Fashion has captivated Antonia Medd since she was a little girl and slept with her first pair of patent leather shoes under her pillow.
Nearly seven decades later, her distinctive personal style is the envy of women half her age.
“When everybody goes left, I’m going right. I’ve never wanted to do what everyone else does,” says Medd, 77, who works part time at Bliss boutique on Exchange Street in Portland.
The Portland woman’s independent style emerged when she was 11 and her family moved from Greenwich Village in New York to Italy, where her father directed efforts to rebuild his native country after World War II. She and her mother could order their clothes from a Sears catalog, says Medd, or find inspiration in “absolutely beautiful fabric shops.”
While her mother opted for Chanel designs from their dressmaker, Medd created her own fashions.
She still remembers her first outfit, a raw silk jacket and full skirt in blue that she designed for an embassy event: “I can see it now. It had little pockets in the jacket and a Peter Pan collar. I loved it. Ever since then I’ve been interested in clothes.”
Through the years Medd’s look has evolved from the romantic – full skirts, lace and velvet – to the designer jeans, chic jackets and scarves she sports as she races around the Old Port.
“Clothes are almost like a costume,” she says. “And they become your friends. You wake up and you wonder who you are that morning, and all of a sudden you realize you’re that brown dress, or a pair of jeans or a full skirt.”
How would she describe her style? “People have said to me, ‘You’re very unique, you’re very artsy looking, you’re comfortable,’” says Medd. “When I was younger it was black heels, stockings – nude stockings – a black dress, black gloves, black pocketbook, a hat if you wore one and a round circle pin. That was the uniform – it was a boring uniform. But women were comfortable in it because they knew they looked proper.”
Today, the rebel in Medd appreciates young people who take their cues from street styles instead of fashion magazines.
“I think if you’re around clothes, I think you can learn. And the more you experiment, the more you realize that it’s OK to be different. You don’t have to have the jacket and everything matching,” she says.
Her advice to women trying to define their style? “Start small.”
“Experiment with materials – like velvet and silk and cashmere and wool and tweeds. And don’t be afraid to put those together,” she advises. “I think you have to have a certain sense of your own self-confidence to be a little free, to be able to wear a pink and orange scarf.”
Like many fashionable women, she shops with an open mind and isn’t afraid to change her appearance.
“I can pretty much walk into a store and look through the racks and if I see something I like I’m pretty sure that it’s going to work,” she says. “And if I don’t, that’s OK – the next day I’ll find something. I don’t think and shop.”
Medd has kept all her clothing from years past in a trunk she inherited from her mother – just this month she pulled out a plaid skirt to wear that dates to her college days. While she long favored Victorian-inspired clothing that blends beautiful colors and fabrics, she’s hardly chained to the past.
Today she’s a huge fan of designer jeans and, only in the past few years, began wearing more makeup than just lipstick: “Now I love it. It’s like painting a picture.”
Her salt-and-pepper hair, once light brown, also allows her to wear a “candlelight white” color that she’d never have tried before. And sequins and sparkles on sweaters? While they might have been taboo in the 1950s, she now loves the look.
“Getting older is fascinating. You sort of don’t care anymore,” she says. “And now, if I’m comfortable in it, that’s fine. I really don’t care what other people think. And that’s wonderful.”