Andria Lo (photographer) and Valerie Luu (writer)
San Francisco Bay Area
@chinatownpretty is a porthole onto senior style in various Chinatowns across the United States. Whether they are scouting San Francisco, their home base, or on a trip to downtown New York, the writer-photographer duo has an eagle eye for well-dressed men and women of a certain age. And each new look comes with an intriguing story. We learn that one octogenarian made her striking mustard yellow shirt with leftover fabric from her seamstress gig and that the couple sporting matching pink hats has been married for 64 years. Another pair in custom-made yellow sweatshirts exercises together every day. Talk about commitment.
The Flower Vendor – 2014. Wang Mei Ha, 70, wore a handmade bucket hat while selling bouquets on the corner of Jackson and Stockton. ••• A few weeks ago we gave a talk at the 6th on 7th Gallery, a photo gallery space located in an affordable housing building in SOMA. We will have a few prints up till June 24th. Also on display are photos by veterans, SRO residents and formerly homeless who are documenting their lives in and around SOMA. ••• Gallery hours: Mon 5-8pm, Thurs & Sat: 3-7pm
How did this all start?
The idea behind @chinatownpretty was sparked by a conversation that Luu and Lo had over dim sum at the end of 2013. As second-generation Asian-Americans from the Bay Area, the duo had a special connection to San Francisco’s Chinatown. “We were drawn to these men and women in their 80s because they reminded us of our grandparents,” they write. “The project aims to capture their ideals, immigration stories, and of course, fashion, through photos and interviews.”
Also, Chinatowns have their own charm, especially for seniors:
According to Lo and Luu, “Chinatowns in general function as a landing pad for new immigrants and a place with community-serving businesses (not to mention the best restaurants). We also love how Chinatowns enable seniors to live independently in a dense urban area. We regularly see residents 80 years old (and up) buying groceries, exercising in the park, getting dim sum, and playing cards in the plaza. In short, it’s the best people watching.”
What kind of looks catch their eye?
Chinatowns’ style is all about a vibrant mix. Luu and Lo describe it as follows: “We look for outfits that spark joy. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi in Chinatown seniors—it often involved outfits that play with bold colors, patterns, and handmade or customized clothing and accessories. Some of the magic we observe in the Chinatown style is that it’s quite effortless and unexpected. Pieces that shouldn’t really work together, that clash, or are from different eras end up having their own unique harmony.”
Yes, there are even micro-trends among Chinatown seniors:
Think: Elastic-waist pants, socks and sandals (according to Luu and Lo, Chinatown is where the combo started), and statement-making hats including mini umbrellas, floral bonnets, bucket hats, and bejeweled baseball caps.
There’s a Chinatown Pretty book in the works. Stay tuned!