We Need a Jewish Coastal Grandmother Aesthetic

The essence of our Jewish grandmas requires a little more glamour and pizazz than TikTok’s Coastal Grandmother look.

The first time TikTok served me a video of Lex Nicoleta coining the term “Coastal Grandmother” — a breezy aesthetic paying homage to beautiful, gray-haired Nancy Meyers movie heroines — I felt seen by the algorithm. I’ve longed for the details of Diane Keaton’s lifestyle in “Something’s Gotta Give” since the film’s theatrical release in 2003: the quaint market shopping, the big bright kitchen, the enormous office where she would weep in front of her MacBook. Even at 14, I recognized these images for what they were: aspirational.

In the weeks since Coastal Grandmother entered the 2022 zeitgeist, we’ve been inundated with coverage everywhere from Refinery29 to The Wall Street Journal, and I’ve had a couple of realizations. First, I am hardly original for my lifelong Nancy Meyers fixation (there’s also a burgeoning Chessy-core aesthetic among “Parent Trap” fans). Second, while I still aspire to Coastal Grandmother status, I hardly recognize the phenomenon’s trappings as anything my own actual coastal grandmother would ever wear or use.

My coastal grandmother was not a Meryl Streep or Diane Keaton type. A Jewish woman from Brooklyn, she was more along the Fran spectrum, falling somewhere between Lebowitz and Fine. Her chain smoking, loud prints and heavy gold jewelry would be a mismatch for today’s coveted crisp linens, blue and white ginger jars, and bucket hats. When juxtaposed with TikTok’s Coastal Gran hallmarks, the list of her accessories reads like something Lenny Bruce might’ve rattled off during one of his Jewish vs. goyishe comedy routines.

Nancy Meyers is responsible for the framing of the Coastal Grandmother; I’m looking for someone who has curated a vibe that hits a little closer to home. In January 1974, photographer David Godlis ventured to Miami Beach (“Jewish Disneyland,” as he called it) to capture his retired Russian immigrant grandparents and their cohort in all their leathery, baby-oiled glory. The resulting collection is a pristine distillation of the exact Jewish Coastal Grandmother brand I want to pay homage to.

You know the Jewish Coastal Grandmother. She sleeps in a silk shmatte to protect her hair overnight while it’s in rollers. She pads around in a quilted housecoat she calls a “dusta.” Like her non-Jewish counterpart, the Jewish Coastal Grandmother will also wear white denim jeans with a straight leg, but she will pair them with a top from Jaclyn Smith’s 1987 Kmart collection — something with turquoise stripes, pearl embellishments and a large flower appliqué across the chest. She wears Shalimar and orangey-red lacquer on her long nails. She doesn’t carry a bag; she wears a pocketbook. And inside that pocketbook is a roll of Certs, a brocade lipstick case and a leather carrier for her Pall Malls. She drives a red Oldsmobile Cutlass or nothing at all.

The Jewish Coastal Grandmother look requires more armor than a sheath of linen. She needs glamour and pizazz: the pop of gold, the pop of leopard and the pop of floral. She wants to look like a cross between Esther Williams in her prime and an incognito Bugs Bunny in Palm Springs. She has been immortalized in Godlis’ Miami, but also in Harold Feinstein’s Coney Island, and John Margolies’s Catskills. She is ready for the revival of the snowbird movement. She, too, deserves a moment in this summer’s spotlight.

This is not to say we can’t pull off TikTok’s portrayal of Coastal Grandmother — we can, we will, I’m currently wearing a white linen button down as I type this — but I think we need an alternative should we want to bring a little noise to the beach with us this summer.

With that, I’ve created a starter guide to embodying the Jewish Coastal Grandmother aesthetic pioneered by my grandmother (and maybe yours):

Jewish Coastal Grandmother
via Courtney Preiss

1. The Classic Lawn Chair: I can still remember a row of these lightweight aluminum chairs lined up on the sunny side of Nostrand Avenue — all the grandmas sitting together, sharing a cigarette and some gossip after a long day at the beauty parlor.

2. The Oceana Visor: Visors are due for a comeback, and this is just practical for protecting your punim while also protecting against hat hair. The goofier the sun hat, the more likely my grandmother was to call it a “chapeau” to feign fanciness.

3. The Silky Robe: Growing up, my mother refused to buy me anything leopard print, claiming it was “tacky.” Naturally, my grandmother bought me all the leopard she could find. Tacky is in the eye of the beholder, and we deserve some silky loungewear this summer.

4. The Rose Garden Swimsuit: It needs to be floral and it needs to be a retro cut. And if you want to preserve your blowout, consider pairing the suit with my grandmother’s favorite: a ridiculous rubber swim cap.

5. The Misting Hand Fan: A callback to the SqueezeBreeze misting fans of our youth, every aspiring (and perspiring) JCG needs one of these for summer’s schvitzier moments.

6. The Tortoise Sunglasses: The eyewear should be dramatic and fit for a Hollywood starlet, though you could always go for a bolder, more outlandish color or style.

7. The Paul Newman x Grossinger’s Tote: Not your grandma’s pocketbook, but a formidable beach tote and a suitable nod to the Catskills summers of her youth.

8. The Gold Loeffler Randall Sandals: If my own Jewish coastal grandmother were to be reincarnated as a shoe, she’d come back as this one.

9. The Summer Reading: One of my personal most anticipated books this year, Hannah Orenstein’s fourth novel “Meant to Be Mine” includes a soothsaying Jewish grandmother character, which already makes it the ultimate beach read for our newly-minted vibe.

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