Privilege Blog

Shop Like A Grande Dame, On A Moyenne Dame Budget

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Even Reggie Darling admits, if one wants to shop like a Grande Dame, it helps to be an heiress. All right then. How about those of us who work for a living? What of those who want a few Dame-esque pieces, but aren’t the sort to gussy up day in day out?
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I took a look at shopping options. Mind you, these are not “budget,” per se. We might more accurately call them “non-stratospheric,” in comparison with the de la Renta, Herrera, and Chanel ways of a true East Coast Dame.
One preliminary bit of counsel, if I might.
  • Keep your homage on the light side. A slavish recreation of Grande Dame style, in bridge brands, often winds up unsophisticated or ironic. Or both. You want to stay this side of costume.
  • Affordable Grande Dame inspired shoes, with materials and design of a quality that accurately represent the species, are hard to find. I recommend scouring sales for the real deal. 70% off is possible with luxury goods. After all, they have a huge margin on material costs, and they’ve already spent the dollars on labor and marketing.
  • Clothing in light cloth, i.e. white jeans, silk/cotton blouses, and pencil skirts, is the easiest to source for reasonable prices. Avoid visible branding.
  • Were I given the chance to purchase one, and only one, Grande Dame-inspired items of choice, it would be a vintage Chanel jacket. Followed closely by Ippolita bangles. Perfect with boyfriend jeans, even if I had to ditch my sneakers.

Grande Dame “Inspired” Shopping Possibilities (my grandmother always said “possibilities.” And “territory.)

  1. Bouclé or other “Chanel-esque” jackets. Those we can find by the score. J. Crew works, especially when 55% off at The Outnet, but vintage stores of good repute can net you the real thing. I trust Farfetch to have vetted the global vintage market.
  2. Reggie did not mention tops, but I watched Blue Jasmine last weekend, so I’m going to say silk/cotton, sometimes with a bow. Totally doable. While YOOX is iffy for outré items, which I find are never as cute as they look in the photos, simple goods are, um, simpler.
  3. Pencil skirts. This one’s easy too. J. Crew’s ” lady” heritage pulls through – again. Or, if you want to explore the next level up, Halsbrook awaits. Final sale is on now, so a skirt that was $690 is $276, with an extra 20% taken off at purchase – final price of $220.
  4. Nicely-tailored trousers. Again, not one of Reggie’s key parameters, but Cate Blanchett wore a couple of pair and I just know that even the Grande occasionally want pants. Here, find your fit at Banana Republic, J. Crew, Talbots, in a high-quality fabric, and stick with it. Find a tailor to help with hems and waistline, any other alterations are much harder to get right.
  5. Accessories. Scarves, belts, bags. Yikes. Hermès all. Right. I’m going to say that moderate-priced silk scarves are possible, (perhaps Une Femme knows?) but I will not be recommending leather goods knock-offs. Pretend Hermès “H” belts, lookalike Kellys, etc., no. Please no. I admit, I rather like some of Coach’s new bags. Gone are the horror days of nylon logo sprawl.
  6. Shoes. Viviers, Manolos, and high-end strappy sandals. Here, we’re going to have to look for sales. You might be interested in an article on Vivier sample sales in New York. Or actual Manolos on sale, at Saks and at Neimans. Love those patent wine D’orsays.
  7. Jewelry. One of my dearest temptations. Others may buy too many white tees, or linen shifts, I’m overstocked with gold earrings. But I’ve also got Beladora on our side, and another special coupon code for $150 off any purchase of $750 and above. Code: New Year. Good until February 14th, fortuitously.
  8. Resortwear. Its own category. The Grande Dame goes wild, and shows her toes, with sandals by Bernardo (doesn’t that bring a Lady Gaga song to mind?) and Jack Rogers on sale at Zappos. Just like Jackie. She might cover up in a Crochet cotton cardigan, via Mango. And while Lilly is always OK, I prefer to skulk around Tory Burch’s sale, or venture abroad for something like this cute Italian size 44 cotton pique shift – on sale down from $1,191 to $356,  At
  9. Outerwear. As Reggie told us, the Grande Dame wears fur coats and Barbours. No point in shopping for furs, one really doesn’t want to wear them these days unless they are hand-me-downs. But floral- or William Morris-lined Barbours can be found on sale at Orvis, marked down from $416 to $334, with an extra 20% taken off at purchase, for a final price of $268. (Thanks to Lee Rosenthal, Privilege commentor, for the info.)

