On a blustery East Hampton day like this one, Big Edie is shown shoveling snow on the second floor deck of Grey Gardens, c. 1940.
Mr. and Mrs. John Vernou Bouvier, jr. of this city and East Hampton, Long Island, announce the engagement of their daughter, Miss Edith Ewing Bouvier, to Phelan Beale, a lawyer practicing in this city.Miss Bouvier is a graduate of the Spence School and was introduced to society two years ago. She is a devotee of outdoor sports, being particularly fond of golf and motoring.No date has been set for the wedding.
August | 1916.
The Mystery of Little Edie’s Hair
One of the questions most often asked about Grey Gardens is “Why does Edie keep her head covered?” Is it part of her unique fashion sense? Is she bald? Is it her way of covering grey hair?
One story speculated that, as a sign of devotion to her mother, Edie climbed a tree in the yard of Grey Gardens and set her hair ablaze. With no hair, she wouldn’t be found attractive to men and wouldn’t have the confidence to venture back to New York City, securing her permanently to Grey Gardens.
But when Michael Suscy, the writer and director of HBO’s Grey Gardens (2009), interviewed a childhood friend of Edie’s, he seemed to have discovered the truth. In her teen years, Edie suffered from a bout of Alopecia (A disease that causes a person’s hair to fall out. It can occur without warning and last for a matter of weeks or decades. Most often it is brought about by stress.) Thankfully, her hair began to grow again by her late teens and Edie must have thought that her Alopecia would be gone for good.
Unfortunately, by her mid 30s, she began to lose her hair again. Instead of opting for wigs, which can be expensive and unrealistic looking, Edie used whatever she had at her disposal - towels, scarves, sweaters, or hats - to cover her head.
In this photo, you can clearly see that even into her 60s, Edie wasn’t totally bald. Opting for head coverings (grey hair ages a person, balding even more so) gave Edie a youthful and whimsical appearance. Still, when a particularly gutsy reporter would question her head coverings, she responded that she gave herself a crew cut with a pair of nail clippers because she was too busy caring for her mother to worry about her hair. Even David Maysles asked, in an unused scene they filmed. Edie’s response: “I just couldn’t bother with it.” A close observer of the documentary can see that some hair remains at the nape of her neck, around her ears, and near her forehead - but little place else.
Her unique head coverings were one of the many qualities that catapulted her into superstar status within the fashion community, serving as a muse for such designers as Isaac Mizrahi, Marc Jacobs, and Calvin Klein. It also served as a frame for her beautiful face.
I am reblogging this previous post because I just added some new information.
“I don’t think I look too well in the movie. I’m too fat and… I’m funny. I worked as a professional model and I would have preferred to have very good looking costumes and makeup and danced and sung and everything. But that would have been contrived - planned. The Maysles don’t go in for that. They’re absolutely bona-fide. They’re real. They came in here to tape what they saw. And they didn’t want me all dressed up or looking divine or anything. So In a way, I think - ‘Oh God, how wonderful I could have looked. How glamorous I could have looked.’ You know - if if. But that wasn’t the way it was done. I signed a contract. We agreed.”
Little Edie | 1942
Little Edie’s debutante supper dance occurred seventy-six years ago today. On January 1st 1936, at the Pierre Hotel in the main ballroom on the second floor, Edie was presented to the world and was officially able to begin to accept engagements for marriage.
The event cost upwards of $10,000, and though Phelan, Sr. attended, he hardly spoke a word to his wife.
Big Edie said, “I looked younger than any of the debutantes. Listen, you know - everybody came up and shook hands and they thought I was the debutante. Don’t you love that?”
As depicted in the HBO film Grey Gardens (2009), Little Edie did indeed run away before the party began. Edie said,
“So, came the debut and guess where I was. Came the time I was supposed to be in the Pierre Ballroom on the seating line for the goddamn debut - guess where I was? Sitting in the Stork Club with Francis Hodge! Fran Hodge turns to me and said, ‘Hey, Edith, I think it’s time you got dressed for the party, don’t you?’ “
In this photo from July of 1936, Little Edie is seen modeling the Bergdorf Goodman gown she wore to her debut.