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My grandmother Sue Turner grew up in Plaquemine, Louisiana, and her mother made all of her clothes. Being in a small town with somewhat limited clothing options, my grandmother turned to the pages of Vogue and other magazines for inspiration. She claims her true love for fashion may have happened a bit later in life when her son, my uncle "B," attended RISD for fashion design, and later went on to be an assistant to Diana Vreeland. B would send her funky accessories and hats every once in a while and she loved to wear them and share their stories with others. Figuratively, too, she's worn a multitude of hats — those of a mother, preservationist, horticulturalist, art advocate, humanitarian, business woman — and I admire every one of them. But, she's always been known for her impeccable style.
While running errands in the afternoon with my mother, I received a call from Sue. She was inspired by a Ralph Lauren advertisement, and wanted me to photograph her. She dressed herself in a swath of black tulle from her mother's sewing collection, a Lock & Company Hatters top hat from London, a Wolford lace collar my mother had given her, a vintage brooch, and I placed a chair near a window in her study. The images we took are some of my favorite to date. The smile that spread across Sue's face while viewing the photos on my laptop was truly priceless.
My grandmother has to "keep up appearances" in public, and is typically a fairly reserved person, but when it is just the two of us, her sternness seems to melt away. She has also told me that I have a way of relaxing her in front of the camera, too. She and I are family, just two girls having a conversation and playing dress-up.
Fashion allows all of us to express ourselves in various ways depending on different situations, surroundings, and moods. For Sue, and with all the roles she's had in her life, she's had to find ways to reinvent herself. There are times when a more subdued attire is appropriate and others where her imagination is allowed to just take over. Fashion has given her the tools to fit the many "hats" she's worn over time — including tulle-topped ones.
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Jeanne Svendson is a photographer based in Savannah, Georgia.