'Chinatown Pretty' exhibit discovers unexpected elderly SF style icons

A new photo exhibit in San Francisco celebrates something unexpected: the elderly community in San Francisco Chinatown's fashion sense.

'Chinatown Pretty' is the name of the exhibit being held at the Jewish Community Center

One of the unintentional fashionistas is Dorothy Quock who was born in San Francisco Chinatown and has lived there all her life.

The 84-year-old navigates the streets of her neighborhood as a guide for Wok Wiz, a tour company. Quock's hot pink or red outfits usually draw attention.  

"What I have on or what I think and what I express and what I believe in is uniquely mine," says Quock. 

She says her outfits are about comfort, function, and preservation. Rarely does she buy anything new.

Every item is either a hand-me-down, home-made, a gift or from a thrift store and all are decades old. 

"We need to recycle more, reuse things," said Quock.   

She is not alone in her mindset about clothing, dressing for warmth and thriftiness.

Quock and other older folks in Chinatown are the subjects of the exhibit by photographer Andria Lo and writer Valerie Luu.  

People watching in Chinatown is what inspired their project.

"It celebrates the street style of seniors living and grocery shopping at San Francisco Chinatown," said Luu.

They saw older folks as energetic as their bold, colorful outfits.

"There's definitely a theme here. There's a lot of flowers here. There are flowers embroidered on her collar and on this little drawstring," said Luu.   

"We were just long time admirers of the kind of style we were seeing, so we set out to try to understand, document and capture that look," said Lo.  

The two artists say their project is a love letter to older adults, many who immigrated from China to Chinatown.    

It pays tribute to their mix of patterns, colors and layers that have made these folks unintentional style icons. 

"We are using fashion and style to tell deeper stories about people in our city," said Lo.     

As for Quock, she says she didn't  develop a love for bright colors  until she was in her 70s, confidence that she says comes with age. 

"I want to say here I am. This is me, uniquely me" says Quock. 

Lo and Luu plan to travel to other cities with Chinatowns such as Vancouver and Chicago to take pictures and tell the stories of the older Chinese folks there. The plan is to eventually put it all together in a book.

The Chinatown Pretty exhibit at the Jewish Community Center runs through June, is free and open to the public.