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The East Coast Grande Dame, Reggie Darling Style (TM)

Reggie says: “The Grand Dame loves everything Cate wore in Blue Jasmine.”

In 1960, my father left the East Coast and moved his very young family to Northern California. This meant that I grew up, despite my High WASP heritage, in a world of furze and tie dye. Our family followed the High WASP code of conduct, but we believed it to be our own private, unvoiced ritual. We lacked cultural context, even as we lived the culture itself.

As a side note, Artsy Cousins and Sturdy Gals flourished in Northern California, c. 1970 but  I rarely saw a Grande Dame.

So when, in 1974, I traveled back to Princeton for college, I felt somewhat a fish out of water. The Texas debutantes, New England preppies, Parisians, and Middle Eastern aristocracy, all were equally foreign. Even though some of them would become lifelong friends. Again, the Grande Dame moments were most difficult for me. The Hungarian Ball. The Texas parties. Eating clubs.

I returned to California in 1983, to work in Silicon Valley, at the crest of the area’s second wave of wealth. We’re now on the sixth wave, by the way. But even then, the Northern Californians I had known had retreated, to redwood forests, to beach towns, to Oregon. Carrying away their Indian printed bedspreads in sand-colored VW vans.

And trophy wives had taken their places. A daunting tribe. I did not understand that they were simply aspirational Grandes Dames, probably with secret hearts of their own.

What’s the point of all this? Grandes Dames scare me, just a tad. However, I don’t feel as bad as I might, because they scare everyone. Almost everyone that is, except the writer of the glorious pseudoeponymous blog, Reggie Darling. May I present, using images and ideas direct from from the man himself, Grandes Dames, Reggie Darling Style™. AKA East Coast Grandes Dames For Dummies. Or at least for Artsy Cousins, Sturdy Gals, and the Rest Of World, as corporations used to call far geographies.

We shall start, as one does for any work of art, with the inspiration. Note that these women might not be, in fact, WASPs. Deeda Blair, CZ Guest, Maria Agnelli, Babe Paley. And Jackie. Always and forever Jackie. I have put together some virtual decoupages, in honor.


I understand now that Grandes Dames didn’t scare me, per se. It was their hair. How so perfect, all the time? Do they consort with special Hair Whisperers? Is there a Book of Spells, given at the vesting ceremony? I will never know.


The clothing is a simple but upscale algorithm; sweater sets, pencil skirts, Anne Fontaine blouses, Chanel-equivalent jackets. Short jackets, by the way. None of this approaching-a-coat nonsense. If it’s crisp out, throw on a Barbour to run about town.


We’re talking Roger Vivier, with buckles, and Manolo’s kitten heels. Nothing too girly. And for errands, those faithful Belgians. My aunt Priscilla wore them in navy, with kelly piping.


The Grande Dame likes her spectacles big, and everything else from Hermès. Says Reggie, “The Kelly is so much better than the Birkin.” And jewelry? “Impact stuff.”  Look at Carrie Donovan’s and Iris Apfel’s cuff bracelets. Pearls. Big pearls. Loves ’em! But just don’t call it “Bling.”


In summer, or at resorts, the Grand Dame is very specific in her tunic choices.  They must be closely inspired by the Middle Eastern originals. A shift, Lilly or otherwise, is appropriate with Jack Rogers or espadrilles. But when the winds howl, she’s going to wear furs, often from J. Mendel. No one would ever call her PC. In a pinch, or if the furs are still in storage, she’ll pull out her Loden coat.


Direct from Reggie: “When she’s doing her most serious clothes shopping she heads to Chanel, Oscar de la Renta, and Ralph Lauren (she’s finally made peace with him…). Carolina Herrera is not only a favored designer, but also a style icon in her own right.  No one wears white shirts better than she does.  She has the most marvelous accent imaginable.  She is elegance personified.”


Today the Grande Dame lives on. Above you see Aerin Lauder, Eliza Reed Bolen, Marina Rust Conner, and Maureen Footer. Aerin is the heir to Estée Lauder’s fortune. Eliza Bolen is the daughter of the former Annette Reed who is married to Oscar de la Renta. Marina the grand-daughter of Marshall Field 3rd. So many heiresses. That does help in the Grande-ing of one’s life. Note that the fortunes didn’t absent these women from professional impact.

And finally, Maureen is a friend of Reggies’s. With that statement, all baggage I may have borne vis-à-vis the species vanishes into rarefied air.

Any friend of Reggie‘s, whether they like it or not, is a friend of mine.


All images collected by Reggie, except the white and blue shift from Colleen Dinnigan via Matches, the Jack Rogers via Zappos, the Belgians from their store, the Seaman Schepps shell earrings via Beladora, and Marina Rust Conner via Panache Magazine. No affiliate links included. I forgot to ask how Grandes Dames feel about commerce, but I suspect they’ve eased up from my grandmother’s day.

