This is the story that Glenda told me. It was a long ago day and Glenda sat cross-legged on the floor of a library in southern California, flipping through a magazine and dreaming girlish dreams. A photo of Jackie Kennedy flashed past and caught Glenda's eye. Jackie was sitting astride a horse, back straight as an arrow and ankles properly flexed, wearing a chic black riding habit that made her look athletic, patrician, and beautiful all at once.
In that moment, Glenda decided that adults shouldn’t get all the good clothes.
She went home and described to her mother the photo she had seen. “I want to look like that,” she said. “I want to look like Jackie.”
Her mother, whose name was Verlene, got out her sewing machine and made a pair of jodhpurs for young Glenda.
The story doesn’t end there. If Glenda was going to emulate Equestrian Jackie, she needed the requisite footwear. At the mall, she spotted the most perfect pair of Ralph Lauren riding boots, exactly like those that director John Hughes bought for Molly Ringwald to wear in The Breakfast Club. They were, like, majorly awesome! But this was the 1980s, before H&M and throwaway fashion, and those boots cost a small fortune.
Glenda went home and described the boots to her mother: cognac-colored full-grain leather, tall shank but not too tall, waxed heels. “I need these boots!” she said.
Her mother got out a sheaf of paper and a pencil. She asked Glenda to write a three-paragraph essay outlining the argument in favor of such an extravagant purchase.
Glenda worked hard on the essay. She concluded it by writing that she would cherish the boots for the rest of her life.
Verlene bought her daughter the boots. Glenda wore them with her jodhpurs to Pasadena High School. Everyone stared. Some kids made fun. Glenda didn't care. And wouldn't you know, it wasn't long before her classmates were wasping around the school hallways, sporting breeches and plaids. Glenda's equestrian fashion caught on, and Verlene, classically clothed in her traditional Talbot's outfits, loved it.
Glenda couldn't possibly understand the significance at the time -- she was just a kid -- but given that she went on to study fashion, to work in the fashion industry, and to eventually launch her own style blog, this paper on boots assigned by her mother was, in essence, her very first blog post. Verlene recognized in Glenda an understanding of individuality, a love of fashion, and a way with words. Her mother knew.
Ten years later, Verlene died of pancreatic cancer at the age of fifty-four. Glenda was twenty-nine. It devastated her. She eventually channeled her grief into action and founded a cancer support organization in her mother's memory. She also wrote a book about the experience, titled "A Place Called Peace." The success of both projects grew Glenda's confidence. In 2013, she launched So What to Twenty, a style blog where Glenda maintains a certain distance from flash-in-the-pan trends in favor of clothing that answers something more meaningful, less temporary.
Glenda also wrote a book this year. It is titled True Style: A Look Beyond the Surface. It is a personal manifesto for accepting yourself, developing your own identity, and putting it to use to reach your goals.
Glenda has a few things of her mother's, including this wristwatch. It doesn't have a directional element on its face, but it may as well have. Wearing it, Glenda can navigate to her true north.
The other part of Verlene that Glenda uses regularly? Her mother's favorite pose. On this photo shoot, Sean, the photographer remarked on Glenda's ability to move in front of the camera. Glenda told him that she likes to pose the way her mother did in an old photograph from her mother's younger days in Arkansas.
Verlene's final words still sound in Glenda's head: "Everything is going to be alright. One day you are going to fly."
Photos by Sean Drews
About my series on women:
Every month, I produce a photo essay on women who inspire me. I zero in on an object they cherish or an environment that is important to them. If you liked Glenda's story, you might also enjoy Linda's and Ellen's. Or, join the email list so you don't ever miss a post.
About my Friday emails:
Every Friday I send out a newsletter containing beautiful photos, top-notch writing from around the web, links to great antiques, and sometimes book or recipe recommendations. Hundreds subscribe. They email me if I'm late. Join us!
I also have an online shop!
I sell vintage and antique vignettes at Finder Not Keeper. This week, new at Finder Not Keeper, vintage equestrian! Click on photos for shopping information.