Sophisticated Women. Grandma, mom and aunts. Brown Betties

Has Being Sophisticated Gone Out of Style?

My Grandma Gordon (Alice) used to tell me to always be a lady. A preacher’s wife, she was a religious woman, tall and stout. She would have this “thinking look”on her face, that I do today, that my BFF calls my scrunchy face. But, when she smiled at you, the scrunchy went away and she smiled at you with her heart. In the early ’80s she sent me a card with a photo. She lived in Indianapolis and had been hired as a Kroger Greeter. The photo showed her with her wire-rimmed grandma glasses, with hair neatly pressed and pin-rolled in her grandma 40s-style rolls and she was smiling. Her trench hung neatly over her shoulders, her hands clasped demurely at her waist and a very large, blue-ribbon pin was planted on her shirt announcing her coveted position. She was so proud. And I’m sure she was hired because she was a lady.


Grandma (Alice) Gordon  with my brother, Shakir

My mother’s mother, Grammy, (Alberta) is a different kind of lady. She lives in Kansas, worked at KU, wore pencil skirts and heels and stylish wigs and would often have a Pal Mal cigarette dangling from her long, painted fingers. She has four daughters (pictured above) she tended to. She taught me how to make cheesecake and would give me bits and pieces of costume jewelry and talk about makeup, because that’s what she loves to do. Grammy is also the type of lady who, when angry, could smile quietly and perhaps ask if she could talk to you for a moment and quietly cuss you the f*ck out; but quietly, in your ear, for you to hear with impassioned heat and personalized emphasis.

Grandma Alberta White Brown Bettie

Grammy (Alberta White)

Both of these ladies are sophisticated and taught me how to be such. My Grandma Gordon passed on, so I can only call on memories of her talking to me while smiling at me from her Chambers stove where she fried the best bacon and made the best eggs while coffee percolated on the kitchen table. I can luckily still call my Grammy whenever I want (sort of; it has to be before 8am or so, on Grammy time), and she will tell me about her doctor’s visits and call the doctor “that little so-n-so” and then giggle this giggle that we both know is only to keep the rest of the words she wants to say (or has already said privately during her appointment) trapped in mouth.

I try to live my life honoring these women. I try to cross my legs when seated in a restaurant. I try to speak with kindness, while being direct and honest. I try to wear lipstick, I try to keep do my nails on Sundays. I try to keep my shoes looking nice by fixing my heels when they get eaten up by these Prague cobble-stoned streets. I try to walk with my head high, shoulders back and with a small switch in my hip to let ’em know where I come from. I try to read the Financial Times, The New York Times and BuzzFeed so that I know what’s going on and can have intelligent conversations at dinner parties. I try to do these things that allow me to be a smart woman. A sophisticated woman with some sense, some compassion and some gosh-darn couth. I’m not as bold as my Grammy nor as pious as my Grandma Gordon, but I take plenty of pencil skirts and pin-rolls from them to help me be who I am. To me, this is being a Bettie.


I can spot another Bettie a mile away. Maybe she’s got some grandmas swirling around her; maybe she’s self taught. But I can assure you that I almost always see her before I hear her, because her presence is that strong…that sophisticated. The women I associate myself with are this.

Brown Betties How to Be Sophisticated

Think about what makes *you* sophisticated, and be that. Today and (almost) everyday. Because being sophisticated has not gone out of style. You’re keeping it alive. Just in case you need some help, here are three (fun) tips to help you be sophisticated.

3 Tips to Be Sophisticated

  1. Show don’t tell.
  2. Treat people with respect.
  3. Chew with your mouth closed.

Thank you for reading this and for being a Bettie.




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