A little creativity, a lot of persistence, and some help from our friends (by which, yes, I mean Beladora’s New Year discount code and you guys), puts Grande Dame-inspired shopping in the bag. Sorry. Just couldn’t resist. Cue raucous but controlled laughter – gin in hand, Wheat Thins on a scratched silver platter, and poached chicken and white wine for dinner. Good table topic, “Why does Chardonnay taste like butter?”


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35 Responses

  1. Vintage scarves (keeping a close eye on condition of course) are a great way to collect statement scarves without breaking the bank.

    1. @ParisGrrl,
      I agree with ParisGrrl, but caution that there are many Hermes fakes out there. It pays to shop with a known reseller or to have scarves authenticated on the Hermes section of The Purse Forum (NAYY, just a reader of it).

    2. I second that! Avoid all “Hermès-look” imitations and buy vintage or save for the one new one that dazzles you.

    3. @ParisGrrl, As a long-time TPF member, I’d caution against some of the authentications there. They’ve been sued by a couple of places. Many of the “authenticators” are resellers on ebay/etc. who authenticate their own / friends’ listings and “rule” others to be fakes. Because they won’t share why they consider something to be fake or not (supposedly so they don’t “help” those who make fakes), it’s hard to determine who is genuine and who is not.

      Just a note of caution as I’d heard of a few lawsuits. There are many complaints against tpf floating around online as well if you google for it.

  2. I saw Blue Jasmine last night! Loved her clothing and handbag…and the fact that she HAD to fly first class despite the fact that she was broke!
    If I could go back in time I would have bought that vintage Chanel jacket that was a wee bit too small and lost weight sooner.
    If I had bought it I think I would be wearing it to the market with pearls!

  3. Your style archetypes are fascinating. Going back to Andrea’s question on the sneaker post “Does fashion make a statement about who we are, or about who we would like to be?” and wondering how this works with the archetypes. Is a Grand Dame defined by clothes or are the clothes mere expressions of her basic personality and values: classic, elegant, “lady like” … or at least that is what this look is saying to me. Is it possible to be a Grand Dame on a very limited budget? If so, would a Grand Dame on a budget shop the discount stores or clothe herself some other way? If, for instance, all her inherited Chanel was lost in a house fire. You compared trophy wives and Grand Dames, which seemed to me to say it was more about a certain look than the values of the women? Even if at this point, it is about emulating a look, where does the archetype originate? How much did it matter to the original Grande Dame where she got her wardrobe? Wouldn’t it be primarily about quality?

    I may just not get this archetype. Maybe the whole point is we can’t know the inner woman.

    Wasn’t Chanel originally for the study gals?

    1. @anon, This is a very rich comment indeed, one that warrants its own post. I’ll work on it.

      Briefly now I’ll say that one of the most salient attributes of the Grande Dame is her capability and willingness to button herself up. Literally and figuratively.

  4. I’ve been imagining the Grande Dame as the direct descendent of Edith Wharton’s Bostonian ladies, of ancient families, who put away their Parisian frocks for several seasons so they didn’t look too new – not Kate Blanchett’s character in Blue Jasmine.

    1. @anon, In the full High WASP canon, that’s true. In the As Lived Now world, it gets complicated. Edith Wharton is clearly the Sybil of this crowd.

  5. Lisa, great suggestions. I recently found an Ellen Tracy wool and angora coat in the richest shade of purple at one of our Kansas City resale shops. It had never been worn! The bargain of the year so far!

    The Arts by Karena

  6. It strikes me that a Grand Dame is not a slave to fashion. She’s a busy woman, entertaining her friends, tending to her homes, meeting up with her friends. She doesn’t have time for endless shopping and doesn’t turn her wardrobe over that quickly. Since she’s not part of fast, or even paced fashion she can spend a little more on a smaller wardrobe.

    1. @RoseAG,

      Bingo! She’s built solid relationships at a handful [diminishing] local boutiques, they know to call her when X comes in. More reliably, she’s had a “personal shopper” at Saks forever, where minimal discussion results in boxes delivered to her door.

