are chinatown’s OAPs the future of fashion?

@chinatownpretty is the instagram shining a spotlight on the most stylish seniors of San Francisco.

by George Douglas-Davies
10 May 2018, 9:21am

Forget New York, London, Milan and Paris, forget style-conscious millennials, San Francisco’s Chinatown seniors are the future of fashion. Or at least that’s the thinking behind @chinatownpretty, the instagram account celebrating the street style of seniors living (and grocery shopping) in San Fran’s Chinatown.

The project was created by Andria Lo, a freelance photographer, and Valerie Luu, who co-owns Vietnamese pop-up restaurant, Rice Paper Scissors in San Francisco. The pair met on the San Francisco food circuit a few years back and have been friends ever since, working together on a few food photography projects.

According to Valerie, @chinatownpretty came about by accident. “Whenever Andria and I would meet up for dim sum dates in Chinatown we’d find ourselves fascinated by the colourful, electric and unexpected outfits worn by the seniors walking around us,” she says. “As second generation Asian-Americans, we were drawn to these men and women in their 80s because they reminded us of our grandparents.”

The account started simply as a way of getting to know where these street-savvy seniors swiped their garms, but ended up moving beyond the sartorial surface. “We wanted to capture their ideals, and their immigration story through photos and interviews,” Valerie adds.

So, just what are these glamorous geriatrics wearing? What looks are these ostentatious OAPs owning? “They’re pretty distinct,” Valerie says. “It's a mash-up of bright colours and bold prints, as well as layers of handmade, tailored or gifted clothing (being thrifty is an important value among the people we meet). Lastly, it's all about keeping warm while keeping the sun out, so we see lots of puffy jackets and extra-wide brim visors.”

When it comes to photographing the most stylish senior set, morning time is always best, particularly during the grocery shopping rush hour. By working with Cantonese speakers, Andria and Valerie are able to glean as much from their subjects as a brief encounter allows. “It's easier to get candid street photos, but we work really hard to get information about each person. How they got to America, what they did before they retired, where they got their clothes and if they have any life or fashion wisdom they want to share. For us, it's capturing their spirit and personality and letting our readers know the person behind the awesome outfit.”

Thanks to the rise of instagram there are now more self-styled Sartorialists than you can shake a stick at, but few stray from the cookie-cutter mould of hyperbeast millennials peacocking about the place, humble bragging about in their latest Supreme drop, so it’s refreshing to see a platform giving visibility to the older generation.

Expanding their project further, this year the pair plan to visit New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Vancouver, where they will be found chasing down mobility scooters and chatting up war veterans in the hope of publishing a book of their discoveries.

Here they pick their top five posts:

“We spotted them from across the street in Los Angeles Chinatown. It was an overcast morning and they just stood out! We ran across the street to catch them. The Yees met through a matchmaker and we loved how they looked so synchronised with their plaids and bright colours. The details were such treasures: Mrs Yee wore plaid on plaid and a shoelace tied around her glasses, and Mr. Yee had rings of layers around his neck, each with a different colour and texture. They also cut each other’s hair! They claimed that they don't coordinate their outfits, but it’s obvious they’re on the same wavelength.”

“We bumped into Huitang Deng while turning the corner onto Grant Street in San Francisco Chinatown. He was smoking a cigarette and the smoke was swirling around him, lit by the sun. It was magical. Since San Francisco can be pretty chilly he had on two hats, seven shirts and four pairs of pants that were all smartly layered. He even offered to give us a hat!”

“Run Jin Ou Yang is one our more recent favourites. We met her during a Portrait Day, an open photo shoot that we organised with the YWCA, which provides affordable housing for Chinatown seniors. Everything about her look is so enjoyable: the silver bob (which she cuts herself), printed floral shirt, plaid blazer, emerald elastic-waist pants. And the pink socks! She also had on a gold watch -- swoon.”

“Mr. Chew is one of regular featured folks on Chinatown Pretty. When we first met him he told us about his collection of 40 ties and showed us a photo album with pictures of his family (which he always carries with him.) We ran into him one day while he was out on a grocery run and almost didn't recognise him since he was wearing a ladies sunhat. But we knew it was him since he was wearing his signature parrot tie, along with a tailored suit he got in Hong Kong.”

“Mrs Wong teaches Luk Tung Kuen, a Chinese exercise routine, every day in a park in Los Angeles Chinatown while Mr Wong walks laps. There's little exercise groups that meet like this in every Chinatown and we always try to join in. The Wongs are wearing custom sweat-suits that they had made decades ago. It's wild that they look brand new -- many of the people we meet have taught us a thing or two about slow fashion and how to take care of clothes.”

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