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  • Alicia McCaslin

Apple & Tree: Mothers & Daughters

I have this little saying that I wrote to my daughter one time when I tagged her on Instagram:

“Apple & Tree…Sun, Sand and Sea.”

It was a simple way to share my love for her and our mutual love of the beach. My mom has fair skin and has put up with my love of the sun. She’s a trooper though as she slathers on sunscreen and dons the widest brim hat that will fit in her carry-on for the sake of her love for me on my birthday last summer.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I thought I would interview my mom, Anne Lane Gross, and get her insights on Alexandria, fashion, and motherly advice, while taking in a little shopping excursion to Coco Blanca (another group of ladies who love the ocean!).

Linen Tie-Dye Button Duster/Dress, $160 | Linen Pant, $110 | Silk Tie Neck Top, $120 | Shell Loose Choker, $40 Available at Coco Blanca

Alicia: How do you feel your style has been influenced over the years?

Anne: In college I recall wanting to fit in with this new group of people so I chose to dress as most of them did at the time. Going to school in the south, this entailed pleated skirts, cardigan sweaters and circle pins on Peter Pan collars. For football games, we would dress up in heels, hose, and a fur (if you had one!). These were the events where you would go to “see and be seen.”

Alicia: That’s funny because I think a lot of events that are focused around fashion have that “seen and be seen” quality. Of recent note, the Met Gala would easily fall into that category! Do you think women dress to belong?

Anne: I feel there are times in our lives where we want to be accepted and dressing the part gets your foot in the door. I remember when I moved to Alexandria 50+ years ago, I didn’t know a soul. Making friends often starts with feeling you have something in common, so if you are making the same clothing choices you can start a conversation about other things.

Alicia: So you would agree that dressing within a group of women translates to wanting to be included? Do you think that this could be considered as social behavior in a sense? If I dress like you, I won’t be a threat to you?

Anne: Yes, but later on in life you start to strip away the “what we wear bonds us” aspect and find people who share your values beyond their choices in clothing. As we grow in understanding ourselves, we get beyond what the clothing might dictate and communicate on levels of our common interests. Perhaps clothing satisfies the trust we need in order to get to know each other in a deeper sense.

Alicia: Have you seen Alexandria evolve in its style over the years you have lived here?

Anne: Alexandria has always felt like a small town to me.  I remember there used to be a little shop called Margy-Betts* that I would love to frequent on S. Washington Street. You could find great separates there and the staff was very knowledgeable and helpful. However, if you were looking for something for a special occasion, Nancy Fleming was the go-to shop for those sorts of things. Then if you were making a day of it, you would head downtown to Garfinkel’s for that old-school shopping charm.

When I first moved here many women my age were dressing in what I can only describe as a “country club mold,” shift print dresses, low heels or flats… This was not specific to Alexandria but perhaps a trend in women overall.  Putting on a hat and gloves was the norm for air travel. You wouldn’t think of showing up for your flight in jeans or sweatpants. Style has loosened up a lot. Now I feel there is so much more freedom of expression and overall diversity. There is an entire “athleisure” movement where you run around in your workout clothing all day!

Alicia: I know! I can only imagine where we are headed. I wonder if the pendulum will swing back. I get my clients ready for trips all the time and now there is an entire category for “travel outfits” — none include the kind of gloves to which you refer!

Multi-strand seed bead bracelet, $35 |  Group of three Ivory Zen bead bracelets, $35 |  Medium pebble pearl earring in gray, $97.50, available at Coco Blanca Lizzie Fortunato poppy fringe earring, $185, available at The Hive

Alicia: What is your favorite part of fashion?

Anne: I love that fashion is constantly changing. It keeps me engaged in looking forward to the next trend. There is definitely a curve to every next big thing and you want to try and catch it on the upswing…and if you see it at Kohl’s and Target you realize you may have missed that opportunity!  I also love that designers push you to break out of your norm. When I look at Vogue, I consider it a springboard of ideas and not necessarily what I should be wearing. I know women do not want to be manipulated and may even poo-poo some of the over-the-top looks in magazines, but somehow we are ultimately influenced on some level.