51 Responses

  1. Nice post, but no cigar.
    I’ve been waiting for a post from you about Blue Jasmine style. I know you can say more!

    1. I haven’t seen the movie:). I can say something once it’s available on Netflix! Reggie says they nailed it.

    2. @RoseAG, You’re excused, it did come out over the summer when I’m sure you had better things to think about. A white Chanel jacket plays a major role.

  2. What a fabulous post.
    This is such a succint social commentary:
    “And trophy wives had taken their places. A daunting tribe. I did not understand that they were simply aspirational Grandes Dames”

    So…I spy collages…how can I learn the art? This is what happens when one is childless, alway behind the trend.

  3. Why is it that we have few Grande Dames on the west coast?
    Here in sleepy Victoria we have the tweedy /horsey set. Hermes scarves, sweater sets, pearls, Barbour jackets and wellies…think HRH and you have the idea.
    I love to read these fashion type WASP posts….must see Blue Jasmine if not for the story for the clothing!
    Thanks to Reggie Darling for his insights and you for your Waspish voice.
    Always a pleasure to read these posts.

  4. Love the post! In Asia – we have our version of the grande dame and I must say the Kelly bags and the sculpted hair is universal. In Australia – not so much – there are people who try but the culture doesn’t really almost allow it. Though it is slowly changing there as well,

    I do appreciate how Americans still work regardless of economics.

    i would love your take on Blue Jasmine,
    forgive me for being slightly imptertinent but @RoseAG – I did write about the role of wardrobe in Blue Jasmine. Chanel jackets should have gotten a role for best supporting actress!

  5. Enjoyed this grand tour! I saw that type, growing up in a resort area where they summered for generations. What made the difference (then, and I suspect it is still so) b/t the trophy wife and the grande dame was the voice. Partly an accent, but mostly what my mother called ‘modulation’. There is also the matter of language; I cannot imagine a grande dame using “I’m like, where did you get that bag?”

    1. “the grande dame…voice…what my mother called ‘modulation’”

      This observation comes closest to my particular version of East Coast Grande Dame ie, she is known by her intangible traits rather than by her store purchases. Indeed her voice IS modulated just as Duchesse points out. It’s also about how she carries herself, you can spot her in a crowd by the number of necks craning to hear what she has to say. Just as her voice is modulated, so is her style — purely low key, no “statement” bags or jewelry. The boardroom and ballroom both are her natural habitats, these are the venues where she presides in service to her community. And yessiree, her hair has been DONE, not a strand out of place [I bet she DOES pull a nitenite cap of netting over her hairdo, probably calls it a “snood”!]

  6. I’ve always wondered about the perfect hair thing, and know now, that they have it “done” most days. My MIL (who is a Grand Dame) goes in nearly every morning for “comb out” and younger GD’s like Aerin Lauder, has someone come in and blow her hair dry, in a natural looking way. In LA, lots of blow dry bars have opened, and I have many friends, across the spectrum, who go there first thing in the morning at least a few times a week. I wish I wasn’t so lazy, as good looking hair is really important. However, Adrienne from The Rich Life, just informed me that my birthday is actually National Lazy Day – so there you have it.

  7. Did you ever consider the role of a stylist? It comes so naturally to you. Love to see what you do with “Bohemian” – You know the type?

  8. Thoroughly enjoyed this tour of Grand Damery.

    My grandmother was sort of “Grande Dame Lite.” Same aesthetic and style, (far) less money. Also not quite as bold of taste in jewelry.

    And yes, the hair. I could never be a GD, don’t have the hair for it! :-D

  9. We have plenty of Grande Dames in Dallas and I am always fascinated by their wardrobes. One of them is our past senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. I used to sit behind her at church (before she was a senator) and marvel at her clothing and her hair. But, that was back in the 1980s and things seem so much more relaxed now. I miss the dressing up!

    Great post! Thank you! More of these when you have the time and inclination please!

  10. What a great post on the ever enduring Grande Dame.
    Reggie Darling and you have both nailed the GD aesthetic.

    Now, solidly in middle age, I am ready to embrace the GD look.
    Sweater set, check.
    Big pearls, check.
    Roger Vivier buckle flats, check.
    Hermes bag (used), check.
    I just can’t get myself properly coiffed.
    Who has time for a comb/blow out?
    Am I forever destined to be a Grand Dame wannabe?

    For photos of some additional Grande Dames, follow Beladora’s
    “Out Style Icons” board on Pinterest.

    1. Oh I forgot to credit the Beladora earrings!!! A shopping post will come next week, but I’ll add the link below for now.

    2. @Nancy Revy, Hey Nancy, Funny to cross paths here. Mills ’76-77….I think I may still be an Artsy Cousin but with nicer jewelry…..

