Fashion Back in Context
What happens when the irony is stripped away?
The concept of cable knits and duck boots did not suddenly appear in my mind as if by divine intervention. It worked its way into my urban wardrobe after I decided that my long-romanticized concept of ivy covered prep schools and coastal New England had a place — albeit an ironic one — in Manhattan.
It’s just that when The Row and Marc Jacobs later confirmed this with thick cable knits in their Fall 2013 collections, I think I forgot where the initial inspiration came from.
One thing I used to like about returning to college after being in Manhattan was noticing my new style cues against the crowd standard. I remember feeling pride when anyone remarked, “What’s with all the black?” Or when an old friend texted to tell me that I “looked like I worked in fashion.”
I loved, more than anything, when my west coast friends said it was obvious that I’d been living in New York.
This hunger for style validation waned over the years, especially once working in fashion lost its novelty and became a job. This is probably also when I stopped trying so hard to “look like” anything just wore what I wanted (i.e., cable knits, oxford shirts and that which causes friends to ask whether I was just at a barn). But the feeling, that hunger came back again on a recent train ride to visit my mom in Rhode Island.
I’d suddenly become very aware of the fact that I was wearing leather pants and black, thick heel ankle boots. I wore flannel, denim, and yes, a cable knit to top it off. But The Row and Marc Jacobs made it cool — remember? I wondered what these Rhode Islanders thought of me — a leather-wearing urban rebel whose monogramed initial “D” surely stood for DANGER. I felt excited.
But when I stepped off the train and saw my mom, she was basically wearing the same thing. So was the family of four throwing luggage into the wood-paneled hatchback, and then later, too, a set of true sail-boating fishermen. That they all were wearing jeans or khakis instead of leather pants was beside the point because everything else, from the white turtlenecks and Norwegian knits, to their fleece-lined duck boots, was exactly what I’d been replicating back in the city.
Only the irony was completely lost and the joke — if there was one — was on me.
These items I was wearing were suddenly put back into their context, and I was disoriented. I didn’t harp much; there are worse things than wearing the same outfit as your boat-building neighbor named Bob, but it forced me to reflect on style and trends both in and out of their intended environments.
Take the recent resurgence of equestrian wear as a trend. It’s getting a lot of playtime in fashion thanks to 2014 being the year of the horse (can I get an AMEN?), but wear a pair of Gucci tall boots and a Zara blazer, then stand next to an intercollegiate riding team, and you’ve just dressed yourself as one more mounted member.
Pajamas. Remember when everyone wore pajamas to fashion week? Me too because that was the most comfortable time in history, though if you were to add slippers you’d simply look jet-lagged.
This is also, however, the best part about fashion: its ability to take inspiration and style from just about anywhere, even the nuances of daily life. Then it’s up to us to interpret, reinvent, and interject irony as we see fit without going full on literal Irish fisherman.
When the trip to see my mom ended and it was time to leave the cable knit’s natural environment, I brought some things from Rhode Island that I’m sure, when mixed with the right amount of irony, will look really, really great in Manhattan.