The image I had of New York before moving here was probably similar to the picture most Europeans have in mind. Fancy ladies clutching their Louis Vuitton bag while walking down elegant streets of Manhattan. Models with long legs and full eyelashes strutting down the catwalk of SoHo. Elderly ladies wearing the latest fashion while hiding their little chihuahua in their purse… Nothing else but pure style confidence occupying the minds, and the epitome of elegance roaming the streets along the higher end shops.
Now that I’ve been here for 2 and a half years, this image has been severely revised, of course. I would have never imagined women with a hideous Brooklyn accent delicately discussing the subject of Gucci bags . Or homeless people overpopulating Washington Square Park. What was up with the tourists in socks and sandals defining subway life new? And then those students in Midwestern baseball caps cheering for football teams in American sports bars… Just a few of the daily themes going on in this city.
Of course fashionistas are not a rare occurrence in the city. Take Fashion Week, for example. Models, designers, and fashion crazies from all over flying into this city just to make it to a show or to photograph haute couture and street styles. But they are certainly not in the majority when it comes to an average New York clothing style.
Still, fashionable people are a crucial element of New York’s day-to-day life. Sometimes I forget that they even exist until I run across one of them in the subway, on the streets, or in a café. In this city, most people walk around however they want to walk around. While I detect an underlying theme in all other cities I’ve been to (people either dress according to the latest fashion or they look plain boring), it is not as easily defined in the Big Apple. Just as my friend from Europe liked to put it a few years back: “People run around the way they want to here. It seems they dress according to mood!”
Especially around Union Square, the best place for people watching because of the diversity of characters it represents, you see the most bizarre combinations in hair styles and clothing. The twen punk who has not grown out of the daily tradition to shave his head on one side and put colorful highlights on the other. The young skateboarder racing down the handrail while a breakdancer is trying out some moves in front of the crowd.
In all this chaos of colors, styles, and trends, it’s almost always a nice surprise to see a woman walking by in a slim coat that matches her shoes and purse. Or a handsome guy in a nice suit with a colorful handkerchief and a fancy hat. Fashionistas are the underlying pulse of this city. They keep this town alive because they are the heartbeat of everything evolving around them. Every day they remind us what real fashion should look like and how it can be combined to look quite unique and overly attractive.
Today was one of those days I became particularly aware of people with a fashion obsession. Maybe it was after I had devoured my 1-Dollar-pizza in Chelsea and was almost run over by a lady in pink and high heels. Possibly it was after a miniature, ten-year-old version of Paris Hilton crossed my paths. Either way, I had to stop for a few minutes and take in all these different looks coming towards me and vanishing into their own special worlds again. The mid-twenties girl in her wedges squeezed into a skirt way too short for her thick legs. She made me pause and redefine the term “fashionista”: They are not defined by body type and age, not even budget. This definition was immediately confirmed by a 60-year-old lady who was stoically swinging by me in her Mickey-Mouse sunglasses, one of the most elegant dresses to be seen with and a Citarelli shopping bag. Yes, fashionistas are not a spleen of the young – they exist in every age group. And after finally mounting the subway, I ran across my matching blazer, matching skirt kinda thing: A 55-year-old citizen dressed in an interesting Bordeaux suit while studying the subway ads above her.
Sometimes I can’t help it but to wonder: Who do I inspire and who will I come across the next time?
Fashionistas of New York: You keep this city alive!