'Chinatown Pretty' celebrates style and wisdom among the neighborhood's trendsetting seniors
(Andria Lo / Chinatown Pretty)

'Chinatown Pretty' celebrates style and wisdom among the neighborhood's trendsetting seniors


If you've ever taken a stroll through San Francisco's Chinatown, you've no doubt noticed its aged denizens, sporting an array of jaunty hats and toting their pink plastic shopping bags—thank you, have a nice day!

Now, a pair of San Franciscans is paying tribute to the style and wisdom of those neighborhood sages in a delightful new book, Chinatown Pretty: Fashion and Wisdom from Chinatown's Most Stylish Seniors.

Dropping this week from Chronicle Books, the tome features photographs and interviews with octogenarians and nonagenarians living in six Chinatowns from SF and Oakland to Vancouver and New York, and reveals the experiences of immigrants in America through both their fashion choices and singular advice.

'Chinatown Pretty' (September 2020, Chronicle Books)(Andria Lo / Chinatown Pretty)

Authors Andria Lo and Valerie Luu first met in 2009 through the SF food community: Lo was photographing the street food scene; Luu was starting a Vietnamese pop-up restaurant. Inspired by the distinct cultural style of Chinatown where the senior citizens seemed to embrace a particular aesthetic—layers of modern and vintage, a mix of fast fashion and high-end brands, bold patterns, and plenty of color—they teamed up for a visual project that would celebrate "this overlooked community, for both their fashion blog-worthy outfits and their active and independent lifestyles."

Their chronicle has garnered nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram, where posts feature a breadth of different personalities: women voguing in pink paisley jackets and leopard print pants, men in fedoras and statement jewelry, couples twinning with sock-feet in sandals; and ladies in pom-poms and dots.

The images and interviews also provide a window into the life experiences of Chinese immigrants, many of whom live in SROs. They weave outfits together from gifts and hand-me-downs, homemade threads, and vintage and custom clothes procured from Hong Kong.

And along with their singular layered styles, they have words of wisdom to share. Just ask Charlie, of Los Angeles' Chinatown, the key to longevity: "Don't smoke. Don't drink whiskey. And don't have too many wives."

Whether you come for the fashion or the advice, Chinatown Pretty will charm you and likely inspire you to shop your closet for some innovative pattern mixing. After all, layers are always in style in San Francisco.

// Chinatown Pretty ($25, Chronicle Books) is available Sept. 22; purchase at bookshop.org.

'Chinatown Pretty' authors Valerie Luu and Andria Lo.(Phoebe Wong)

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