‘I’m shocked’: Britain’s ‘coastal grandmothers’ on becoming TikTok style icons

<span>Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

In March, the 26-year-old influencer Lex Nicoleta posted a video on TikTok in which she coined the term “coastal grandmother”. The look, an aspirational way of dressing, Nicoleta explained, was inspired by the white linen-clad stars of Nancy Meyers romcoms, including Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. More than just fashion, coastal grandmother embodies an entire lifestyle. Think affluent retired women in button-down shirts, shopping at organic farmer markets or throwing cosy, candlelit dinner parties for fellow divorcees in a beach-front mansions. Crucially, you neither have to live by the coast nor be a grandmother to enjoy the trend.

The TikTok hashtag #CoastalGrandmother has been viewed more than 207m times and featured everywhere from ITV’s This Morning to Vogue. Celebrities are on board, with the look championed by Gwyneth Paltrow and Kendall Jenner. In creamy chinos, oversized sunglasses and an equally large sun hat, Anne Hathaway lauded the trend on Instagram. “I have been ready for #coastalgrandmother chic since before TikTok was born,” she wrote. “May this moment never end.”

Aside from Oprah relaxing in slouchy knitwear, the celebrities and fictional characters most often referenced as coastal grandmother icons are wealthy and white, leading some to criticise the trend as exclusive.

Despite this, the popularity of the coastal grandmother continues to grow. We’ve seen what makes for a perfect coastal grandmother both on the big screen (see Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated) and off-screen via celebrity summer haunts such as the Hamptons. But closer to home, what do real life British coastal grandmothers make of the trend? And how does it feel to be called a style icon?

Denise Melfi, 80

retired nursery worker from Shoreham

Denise Melfi.
Denise Melfi: ‘Your style does change slightly as you get older’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“Friends tell me at my age I shouldn’t wear grey and beige. This trend shows you can. All my life I’ve worn jeans with a nice top. Your style does have to slightly change as you get older, just things like necklines. Everything aimed at people my age seems to be striped. Even my grandchildren say to me: ‘Nanny please stop buying stripes.’”

Anne Sadler, 74

Personal assistant from Bury, Lancashire

Anne Sadler.
Anne Sadler: ‘At my age you don’t want to dress too young’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“Maybe younger women want to dress like this because they want to be comfortable. My trousers are from M&S, my top and denim shirt are both from Bonmarché and I picked up my hat from a market in Suffolk. I like Joanna Lumley’s style, especially on her travel shows. She wears lots of floaty clothes and looks chic. At my age you don’t want to dress too young but you don’t want to dress too much like a grandma either.”

Jane Regan, 68

Retired former owner of a media recruitment agency from London, now Hove

Jane Regan, left, and Deborah Tilly.
Jane Regan, left, and Deborah Tilly: ‘My style has changed because my body has changed’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“Americans love a preppy look. They are much more conventional than we are. My style has changed because my body has changed. I wouldn’t wear the tiny things I wore in my 20s now. Living in Greece influenced how I now dress for summer. Today I’m wearing a NRBY dress, Spring Court trainers and Jil Sander sunglasses. I love independent shops like Igigi in Hove and Cordelia James in Lewes. I follow Diane Keaton and Linda Rodin on Instagram. They wear really expensive clothes so it’s just for inspiration.”

Deborah Tilly, 74 Age: 74

Retired makeup artist from London now, now Brighton

“Women in their 20s are dressing like that? Surely not! I think the trend is very American and quite old-fashioned. I’m into slightly more eccentric pieces. I bought this Sud dress in Paris, my jewellery in Greece and my glasses are Pagani. I love Havaianas because they are comfortable and I’ve always worn ballet pumps from French Sole. Six years ago, I went travelling all over New Zealand and South America. Friends of mine who are the exact same age said I was too old. I thought if I don’t do it now, I’lll never do it. You’ve got to make your own life.”

Anne Munday, 76

retired NHS worker from Bedford

Anne Munday.
Anne Munday: ‘When you get to my age you have to be sensible’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“I like to keep up with trends without overdoing it. When you get to my age you have to be sensible. I’d like to dress a lot cooler but I would look a bit silly. Since I retired I’m no longer into suits. Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton are my type of people, they look casual but smart. I chose to wear stripes today as I’m visiting my granddaughter, who lives by the seaside.”

Karen Knight, 71

Retired radio presenter from Hove

Karen Knight, left, and Pam Tennant
Karen Knight, left, and Pam Tennant: ‘It’s funny to be described as part of this trend’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“It’s funny to be described as part of this trend. I wouldn’t call myself a style icon. I don’t think you need to dress frumpy when you get older. You just have to adapt things for those parts of your body you don’t want to show. I like mixing more expensive things with cheaper stuff. I wear this top to death as it’s light, easy and I don’t have to iron it. I’m not a fan of how Diane Keaton dresses. It suits her but it’s quite severe.”

Pam Tennant, 80

Retired radiographer from Hove

“I’ve had most of my clothes for a long time. They don’t tend to go out of fashion. I have two daughters in their forties who would tell me if I’m looking old-fashioned. They would like this trend as they tend to dress like it as well. Your style does slightly change as you age, but I don’t feel like I dress old. I feel like a 40- or 50-year-old – this is how I have always dressed.”

Rachel Lewis, 67

Part-time sales at Eternal boutique, from Hove

Rachel Lewis.
Rachel Lewis: ‘You’ve got to be positive about ageing.’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“Young people probably like this trend because it’s different from their peers. Their usual uniform is very skimpy, whereas this is floaty. It’s amazing to be called stylish. It feels really nice when people compliment you when you are older. You’ve got to be positive about ageing. I’ve thought occasionally about a nip and tuck but you’ve just got to enjoy the stage you are at. You can look younger but you can’t be younger, you can only feel that.”

Beverley West, 65

Retired maths teacher from Kent

Beverley West.
Beverley West: ‘I don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“I’m shocked anyone would admire what I wear. Maybe women in their 20s like this style as they get their first jobs and want to look fairly smart. I’ve got a basic wardrobe of all my favourite bits that I just chuck on. Since lockdown I haven’t done any shopping. I don’t want to look frumpy but I don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb either. That’s always a big fear, dressing too young.”

Lesley McBride, 67

Retired civil servant from Hove

“I can see the timeless appeal of this trend. I haven’t heard of it but it’s just like me. On the high street I love Phase 8 and Next. There’s an independent shop in Hove called Jaba Yard that does nice cotton pieces too. Back in the day I loved Laura Ashley. Nowadays I like clean lines and colours. A floral print when you are older can make you look even older.”