Alicia: Mom, you’re reminding me of that line in “Devil Wears Prada” where Miranda Priestly tells poor, unaffected Andie how that blue GAP sweater was actually part of Oscar de la Renta’s cerulean gown collection! Remember?!! I love that movie like some love “The Godfather”!!

“And then it filtered down to the department stores, and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.”

Alicia: Remember this picture?? You made those dresses for us to wear for my birthday. This wasn’t a one-time effort. In fact, some of the tops you made me when I was 10 and 11 really are reminiscent of the Ulla Johnson styles that are currently hot! Let’s not forget the prom dress you made based on a magazine tear!  A mother’s love cannot be quantified…not for the sake of the perfect dress! Can you describe what prompted you to make my clothes instead of buying them?

Anne: Well, there weren’t a lot of options beyond Polly Flinders smocked dresses or some really ill-made polyester things to choose from. When you were young, it was hard to find fresh ideas in clothing for children. I was a stay-at-home mom and I believe it was a creative outlet. Putting fabric and colors together was not only engaging but you could see the end results! And in reality this was a time when a lot of women made their clothes and fabric stores were more plentiful.  Do remember Barbie’s at Bradlee Shopping center?

Alicia: Like it was yesterday! I spent a lot of time there and every other fabric store in Northern Virginia as an innocent bystander. I guess some of those trips rubbed off on me, though!

Alicia: You’ve had a variety of roles now in your life. Mother, daughter, and grandmother are a few. Of those, which would you say has been the most challenging? And why?

Anne: Mother, without a doubt. I guess because what affects your daughter feels as though it directly affects you as well. As a grandmother, I have a little more distance and enjoy the triumphs knowing the disappointments will not leave a lasting scar. Of course, being a mother is also the most rewarding. Emotional investments with your children should have the highest dividends!

Alicia: How would you define my style?

Anne: Free-spirit. Unique. I think it’s always had an edge but it’s certainly evolved over the last 10 years.

Alicia: And Lane’s style?

Anne: I’ll call hers “teenage chic.” I will be interested to see how college influences her. I don’t think she’s afraid of pushing the envelope but she definitely stays within the boundaries of what’s acceptable. She’s still on the road to discovering herself and I imagine her college experience will expose her to taking more chances…in a good way I hope!

Alicia: You’ve given me tons of great advice over the years. Always listening, letting me make some mistakes along the way without any “I told you so’s”. As you now have more insight into what’s ahead for both me and Lane, what advice would you offer our beloved Lane?

Anne: I guess I would advise her to be true to herself. Continue to be courageous and follow her instincts.

Alicia: That’s great advice and I chuckle because I recall pushing the envelope more than a few times with my fashion choices over the years. Lane is probably savvier in understanding that she can make great strides and gain more ground by not pushing the envelope but sending a stronger message with what’s inside the envelope!

Alicia: OK, Mom, last question…what’s your takeaway on Alexandria Stylebook overall? Your do read it every day, right??

Anne: I do read it every day. There are a number of things I love about Stylebook. Ultimately, feeling attached to what’s going on whether I actually make it to the stores or not. I enjoy being introduced to what’s new.  I also really enjoy seeing local women featured. It feels like that small town I moved to and still love. The businesses may have changed a bit but the overall sense of community is definitely thriving.

*Doing some research for this interview, I looked up Margy-Betts, hoping to find a photo. No such luck however I discovered some interesting information about the owner, Margaret Dwyer Grigg, from her obituary that I thought Alexandria Stylebook readers would enjoy. Margaret grew up in Alexandria and was president of her senior class at St. Mary’s Academy. She began her retailing career as an assistant buyer at Garfinkel’s in D.C. and went on to become the youngest buyer for the J.L. Hudson department store complex in Detroit before returning to Alexandria to open Margy-Betts with her sister in 1961. In 1976, Margaret Dwyer Grigg, was president of Washington Fashion Group, an organization of fashion retailers, managers, and writers.

Sounds familiar! Proving, the more things change, the more things stay the same!

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