Living in New York City this summer, I realized one truism about fashion in the city: no matter what you’re wearing, you will always feel underdressed. This is especially true in the summer, when the inescapable humidity would assumedly lead sensible New Yorkers to adopt a wardrobe of clothes that don’t leave you stuck to a subway seat.
But every morning on my way to work, I would feel simple in my comfortable sundresses surrounded by men in suits and women in frocks that cost more than my rent. But it never felt like a competition. There is a certain practicality to New York style. In the mad dash of the city that never sleeps, clothes become an afterthought.
Even more, clothing in New York function as a layer of comfort in a city that often lacks warmth, from the men catcalling on the corner to the subway that always stalls when you’re already running late. It’s not surprising that Bill Cunningham, the man who arguably knew New York fashion better than anyone, said “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”
This might be why New York has been hailed as the style capital of the world and why so many designers flock to the city hoping to make it. But the rise of street fashion has proven that often, the most fashionable people aren’t those gracing the cover of glossy magazines or sitting front row at runway shows.
One of the most memorable experiences I had in New York was photographing the West Indian American Day Carnival, a day of festivities. As the parade passed a block away from my Brooklyn apartment, I was amazed by the incredible costumes and the richness of the diversity of cultures represented.
Large spectacles like that took my breath away, but more often, it was the everyday moments of fashion: the flash of a beautiful necklace on the subway or a pair of impeccable heels clanking down 5th Avenue. While New Yorkers in general are more “put together” than our relaxed Pacific Northwest style, it’s the small touches that define style in the city.
My friend Hayden, who is one of the best dressed people I met in New York, rocks everything from a skirt covered in newspaper print to knee-high black boots. (He also runs the style blog Fashion and the Street.)
He told me “Fashion in New York is a curation of inspired looks by people and cultures from all around the world.”
What truly sets New York fashion apart is this confluence of aesthetics that’s seen nowhere else. The creativity of style in the city isn’t found in a single outfit, but in the mix: the corporate lawyer in an impeccable suit and the Brooklyn artist in a flowy blouse and cutoff shorts sitting next to each other on their morning commutes. It’s in this space that trends are made. That fashion comes alive.
Words and photos by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, @HSteinkopfFrank