  11. As usual you are on point! Here on the North Shore of Long Island, many Grand Dames ruled. Trophy wives may aspire, but it still takes three generations to make a lady . ;)

  12. I grew up with a sub-sub-subset of GD: The Southern Lady of Good Breeding but No Money. It takes a strong backbone to be that woman, but my mother and some of our cousins were IT.

  13. So I am a Grande Dame for work and Artsy Cousin for weekends. A lot of the mothers at my grade school were Grande Dames, but we just called them the preppy Irish moms.

    I’m going to go see if Blue Jasmine is available On Demand on cable.

  14. First let me say I loved this movie, I love Kate and she was brilliant in it as usual. As far as the look, this is a perfect customer for a fashion designer…they walk in and want the whole outfit with accessories and everything put together for them. I think they all need a bit of unexpected something thrown in there sometimes :) but who am I to judge if they will buy the whole package put together for them. Great post Lisa and definitely see the movie.

  15. Lisa — What a treat this was to collaborate with you, m’dear! You have crystalized the GD aesthtic to perfection. The secret to the GD hair of yore was lots of time spent at the likes of Kenneth, active use of a teasing comb, and liberal use of hair spray. Plus wrapping the “do” in silk scarves at night while sleeping to prolong its life. I think it is a sad commentary of today that so few women actually get their hair “done” anymore. Silk, cashmere, alligator, sheared mink, and pearls — they all go a long way to making a lady into a GD… Thanks ever so, Reggie

    1. @Reggie Darling, Hair “dos” for women are rather like rubber shoe covers and hats for men – lovely in theory, a complete pain for most of us regular folks. And Reggie dear, the pleasure was all on thoroughly mind.

    2. @Reggie Darling, and curlers, then under the dryer. Blow dry didn’t.t exist then. Then as you mentioned, lots of teasing and hairspray. Believe, though not a gd myself, I remember the process well!

  16. I’m fascinated by your story; I have a similar one. My parents moved us from Locust Valley to Arizona in 1979 while they had a meltdown. I was only there for three years before going back east to Groton but it was enough time, or perhaps happened during a particular developmental period, that I felt out of my depth when deposited on “The Circle.” Enjoyed this post.
    All best,

  17. Unless one has the good fortune to be born with cooperative hair, “done” hair only works for special occasions. The time commitment is a barrier for those of us with busy days and the necessary hair “product” makes the result untouchable.

  18. I’ve always considered my grandmother, Mom-Mom, the singular Grande Dame in my life. As I look into the mirror these days I see her looking back at me. Elegance X10. Lisa, this is a fabulous post! xx’s

  19. Bravo Reggie! Lisa does epitomize the Grande Dame. Style and grace are in anyone’s reach if they choose for it truly comes from within.

    The Arts by Karena

  20. What fun. I had an aspiring Grande Dame grandmother. She didn’t have much money, so it was mostly a pretend game, but I do recall silk pajamas and satin slippers for lolling around the house, and white gloves and smart purses for shopping in town.

    I love Reggie!

  21. For me the Grande Dames were always grandmothers by definition. Lots of clucking and tsk tsking, lots of spoiling of the grandchildren- and a modern prototype would be the character of Jackie in the Good Wife. For those under 40- well, they were Young Money vis-a-vis Old Money, an archetype of their own. In any case this was a fascinating analysis.

  22. Oh, what fun. It’s been ages since I’ve seen a Grande Dame feted in Vogue etc. I just don’t think that the Kardashians make it. I miss those women of yore. They were like fairy dust. Never quite touching the earth.

    A few questions. Don’t the French love the Natural Look for their hair. A little mussed up. Kathy, I had no idea that women got their hair blow dried in the morning. Clueless.

    I’m ashamed to admit I do not know the diference between a Kelly and Birkin. Please advise.
    Great fun post. Loved it.

  23. delighted to see Maureen Footer in the mix-she is a delight-and better than grande dame, she is a damned fine friend! her book GEORGE STACEY AND THE CREATION OF AMERICAN CHIC is out this Spring from Rizzoli!

  24. Several years, I attended a screening for a terrible and long-forgotten action film. I was surprised to sit next to a studio wife completely decked out in Chanel – pastel suit, quilted flap-bag, & kitten heels. GDs exist in Los Angeles, but, like the blue butterfly, are on the endangered list.

    Loved this post!

  25. Hi Lisa, I really like your blog. I especially like all your style photos above. I just started my own style blog and would love any advice you may have. Take a look at my blog at Looking forward to following you. Cherie

  26. Loved this post! Loved Blue Jasmine! As an East Coast girl who lives in California now too and constantly feels like I’m the only one I know who dresses like me this post was MAGICAL to come across. THANK YOU! Subscribing! XX

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