Marshall Erb pulls back the curtain on Coastal Grandmother chic (and explains the mainstream hoopla).
By Elise Hofer Shaw
Have you heard of Coastal Grandmother chic? Neither had we until a couple of weeks ago when the term went stratospherically viral. Coined by Gen Z TikTokers, piggybacked on by celebs and pounced on by the media, all of the sudden Coastal Grandmother had joined the ranks of Uncah Jaams, Will Smith’s Oscars slap, and anything and everything to do with Johnny Depp’s defamation trial as 2022’s top memes—and it’s only May.
Anne Hathaway, only half jokingly, hopped on the bandwagon, donning a gran-ified look for an Instagram post that was captioned: “I have been ready for #coastalgrandmother chic since before TikTok was born. May this moment never end.” Overnight, button-down shirts, white jeans, straw hats and Tod’s loafers (or Chanel flats, depending on the day’s to-do’s) were giving cropped bustiers and baggy tees a run for their money on the Gram. And then CG officially infiltrated the zeitgeist when its finer fashion points were further dissected by The Wall Street Journal, forever solidifying its place in our sartorial lexicon.
That same WSJ article, penned ever-so-eloquently (and a little on the cheek) by one Rory Satran, also provided a solid description of who, exactly, personifies the Coastal Grandmother: “Immortalized by Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep [in the Nancy Meyers films “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated,” respectively], 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.”
Technically speaking, Hathaway is a Millennial. Ina Garten is a Baby Boomer. And the bulk of today’s TikTok allstars aren’t even in college. So why the multigenerational love all of the sudden? “Meyers’ greatest hits, where the Coastal Grandmother trend was best put on blast—’Something’s Gotta Give’ (2003), ‘The Holiday’ (2006), and ‘It’s Complicated’ (2009)—are 10 to 20 years old at this point,” informs Marshall Erb, principal and lead designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago, who admits to being a steady fan of the filmmaker’s rom-coms. “Honestly, I think pop culture was in need of a vibe shift, and if that equates to cashmere sweaters and posh interiors, then sign me up!”
The warm and fuzzy feels these star-studded movies’ invoke, however, don’t belong exclusively to Meyers. The Danes call it hygge—a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. Germans refer to it as gemütlichkeit, a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness and good cheer. “It’s speculated that hygge originates from the word hug. Hug comes from the 1560s word hugge, which means ‘to embrace.’ The point being that Nancy Meyers didn’t invent coziness, but she sure did position her brand of it as the gold standard for WASP-y design—something that, prior to the Internet, only existed in these blue-blooded little pockets along the East Coast and, with its own Spanish interpretations, in Montecito.”
FYI: The aesthetic that Meyers has built her name upon, while casually elegant in appearance, isn’t casual at all. “Let’s be honest. That blanket thrown over the back of the chair is cashmere from Loro Piana, the crumpled linen sheets are from Frette, and the Colonial antiques are from Sotheby’s. These are $30 million homes that have been made to look effortless and inviting by a professional interior designer,” says Erb. “You can call it ‘coastal’ until the cows come home, but it’s big money. As for the ‘grandmother’ bit, that’s another aspirational piece—the affable matriarch who has it all: dream job security, a robust nuclear family, a bottomless nest egg, good taste and plenty of free time to bake chocolate croissants on a whim.”
Maybe this is what they call in the movies “suspension of disbelief.” That said, Meyers’ interiors have had serious staying power. “Twenty years later and I still get clients asking for the all-white Nancy Meyers kitchen complete with marble countertops, a massive island, Shaker cabinets, oversize industrial appliances et al,” adds Erb. “And those shingle-style homes have been popping up all over the U.S. in affluent—and ironically landlocked—suburbs for the last decade. But I understand the appeal. I mean, who doesn’t want to live in a fabulously chic home that transports you to the Hamptons or the eucalyptus-laden foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains?! Just make sure to commingle the scents of lavender and fresh baked goods for the full effect.”