In beachy button-ups over Barefoot Contessa burrata salads, Nancy Meyers groupies young and old toast their newfound TikTok trendiness.
By Rory Satran, Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2022
You know the Coastal Grandmother.
She wakes up early in her white linen-covered bed, seaside sunlight streaming in. “Siri, play ‘The Big Chill’ soundtrack,” she commands, listening to it in her marble bathroom while applying Vintner’s Daughter face oil. Eager to get to the farmer’s market—it’s peony season, after all—she puts on a crisp light-blue button-up shirt, white jeans and a straw hat. Oversized, the shirt qualifies as a “shent,” the portmanteau of “shirt” and “tent” adopted by the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten to describe her own relaxed tops.
With a Provençal market basket, Coastal Grandmother is good to go. She hops into her vintage Range Rover and heads out to begin her satisfying, Sancerre-punctuated day. Despite her instant familiarity to many, Coastal Grandmother is an exaggerated stereotype of the privileged older woman. She’s an aspirational character, rooted in the heroines of Nancy Meyers’ early 2000s rom-coms “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated.” Immortalized by Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep, they are professional women over 50 with enormous white couches and a penchant for walks on the beach. In real life, CG is exemplified by the off-duty looks of mogul Oprah Winfrey (in coastal Montecito) and Ina Garten (in coastal East Hampton)—neither of whom are actually grandmothers or even mothers. No matter: the Coastal Grandmother is more of a mindset than a rigid classification.
The term was coined in January by Lex Nicoleta, a 26-year-old California woman who works as an officer manager for her family’s agricultural business and now makes TikToks extolling what she calls the Coastal Grandmother “lifestyle.” After two years at home during a pandemic, Ms. Nicoleta said, people have a new appreciation for anything that makes domestic life feel romantic (see also: the runaway success of the nap dress). And TikTok as a platform has spurred the semi-ironic pursuit of materialist culture (see also: Tinx’s rich mom parodies).
Coastal Grandmother chic involves blue-and-white china ginger pots and those omnipresent button-downs, for sure, but it’s also an attitude. “The trend is really centered around the idea of slowing down, enjoying your life, creating these little moments for yourself,” said Ms. Nicoleta. CG activities like arranging a vase of fresh-cut flowers or baking a crumble are accessible to everyone. Ms. Nicoleta said she hoped viewers of her videos would think, “I can bring a little bit of this lifestyle into my home right now.” Of course, this is a trend that’s not really a trend; it’s been around since at least 1983, when Ralph Lauren Home began flogging a coastal lifestyle line in addition to clothing. Some longtime adherents of the CG look are surprised to know that they’re suddenly in style. “I didn’t even know people were gravitating toward this!” said Margit Arrobio, 72, a realtor and the mother of Pia Baroncini, a 35-year-old entrepreneur. “You’ve always dressed like this, Mom,” interjected Ms. Baroncini, when I interviewed them together, of her mother’s white linen blouses and beige pants. “I’m in a rut?” fretted Ms. Arrobio. “No, you’ve always dressed very classic,” said Ms. Baroncini.
Both women, who live together in Pasadena, Calif., along with Ms. Baroncini’s husband Davide Baroncini, founder of Ghiaia Cashmere, and their toddler, share clothes in the Coastal Grandmother vein. They like sweaters and blouses from minimalist brands such as Totême, Khaite and the Row. Ms. Baroncini said that she, her mom and her husband all dressed similarly in light, luxe layers—as if they might hop on a boat at any moment. It’s a style that works across genders and generations. “I feel like my mom has been more confident in her looks and dressing up a little bit recently, and I’m 35 and wanting to be a bit more age-appropriate,” Ms. Baroncini mused. “We’re kind of meeting in the middle.”
Although the Coastal Grandmother look is gaining traction among those who still have living grandmothers of their own, part of its power lies in elevating a rarely glorified segment of the population: older women. “I think it’s great that it’s gaining prominence because we have a lot of ageism in the world,” said Anita McKenzie, a 64- year-old photographer in coastal Kent, England with two teenaged grandkids. Ms. Nicoleta said that she wanted to highlight the idea that you can get better with age, and look forward to getting older. And older women celebrate her Coastal Grandmother videos, Ms. Nicoleta said, often commenting to say ‘Thank you for romanticizing a later age in life.’ So will the aesthetic move the needle for companies that sell pale button-downs and linen frocks? Even before the hashtag’s inception, Coastal Grandmother staples were resonating. When Oprah Winfrey began wearing a $125 beachy blue-and-white striped button-up called the “Deep End” from the New York and Los Angeles fashion brand AYR in 2019, it went viral, selling over 64,000 pieces. (Ms. Nicoleta called an image of Ms. Winfrey in the shirt the ultimate Coastal Grandmother look).
Reviews for the shirt on the AYR website read like Nancy Meyers fan fiction: “When I wear this shirt, I feel like I should be sipping a glass of Sauv Blanc on a balcony overlooking the ocean in the Hamptons,” wrote reviewer Lindsay P. At work on her upcoming Netflix film, which features an undisclosed number of Coastal Grandmothers, Ms. Meyers declined to comment for this article. But she posted a stunned response to the craze to Instagram on April 20, writing, “This [Refinery 29] article says the Coastal Grandmother aesthetic has garnered over 1 billion views on TikTok! Typo?? That’s a lot of views for a pair of khaki pants, a Gap sweater and a bucket hat!” To actual CGs, however, it’s beyond bucket hats. “The sea is such a spiritual aesthetic for me,” said Ms. McKenzie, the grandmother in coastal Kent, “and that’s why I’m drawn to it. It’s not a fashion statement.”