some kind of beautiful stranger…

I was never a “Madonna Wannabe”, per se, but I have been realizing lately that she’s definitely been an influence on my personal style. Ever since I was very young, I’ve had a great love of old films. Because I had encouragement from my family, I became quite an old movie buff. When Madonna started getting a lot of media coverage, it was exciting for me to find someone who I could look up to. Like me, she had full eyebrows, a mole above her lip, a gap between her front teeth and she lit up when she talked about the glamor of old Hollywood. She was also many of the things I aspired to be: beautiful, bold, driven and unapologetically her impudent self. Oh man, I still aspire to be like her, maybe I am a wannabe!

I was a precocious child and started wearing my signature red lipstick when I was about eleven years old. Even though it tended to cause some very strong opinions and even some altercations with teachers, peers and strangers, I have never looked back. I was glamorous and if you had a problem with that, well, you were a bore. At a time when I needed it, I had someone I could look up to. I looked up to Madonna for not only pushing fashion boundaries and thumbing her nose at convention, but also for taking the reins on her own empire in a male-dominated industry and sticking up for her choices.

I admit that I haven’t really kept up with her work all that much over the past decade, but I’ve still felt connected to her somehow, like she’s a big sister, I guess. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the women who have influenced me significantly over the years—my blog is even named after one of them. Inspired by these ruminations, I thought I’d give this little shout out to Madge. My grandmother, Honey Kennedy, would always declare Madonna’s outfits to be “absurd”, but with a wink she’d still buy her records for me occasionally. If she were still here she would deny it, but sometimes I would catch her in the kitchen, bobbing her head and swaying a little while she cooked dinner if I was listening to Madonna in the other room.

It has been eleven years since the video, but I still covet what my friend Polly and I still refer to as, “The Beautiful Stranger Pants”. Eleven years. ELEVEN. I still know Desperately Seeking Susan by heart and, more embarrassingly, Who’s That Girl. I can still summon the image of Madonna performing in that god-awful, Blond-Ambition-polka-dot-ruffle-stretch number that always made me wince during Alek Keshishian’s documentary, Truth or Dare. I’m sure the Madonna catalog is taking up a gigantic plot of useful real estate in my brain, but I hate to think what my life would have been like without her influence. Thanks, Madonna. Your strength and personal style has helped me to become the strong person that I am today.

all video captures from

6 Responses to “some kind of beautiful stranger…”
  1. Sweet Ronit says:

    Jen – this is not only a wonderful homage to Madonna, but also to your grandmother and to strong women everywhere. I love the stills you collected – that last shot is especially beautiful.

    I have a secret wish to be able to rock a JPG corset with a pair of tuxedo pants in a way that only Madonna can;)

  2. Jen McCabe says:

    Thanks! I’m so glad that she was there at that point in my development. Strong, creative, independent role models are so important. I wonder who young girls today will recall as their strong female role models. I think I wouldn’t have been as sure of myself without her and the other outspoken ladies around me. I never think “I can’t do that”–only “I want do that and I’m going to figure out how”.

    No kidding! Those pants were good too!

  3. trish says:

    I loved Madonna! When I was a teenager and saw Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) I wanted to be her! And she looks great in Truth or Dare. And You gotta love her Sex book.

  4. Jen McCabe says:

    No wonder we have so much in common–we had the same idols! HA! How about we have a rainy day Madonna-thon at your house soon?

  5. ABC Dragoo says:

    If you grew up in the 80s, she had an influence whether you were aware of it or not. She’s a beauty. A smart, strong female figure. (I always loved her ‘like a prayer’ look!)

    Fun chatting with you on twitter today!
    xo ABCD @abcddesigns