Wednesday 8th February 2023
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Top 5 of the week: 70s preppy

the brown sisters

My inspiration: the early years of Nicholas Nixon’s iconic portraits of the uber-WASP-y Brown sisters.

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Such a winningly orangey-bright hue.

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Bootcut jeans are beginning to feel just about right again.

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Few things more perfectly sportif than Tretorns.

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The trick to pulling off pearl studs without looking mumsy is to make sure you wear a pair that’s on the small side.

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I’m loving the look of a simple metal choker—not at all unlike the one I wore every day of seventh grade—right now.

Posted on February 20th, 2015 33 Comments

33 Responses

  1. AT says:

    Yes! I love this. Warm memories of my friends’ cool older sisters- and my coveted, worn until sun-faded and it fell apart pink lacoste shirt. Thank you!

  2. Heather says:

    I love a bootcut jean with sandals, and that pic is making me long for spring. Sadly, it will be a few months before I bare my toes to the outside air.

  3. maryann says:

    I was an adolescent/teen in the 70s and preppy was THE thing in my school (preppy/surfer, actually — it was a shore town). It’s funny how you never see references to 70s preppy style when that decade is discussed (at least *I* never see it). Thanks for this!

    • joannawnyc says:

      I think that’s because that preppy look was only in certain enclaves in the 70s (my home town in Fairfield County, Conn., being one of them) and didn’t really become a widespread pop cultural phenom until the early 80s after the publication of The Preppy Handbook. SO usually people think of it as an 80s thing.

  4. Dianne says:

    So if I saved my old boot cut jeans, can I wear them again?

  5. Larissa says:

    i just can’t. well, maybe the choker.

  6. c.w. says:

    I can’t seem to heft myself into the 70’s bandwagon. Not the bootcut/flares. Not the pearl studs or the Lacoste t-shirt. Referencing that decade is simply not pimping my ride, floating my boat or making me whack-a-doodle happy. Wake me when it’s over.

    • Judy says:

      Me too. I was so happy in the late 70s (CBGB scene) to get into the punk/vintage/50s look.

      • caroline says:

        But it’s burned in my memory!

      • Mamavalveeta03 says:

        I arrived for a visit to my family in Madison, WI, to find my 15-yr old nephew with an orange Mohawk, and a black DIY studded jackets with The Sex Pistols and The Clash patches that he was so proud of.
        My husband and I are planning to show him where CBGB’s was in the Village when he comes to visit us, but I think he’ll find the John Varvatos store disappointing.

  7. Cedar says:

    Please God can bootcut jeans come back again? Not flares , but just a moderate “my jeans fit over my ankle boots instead of the other way around” kind of straighter leg. Am I the only one who looks shorter and stumpier in skinny jeans?

    • Kelly says:

      I hear you, Cedar. Low rise skinnies make my legs look stumpy. My legs are not stumpy: I need at least a 33″ inseam. For flats. But low rise skinnies cut me off in a weird way.

  8. joannawnyc says:

    I got in SO MUCH trouble on FB for saying I don’t like those Brown sisters photos, lol. But they sure are a perfect record of a certain type of woman and her style.

    • caroline says:

      I find them moving.
      Curious why you feel that way?
      Not in a judgemental way…

    • kate412 says:

      It’s not that I don’t like the Brown sisters, it’s just that I don’t know why others find them intriguing or moving or anything.

      • Mamavalveeta03 says:

        I think it’s watching the passage of time on their faces. They’ve been photographed EVERY year since 1975! That,in itself, is quite an accomplishment.

    • Viajera says:

      I have a similar reaction. Part of it is that they aren’t smiling, and it reminds me of all those beyond-goofy rock band photos. Of course … it is hardly fair to blame these women for decades of poserness.

      And I might wonder if I am being sexist for not liking a photo of women not smiling, except … their expressions do not read as neutral to me. They look like they have an attitude. Which in person, I might actually like, but in a photo… I guess not. Could be, they were just annoyed at their brother at the moment, too. Who knows. They might not remember themselves.

      Then there is the whole art history representation of women thing. I don’t know how much of my crazy I want to share on the internet but … rest assured, there *is* some. Add in our cultural obsession with youth (of women). Anyhoo.

      I’m sure they are very upstanding citizens.

      • Keirele says:

        Here I thought the photos were simply mostly-honest portraits of real women by someone who knew them intimately. Who gives a doodle if they weren’t smiling? Women sometimes don’t. (And yes, you are being sexist).

        • Viajera says:

          Well, I agree with you to the extent that it would be unfair to form a dislike of someone just based on a photo — no matter what their expression. Otoh… the way these photos were presented *by the media* was sort of like, “you should care about these photos because …” And that is a big part of what I found off-putting. And of course, none of that is the photographer’s fault, or the subjects. It was just annoying (to me).

