Usually style icons are a bit like the late day sun—blinding and larger-than-life as they invade the horizon, casting impossibly long shadows which tangle with every step you take. Even if you’re the furthest thing from a fashionista, you can’t escape their influence, and if you’re the teensiest bit susceptible to trend-fever, you’ll risk melanoma to bask in their glow. They tend to be celebrities, with the minutae of their clothing, hair, and accessory choices obsessively tracked by the media, and with the contents of their wardrobes prone to showing up in museum exhibits and at elite auction houses. They organize the collective unconscious and fine-tune its menu of persona options as arbitrarily as Mr. Blackwell’s lists, and when, intentionally or not, you channel a style icon as you get dressed in the morning, chances are a sizeable number of people (not necessarily in your age, ethnicity, or gender bracket) are doing the very same thing.
Of course, if you’re very, very lucky, you’ll be well-acquainted enough with a style icon to regularly enjoy Maxwell House-scripted seders, the world’s best Thanksgiving split pea soup, December 25th Broadway shows, and rambunctious annual multi-generational gatherings (like this weekend’s) with one—not because the events alluded to above were paparazzi-stalked, society column fare, but because you happened to have married said style icon’s son.
Yup, Mom, all this has been a staggeringly terse preamble to your official 80th birthday tribute, a celebration of your unfailing, one-in-a-million, impeccable-but-never-predictable sense of style, which I began taking copious notes on long before you stopped scaring the living daylights out of me. (Guess it’s high time I ‘fessed up: The reason you had so much trouble prying conversation out of me as a newlywed was that I’d never met someone as tall, elegant, and bold as you, and quite simply, every time we were alone together in the same room, I would panic and go mentally blank.)
It took me almost a decade to grasp the extent of your kindness, intelligence, and commitment to your family, and a couple more beyond that to recognize the incredible variety of ways in which you’ve been my role model, in matters ranging from how to choreograph a world-class simcha to how to approach aging with 1) an intrepid Bronx accent and 2) mind-boggling grace.
Your uncanny failure to age the way people are supposed to (which led a friend who met you during our New Mexico years to ask whether you were Jordan’s sister or his mother) is the natural starting point for this photo essay, since no one has figured out yet whether it’s the result of your hitting the ultimate genetic jackpot or your principled, lifelong opposition to exercise. Here you are with Dad in the early 90s, surrounded by your kids and their families at your surprise 40th anniversary party. Note that, while the rest of us are blotches of nondescript, shadowy color topped by a slightly more defined face, you are the indisputable focal point of the composition in your crisp black and white tunic and amazing frosted hairdo.
Just in case you—or anyone else—thinks your exuberant smile, your regal carriage, or your ability to inject a shot of drop-dead color into the drabbest snapshot has fluctuated over the years, here you are at 15 years old, in 1944:
Even this totally black-and-white photo from the following year shows your knack for high-impact color contrasts—a winter white jacket with dark box purse, shoes, and long gloves:
And here you are, four years later, the sophisticated shorter length to your hair a perfect complement to your glamorous attire (voluminous-sleeved fur chubby, hat the size of a holiday platter, trumpet hemmed skirt, and what appear to be ankle-strap shoes):
I love the way the train of your wedding dress is pooled around you and Dad, the ivory satin folds and frothy spills of lace lapping at your legs, which are hidden somewhere underneath all that lustrous fabric. (I know you gave me this dress to sell in my shop, but I’ve decided to hang onto it till your granddaughters are married, just in case, and admire the dozens of buttons climbing the sleeves and back in the meantime…):
Here you are on your honeymoon in Florida in ’51, in a crisp white shirt, wide trousers, and leather cummerbund with dramatic buckle that makes the “statement” belts of the 80s look like wannabes in comparison (and, BTW, Hepburn’s got nothin’ on ya):
Another shot from the honeymoon, showing how effortlessly you carried off the New Look silhouette, again setting off your white or cream-colored dress with sheer, dark wrist-length gloves (let me digress here to gape at Dad’s gorgeous tie, and wonder if you bought if for him…?):
What a terrific coiffure you whipped up (pun intended!) to work in Dr Ginsburg’s office:
And it’s hard for me to accept that this was shot not on the French Riviera but in Far Rockaway…
Another gravity-defying feat you somehow pulled off was managing to sail through pregnancy without much visible effect and then, after giving birth, immediately reverting to your former size: