To you and me, Chinatown might be just a place to grab good, cheap food. Perhaps fresh veggies or a couple of souvenirs. But to Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, San Francisco’s Chinatown is a place to celebrate the seniors of the neighborhood whose outfits are nothing short of inspirational (and colorful) in a photo series called Chinatown Pretty.
“We started Chinatown Pretty after we did an article called Chinatown Sartorialist on The Bold Italic,” Valerie tells us. “For the article, we shot portraits and interviewed seniors in Chinatown whose outfits reminded us of our grandmothers. The experience brought us so much joy and inspiration that we wanted to continue capturing their unique style and stories.”
“We both love the neighborhood of SF Chinatown,” Andria says. “It’s got amazing energy, unique character and the best people watching. When we would hang out there, we were really drawn to the seniors –many of them live independently with vibrant social lives. They also remind us of our grandparents, and the project aims to honor that generation of immigrants and learn more about them. We interview the subjects whenever possible, and on the blog we share their story along with the photos.”
Chinatown Pretty features seniors wearing everything from acid wash jeans and butterfly neckties, to knitted cardigans and ironic socks that delight, amuse and amaze us because of their millennial hipster qualities.
But what kind of outfits are Valerie and Andria really drawn to?
“We look for outfits that spark joy,” Valerie explains. “There’s a certain je ne sais quoi in Chinatown seniors – often it involves unexpected outfits that play with bold colors, patterns and handmade or altered clothing and accessories.”
“We love the unexpected styles,” Andria continues. “It’s refreshing and hard to describe, but we both know when we see it. A lot of the “trends” we see are rooted in Chinatown’s history and Chinese culture. Many subjects’ garments are ones they made themselves (women were able to get jobs in garment factories when they immigrated) or brought over with them when they immigrated, and they’ve retained those pieces through the decades. It’s very different from ‘fast fashion!’ There is also an appreciation for color, pattern, and dressing pragmatically –layering up and keeping warm. It’s not uncommon for us to see folks six or more layers deep in clothing, even in warmer months!”
While San Francisco’s Chinatown has an endless flow of trendsetting seniors and sets the bar high, Valerie and Andria recently spent a weekend shooting in Los Angeles’ Chinatown where they found seniors to be more open to chatting.
And after their photo shoot in Los Angeles, perhaps more Chinatown fashions will be discovered in the future. Valerie and Andria are hoping to take Chinatown Pretty to New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and even Hong Kong.
All images © Andria Lo and Valerie Luu