Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m. (Or Any Time)

Hilary Rushford, Personal Stylist and creator of the Dean Street Society, has created four “#StyleMe” challenges. You can read about my #StyleMeMarch experience here. You can see my #StyleMeMay pictures here. #StyleMeJuly has just started (today is “swish your skirt” day!). Then there’s #StyleMeSmartly, which was the June hashtag. June’s challenge centered on a concept, an idea, a view of the world through the cigarette-smoke clouds of a particular era (the 60’s).

 Although I did not do any of the June photo prompts, I read the book (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson), participated in the online book club, and watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

One of the big takeaways for me was the “how times have changed” sense that I got from all of #StyleMeSmartly month images. To go even farther back than 1960 (when Breakfast at Tiffany’s was filmed), I just finished listening to an audiobook (The Chaperone) in which the protagonist (Cora) visits former silent screen star Louise Brooks, who is in a reclusive state after her fame has waned. Cora is shocked to be greeted by Louise, who is wearing (be ready to gasp) slacks!  She says (paraphrasing here), “I had seen Katharine Hepburn wearing slacks in movies but I had never seen a woman in real life wearing slacks.”

Fast forward to #StyleMeSmartly. We learned that the scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Holly/Lulamae’s husband shows up from Texas was changed from a reference to them being “divorced” to a reference to the marriage being “annulled” instead, to be more palatable to the Production Code Administration. We read the press release issued by Paramount Pictures Publicity while Breakfast at Tiffany’s was being filmed that said (in part): “….her married life, her husband and her baby, come first and far ahead of her career,” in addition to “This unusual role for Miss Hepburn brought up the subject of career women vs. wives — and Audrey made it tersely clear that she is by no means living her part.” (November 28, 1960). I chuckled when Audrey and Paul were strolling through Tiffany’s and musing about how the only thing they could afford was a Sterling Silver Rotary Phone Dialer for $6.75.The second big takeaway was the discussion of how “perfect” beauty is less powerful than imperfect beauty. One of my favorite discussions during the #StyleMeSmartly month was:

“The first paragraph on page 8 lists all of Audrey’s physical ‘strangeness’: ‘Her legs were too long, her waist was too small, her feet were too big … and a bust no bigger than two fists, she was hardly desirable.’ And yet we know she’s been considered beautiful for decades. What physical parts of yourself did you used to find ‘strange’ & downplay? Have you learned how to dress for them? Or since accepted them?”

This question gets at a lot of what I and my friends (and our daughters) struggle with. One of the threads this discussion took had to do with the dichotomy between Marilyn Monroe’s physical “perfection” and her insecurities. Whereas Audrey Hepburn had her “strangeness” but she attracted the viewer’s eye and interest nevertheless.

I mentioned that I just finished “The Chaperone.” In one passage, again after Louise’s beauty and popularity have faded, Cora discusses how Louise had never fully come to terms with her insecurities, Cora says (paraphrasing again), “maybe if her face had not been so perfect, if her nose had been askance a bit, she would have had harder times that built stronger character and security.”

I don’t have a perfect body; there has never been a danger of people liking me for what I looked like as a bigger factor than something I said, wrote, or did. But I have seen girls with the perfect physical components of beauty ruin it with poor posture, poor attitude, or poor confidence. I have seen women with hardly any “traditional” beauty attributes exude beauty based on how they act, how they wear their clothes, how they carry themselves, how they meet their goals. In one reference to how Audrey carried herself, the author talks about how Audrey’s background as a dancer influenced her presence. He says, “She wasn’t dancing, but she might as well have been.” (p. 9). I also agree with the author’s contention, in a discussion of the famous “Little Black Dress,” that “pure understatement radiates confidence.” (p. 130)

My next to last “big takeaway” is the immersion into New York City images. If you know me, you know how fond I am of NYC, and I got my fill between the book and the movie. Now I know that “Dinty Moore” is more than a stew (it was a celebrity hot spot in the 50’s). I loved the line in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Audrey says to Paul, “We’ll spend a whole day doing things we’ve never done before.” What an adventure in NYC. I loved that they went to the model boat pond, mirroring an experience I have shared with my daughter. I loved the simplicity of Audrey singing “Moon River” on her balcony – simple and profound moments in your life can happen with an urban cacophony right around the corner. The passion for New York that infuses all of this #StyleMeSmartly concept is why I called this post “Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m., Or Any Time.” I would happily ensconce myself on Fifth Avenue at 5 a.m. ….or any time!

Lastly, I can’t let go of this post without pointing out Mr. Wasson’s incredibly fine use of vocabulary on page 40, a passage referring to Audrey’s first visit to Givenchy’s showroom, where she was tasked with choosing a wardrobe for Breakfast at Tiffany’s: “To those who looked on, she betrayed no sign of the uneasiness she might have felt at having to make such an expensive and indeed perspicacious decision.”

 

1 thought on “Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m. (Or Any Time)

  1. Oh Paula I love this post! I too was just so bowled over by how much I learned reading “5th Avenue, 5am” that I’m thrilled others felt the same when I made it our first book club pick. One of the many reasons I find it fascinating is that, while saying “the 50’s or 60’s” does feel long ago, Audrey Hepburn & her films remain such a popular part of modern culture that it doesn’t feel that long ago. She’s so often held up as a style icon, that you’d have to read a book like this to really consider just how much she pushed the envelope back then, & then be amazed at how it can at the same time remain so relevant 50 years later.

    with grace & gumption,
    Hilary

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