What One Of My Grandmother's Vintage Shirts Taught Me About My Own Style

by Shelby Ying Hyde

Once news broke about the Coronavirus-related lockdowns taking place, I decided to stay put, not wanting to risk exposing my at-risk family in Indiana to the disease. To cope with the physical distance between us, we've relied on lengthy video chats and care packages to stay connected. There are the normal inclusions, like cold medicine and snacks from home, but one parcel contained a surprise: my grandmother's favorite blouse. It was one of the few things I requested after she died, as it represents three different generations of style in my family — my mom and aunt had both worn the shirt in their heyday, be it for a job interview or a night out — and here it was, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment. The irony of the shirt finally falling into my possession when we seemed further away than usual is not lost on me. But it did, however, get me thinking about the origin of my own sense of style and the three women that influenced it.

I had what some would consider an unconventional family unit growing up. In addition to two very supportive parents, both equally present in my life, I was blessed with an entire village. While most of my friends only saw their extended family during holidays and special occasions, I had the privilege of my aunt and grandmother living right down the hall. Because they played an integral part in my upbringing, I adopted fragments of each of their personalities over time and soon found that habits and mannerism aside, my love for fashion came from the dynasty of posh women before me. It wasn't until the ripe age of 26 that I realized everything I know about personal style I learned from watching these women.


From shopping habits to the way that they put together an outfit, their rules of dressing were ingrained in my head at an early age. I remember spending countless mornings before school sitting on my grandmother's bed, watching her build out her look for the day with pieces that are as relevant today as they were in the '90s. But this one blouse in particular stood out as my favorite — the colors, the bold chain-link print, the draping, and high Victorian neckline with matching cinched cuffs. It was beautiful. Whenever she wore it I remember thinking how I could only hope to pull off such a "flashy" shirt as gracefully as she always did. I'd even make an occasional joke about inheriting it after she was gone, not thinking that the day I'd lose her would actually ever come.


Now, in adulthood, my sense of style is one of the few things that make me feel eternally connected to my grandmother. From my love of marrying strong and soft silhouettes to, though a bit dated, the belief that women shouldn't leave the house without a purse of some sort (her go-to bag was a black leather fanny pack), in some ways, my style is a reflection of her. And even though the industry has since moved past the unspoken rule about wearing white after Labor Day, I still hear her voice forbidding me to put it on once winter arrived. Most of these style mantras can be attributed to the matriarch of our family, but my mom and aunt also imparted their own ideas. There's no denying my love for skincare comes from watching my mom perfect her beauty routine and after years of observing as my aunt acquired quite the footwear collection I, too, would have a soft-spot for a good pair of shoes.


As my grandmother's silk shirt lays on my bed I think about all the many ways it's been worn, all the rooms its been in, and how in a way, the foundation of my style has been predetermined for me through generations before me and I can't help but be grateful to have all three women so deeply rooted into my aesthetic. And even though, physically, we couldn't be further apart, they were always right where I needed them, in my closet.