          It is also unfair perhaps to blame the guy for art history, but that’s not the same as saying that history doesn’t exist. “Here, watch these women age …” (Again, probably not the photographer’s subjective intent about his work … as if that mattered.) I can’t be the only one who finds this questionable. But that’s the thing about sexism — it has so permeated our bleeped-up visual culture that I see it everywhere because it *is* everywhere. I guess I would be a fool to think I escaped. But it’s more than that.

  9. Viajera says:

    But really I was just going to say … before I got off on another embarrassing rant … was that I have never stopped liking flares, and I consider pearl studs of pretty much any size to be classic and never a bad thing.

    Meanwhile, I utterly despise polo shirts of any brand on men or women. And I have no idea why I don’t like them. I just don’t. I wonder what it means.

  10. caroline says:

    Because a photo essay of a fellow humans lifecycle is fascinating. Artistry of the images aside.
    Makes you reflect on your own life etc.
    thats my take on it.

  11. Mamavalveeta03 says:

    I read about these sisters before. The photos of them through time are great! I wore a version of the sister’s outfit on the far right, very often during my sophomore year of college: Pink Lacoste polo, Levis 501’s, Bastad clogs, and tiny silver hoop earrings. Oh, and “Farrah Feathers”…Odd combination, now that I think about it. But I was cool.

  12. c.w. says:

    Regarding the photos of the Brown sisters. I think as viewers we must bear in mind that these photos were taken by an artist who had a specific intent in this thirty-eight-year long artistic expression, “to evince photography’s power to capture the passage of time, and Nixon’s ability to harness that power.” (Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Department of Photography MoMA.) According to the curator’s essay at the end of the book the photos were selected by group decision by the sisters themselves. So one could infer that the book is a group collaboration by the sisters and by the artist, Nicholas Nixon. Speaking only as one viewer, the emotions that evolve for me when viewing the collection in its entirety the love, resilience and a commitment to honor each other by the Brown sisters and Nixon.

  13. Christine says:

    I saw the whole series at the MFA in Houston recently. At this point (midlife plus) one starts to wonder what will happen when there are only three…

  14. KimFrance says:

    And yet again for the millionth time: I love my readers for taking the conversation in such an interesting direction on this one. One of the (many) things I find striking about the Brown sisters portraits is their utter, and uniform, lack of vanity. For women in our culture, incredibly brave.

  15. Grenadine says:

    I love these photographs as an essay of sorts on women and aging. It is fascinating to look at the sisters over and over as a window into how the years change us. It is also, of course, a study in class — their WASPY-ness is quite apparent and fascinating. I love that era of clothing just because I grew up in it, and while I like to reference it occasionally in small ways, I don’t go back there too literally. Love the orange polo, though! I used to wear a pink one just like it and it was THE COOLEST THING a 13-year-old girl at that time could put on.

    • y.k. says:

      yes they were the absolute coolest. my field hockey team @locust valley hs (said with lockjaw please) required white polos.
      on morbid subthread above. i had not thought of that!!!!!

      • caroline says:

        Ha! Flashback!
        Ioved my field hockey kilt too!
        Took it out of its natural habitat and wore with black tights and doc martins! Viva la eighties!
        I miss the old gal

  16. Jill says:

    Pearl studs, no. Choker, no. Not for me, anyway.

    Flares/bootcuts, YES please. Nothing wronng with skinnies. But a little diversity would be awesome. Any bootcuts I can find in the last few years are “baby boots” and I find them ridiculous. I want real bootcuts back! I am a child of the eighties but I do have a soft spot for the 1970s. It reminds me of being a child, when getting dressed was so easy and simple.

    Izod-polo shirts…wore them constantly in high school…but wouldn’t go back to them. They’re not really “me” and they take me back to a time when I felt lost, alone, and was trying *so* hard to fit in somewhere. I’d rather be where I am now. 🙂

  17. joannawnyc says:

    Amazing–the whole conversation on my fb page was recreated right here (more or less) and I didn’t even have to participate!

    I have mixed feelings shading to the negative for various reasons, none of them having to do with the stated intent behind the images. I’m sure Nicholas Nixon meant well and was as fair to his wife and sisters-in-law as he could possibly manage, so it’s not that.

    I just find that in terms of the history of images of women, which have almost always been of upper and upper middle class women, that this particular set is not that inspiring. And other than aging, they don’t change–they don’t gain weight, they don’t get pregnant (apparently), which I find creepy. I mean, they do age, and that’s great, but I just don’t find the series as a whole emotionally involving. But I accept that I am in the minority in this.