They say style is personal and I agree, but it’s hard to refute the plain fact that different countries and more acutely, cities, develop and fine tune cues that become indigenous to their regions. These cues are often influenced by circumstantial details — a city that snows 200 days a year vs. a place where social culture depends on nightlife, or nature. This is the minutia that separates your city’s style from another’s.
But in considering the style of a New Yorker, I’ve been having a hard time locating exactly what makes us, us. This problem has only been further propelled by the four days I spent alone in Paris last week.
Admiring thigh high Céline boots that could have been anything and still looked equally spectacular on one of the city’s denizens and the animal-friendly, blue and hairy Carven coat that cloaked her upper half, I questioned why she looked so Parisian when it seemed very clear that if I were to try my hand at the same outfit, I would look like I was trying too hard.
I surmised that this is simply because I would be trying too hard. For her though, it’s what was natural. And devastatingly French.
But what is devastatingly New York? I tried to come up with adjectives but realized that the qualities they evinced — effortlessness, that which is cool, dark, practical, sometimes simple and so forth — are actually attributes we’ve borrowed from elsewhere.
Black, for one thing, is not ours. It has been universally adopted as the anthem of fashion and if anyone has a true stake on the non-color, it is Emmanuelle Alt who is definitely not a New Yorker. On the other hand, “American style” doesn’t quite define us either. Sure, Ralph Lauren is local but his aesthetic reads more American than it does New York — which I’m coming to realize (with the help of one Rosie Assoulin) is a buffer that separates the rest of this country from Europe. But maybe then, our style can’t be classified by simply a selection of all-encompassing adjuncts or designers.
When it’s cold, it’s cold, and those multiple pairs of socks and neck-paralyzing scarves have a utilitarian function that transcend the boundaries of layering for the sake of looking cool, but still speak to our tendency toward irony because the fashion aspect of the total look doesn’t get lost on the spectator. And when it’s hot, we put to practice similar policies in the opposite direction and our blaring sense of the shifting, seasonal paradigm forces us to live with closets that could conceivably clothe a very broad selection of women.
In a transient city, we’re transitional individuals and as a result, dressers. One friend explained that she thinks “New Yorkers have a tendency to pack their schedules and often never get to go home and change.” The schedule packing equips us to dress in a way that teaches us to clothe ourselves like we are more volatile than our own city’s stock exchange. A morning at work uptown becomes a lunch in midtown and an evening in Brooklyn. With your in-laws — three dramatically different settings that beg one outfit to string them together and do it flawlessly.
Another friend put it to me this way, “What’s important about New York dressing is the New York girl.” If you were to look into the closet of any woman across America-and-beyond, you can rest assured you’d find at least an iteration of a pair of slim jeans, a white blouse, and an ankle boot. But what makes the New York girl arguably (though, of course, not always) more compelling to observe is the city she occupies and how those coordinates have forced the definitive yet elusive factors that make her style just…so New York.
Images shot by Tommy Ton