Bella Zaydenberg

I Let My Grandma Dress Me For A Week, And She Was Opinionated As Hell

My grandma looked me up and down, scrutiny etched on her face. Like most of my family, she has absurdly smooth, nearly wrinkle-free skin — a trait I hope to inherit when I'm her age.

“Take those off,” she said in Russian, glaring at my jeans. My favorite jeans — a torn up BDG pair purchased on sale from Urban Outfitters that I felt the need to further demolish — don't sit well with my family. Distressed denim reminds them of the poor back in Russia, blue-collar workers who couldn't afford to patch up their jeans.

“Why?” I ask her, looking down at my bare knees. “I like them."

She shakes her head, exasperated.

“I love you, Bellochka,” she says, standing up. “But I love you a little less when you have those on."

That's my grandmother for you, knowing exactly what she likes and doesn't -- and totally unafraid to share her opinion either way. It's classically Russian.

In my head, there are two kinds of Russian immigrants in Brooklyn: the Americanized kind that eat both hamburgers and Olivier salad in the same meal, and the chinchilla-wearing, Brighton Beach-living Russians who scoff at American culture the same way I scoff at clumpy mascara.

My family is the former — although to be fair, we do own our fair share of fur coats.

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My grandmother's style revolves around glitzy tops, fitted pants and lots of black. Her number one priority is comfort, which I respect. Also, like most grandmothers, she can't stand the way I dress. My oversized tees make no sense to her, and anything with intentional holes makes me look one step away from homelessness.

With this in mind, I asked her to style me for a week's worth of events. She was all about it, asking me questions on the phone before I even made the trek down to the house. My four-year-old sister, Samantha, joined in on her enthusiasm and acted as the styling assistant for the day.

Needless to say, they were both really into it.

"Office casual" didn't mean jeans and a T-shirt.

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“Everyone wears jeans!” I insisted, while my Baba picked apart my closet for a work outfit.

She went ahead and picked out my most interview-ready pants, a windowpane-print wide-leg pair from Anthropologie.

“What would you wear these with?” she asked, holding them up.

“A sweatshirt, probably.” I suggested. “It dresses them down and makes them look less —"

“Sweatshirts are too big on you. They make you look pregnant.” she insisted. Wonderful. Thanks, Grandma.  Finally, she plucked a short-sleeve cotton tee from J.Crew off a hanger.

Together, the two looked like I stepped out of a “How To Dress For The Office” editorial from the mid-90s. I just needed a scrunchie.

“The colors match well,” she said.

I wasn't feeling it. Like, at all. I felt like a whale, uncomfortable and way too stuffy for my casual office.

My grandma got the "dress over pants" look.

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It took approximately five seconds for my Babushka to declare all the dresses in my closet "too short."

"What if I wear them with tights?" I asked, holding up a long-sleeve dress with a modest-ish hem.

"No. Leggings or pants."

In the end, she and Sam picked out a long-sleeve purple dress from MinkPink and a pair of black AG skinny jeans. The final look wasn't all that bad, actually. In fact, I think my grandma was on to something, except I think I'd pair a slightly flared dress with those jeans next time.

Grandma got my date-night style.

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I wear a ton of leather. In fact, I'm wearing leather pants as I type this.

Perhaps playing off that (or because my grandma is finally accepting Kanye West as the originator of leather joggers), Babushka immediately picked out a pair of leather sweats from OAK.

"I have a skinny pair!" I suggested, offering the pair to her. She shook her head.

Finding a top was trickier. She didn't like any of the tighter-fitting tops I suggested, and made me try on T-shirt after T-shirt. Finally, she spotted a white linen top from J.Crew. Her eyes lit up.

"I have the same one!" she exclaimed. "But mine's blue."

My sister upvoted my Grandma's pick, claiming she liked the tassels.

I loved the outfit. All it needed was a leather jacket to top it all off.

My grandmother didn't really understand concerts.

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I was seeing Rihanna for her ANTI tour that week, and I was thinking of going for an all-leather ensemble. That didn't make much sense to my Baba.

"What kind of concert is it? Jazz? Classical music?" she asked, looking for a dress for me to wear.

"No, it's, uh, more hip-hop. It's casual."

Russian grandmothers don't understand the concept of R&B or pop. Hip-hop was "that thing with all the naked ladies and cursing" and therefore uncharted terrain. Baba asked me to try on a striped bodycon midi skirt from French Connection, a style I'd normally wear to work with a chunky sweater.

She didn't look like she was feeling it. Finally, she asked:

"Is it fashionable for everyone to see your butt like that?"

I nodded. She pursed her lips.

"Then, OK."

She paired the skirt with a sleeveless black peplum top from Zara, which I liked because it was low-cut. I liked the outfit, too, except for the fact that I would wear this on a date or to drinks -- not to Rihanna.

My grandma hated rompers.

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Not to toot my own horn, but I can rock the sh*t out of a romper. I have a pretty short torso, so they don't ride up in places they shouldn't. They're the one thing my body seems to be able to pull off, so I go with it, OK?

Naturally, my grandma loathed the rompers I showed her.

"They're so short!" she said. "You wear that to the beach!"

I tried one on for her, a low-cut style from Topshop. She shook her head in disapproval. Instead, she picked out a pair of leather leggings from Aritzia and a sheer vintage short-sleeve top. I mean, the thing is sheer.

"It's to a party, right?" she asked me. "It'll be dark there. You'll be fine."

Somehow, someone sneaking a peek through my clothes seemed less of a big deal to her than the short romper. I guess that makes sense, right? Right?

In the end, my grandma styling me taught me two things. One, I dress like I haven't showered in six months. Two, it's more important to hide my ass than it is to hide everything else.

Thanks, Baba!