  7. So glad I’m a Sturdy Girl with a dash of Artsy Cousin! This Grande Dame stuff is just too complicated.

  8. Can’t say that these clothes look any different than 1964 and I can’t decide if that’s good or not.

  9. I would love a Chanel jacket. Thank you for the wealth of resources and links in this post! I will be clicking and shopping for a long time to come.

  10. Most of these choices would put years on me & I really don’t need that now . They look so Grown Up , I’d feel like my granny . Some of them make the Barbour look exciting . Guess I’m not a grand dame – as a Brit I’m not even sure what one is & I don’t think I’ve ever spotted any on my travels in the US . Do I take it they only exist on the east coast of America ? A rare species ?

    1. Yes, too grown up for me (I think they would feel too grown up even in my 60s, 70s and beyond!). I just don’t think I’ll ever be that conservative but I can admire from a distance.

      Would Michelle Obama be a good compromise between funky and Grand Dame? I could happily wear her outfits (if I had better arms for the sleeveless looks!).

  11. LPC, I’ve spent a lottt of time going through all your links, but how much time must YOU have put into this gem of a resource for us readers? Thank you so much for pulling this together so logically and thoroughly.

    Speaking of time, our house was empty except for me one afternoon last week, so I sat in front of the TV for a full afternoon of back-to-back Law & Order Original Episodes ca 1995. Binge watching means repetitive ad watching, and there was Blythe Danner doing ads for an osteoporosis Rx. The name of the drug slips my mind, but her wardrobe caught my full attention. In one short ad, she changes ensembles 8 times, all of them pretty darn swell.

    She may be a category unto herself, falling somewhere between Artsy Grande and Grande Dame. Take a look:

  12. Never fear a Grande Dame in spite of her armor. Last summer I broke my arm and was in a sling for an annual house show in Nantucket that required us to don booties over our shoes before entering. At every house in spite of my definitely Sturdy Girl attire a Grande Dame sat me down and put those booties on my feet and another took them off upon exit, usually sharing a tale of her own broken bones while doing so. I can tell you that they were NOT taking no for an answer.

  13. Another option for a grande dame appropriate Chanel-style jacket is making one with Claire Shaeffer’s book and Vogue pattern #8804 as guides.

    A couture level creation is is a very labor intensive enterprise with copious amounts of hand work. I haven’t tried anything that involved. I wonder … Would it be more frustrating or more satisfying?

  14. Wonderful images those! Have scoured the interwebs for more Blue Jasmine images. Sadly, can’t make myself see the movie – strong Woody Allen aversion due to those pesky allegations associated with adopted little girls.

    Still, I have to say that one wonders what sort of swimsuit (or would it be “bathing suit”) and sleepwear would be appropriate for a Grande Dame.

    1. @Sylvie,

      I watched Blue Jasmine and to my mind Cate Blanchett dominated the film physically, artistically, totally. She put blood, sweat and tears into her role as always. OSCAR!!

      The film is a heartless and humorless attempt to rework “Streetcar” – and, in the hands of Woody and Alec B., the misogyny of the original film has been resurrected.

  15. Hello, just saw this website & love it. re your comment on real v fake, my thoughts: over many years as finances have gone up & down, I’ve been a creative & resourceful individual. I have 2 genuine Hermes scarves, bought from new. I wouldn’t ever buy a fake designer scarf, but I do buy all kinds that take my fancy, from chains up. Bags: the fakes are usually so badly fake looking, I wouldn’t bother. I actively dislike certain designers who plaster their initials all over the product: I consider my own initials good enough, in the unlikely event I should want to do that (it looks tasteless & the British upper class/aristocracy wouldn’t do it). My advice: save up for one stunning genuine designer. Belts: I don’t care enough one way or the other. With clothes, mix it up, eg summer – wear genuine Tods or Sperry Topsiders with inexpensive linen pants, a mid price range Breton style top with a genuine, fabulous necklace (pearls are available in such a wide price range now that any girl can have the real thing, nothing wrong with freshwaters…and pearls are ‘class’). The combination will work. I mix all the time, but I tend to centre an outfit around one standout piece, two at the most & never with labels hanging off me. Plain can look expensive, a simple beautifully tailored navy dress, nude heels, a plain bright orange bag (no embellishments) & pearls of a larger size, can turn heads. Thanks for such a fantastic site, so much fun.

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