wear jeans, I'll wear Spandex pants. It's a role reversal, we're on different wavelengths, I'll show my stomach and she wouldn't."

Her daughter, Danielle Eckelt, a 16-year-old senior at Joppatowne High School, says she get's a kick out her mother's spirited style. "Some things we agree on and share, but her taste is definitely wilder." For her prom Danielle bought a black dress with a criss-cross strap effect on the back. "My mom would have chosen something shorter and flashier," she says.

Let's hear it for moms with a rebellious streak -- and shop accordingly.

We shouldn't, however, forget the sentimental offerings. Claudia Thomas, owner of Thomas & Daughters in the Village of Cross Keys, specializes in the pretty and traditional feminine gifts.

"Daughters are dressing older, and mothers are dressing younger. No one wants to be bracketed into an age time frame," she says, "however, I would love to promote traditional things from the past. Young women are modern and nowadays they have to be, but they shouldn't forget where they came from, the tradition, the history. What we use every day should please and give us pleasure."

A reminder that both lace and Lycra have a place in mother's wardrobe.

ON THE COVER

Styling by Suzin Boddiford

Hair and makeup by Jill "Blue" Turnbull for Etches Salon

Dress and all accessories from Nordstrom

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