COME AS YOU ARE: NEW YORKERS SPEAK ON FASHION AND FREEDOM

I arrived in New York on the 4th of July at nighttime, flying over a glittering city lit up by fireworks. I landed too late to participate in any of the celebrations that I’d witnessed from the plane, but had I planned better, I am unsure whether I would have joined in.

As an outsider, it felt wrong to recognise a holiday surrounding freedom and independence of a country that had recently overturned Roe vs Wade, severing rights to bodily autonomy and devastating people across the country. This year, even the all-American Kardashians had declared the day ‘cancelled’.

It was for this reason that I was taken aback by the positive responses from the strangers I interviewed. Every person mentioned freedom in their answers. Admittedly, the subject matter was light, I was looking to find out what New York style meant to them, what they knew about fashion in London, and about a sentimental item of clothing they owned. However, like most topics, discussions led to politics, some subtle, some not so, about the freedom they felt to express themselves through their clothing choices.

If I’d gone elsewhere in the States, I might have come away with a more sombre picture, but it seems that New Yorkers still view their city as a place that offers freedom to be exactly who they are. After hearing the responses, I was reminded of my first glimpse of the city from the plane. It wasn’t the showy Independence Day celebrations that struck me but the little explosions of light, colour, and hopefulness that came from almost every back garden and street, puncturing the darkness.

Nate is 21, he lives in Brooklyn and is a stylist and has just been accepted to a fashion school in California.

What does New York style mean to you?

I feel like New York style means a lot to me in terms of diversity. Everyone is different; you can’t walk down the street and see two people wearing the same thing. Everyone has their own unique style and that’s what I love about it.

Have you ever been to Europe?

I haven’t.

Do you know much about the style in London and how it compares?

Not too much, I’m always looking to learn more about different areas. I know the runway scene out there; there’s a lot of inspiration, but street fashion, not too much.

What about your most sentimental item of clothing, could you tell me about something that means a lot to you?

I guess things that I made or sewed myself. I make unique custom tapestry pieces. I feel like they have a special place in my heart. These garments, I’ve put my love into them.

Alex is 25 lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and works as a graphic designer.

What does New York style mean to you, and how would you define it?

I recently moved here about a month ago. Oversized business casual is the largest trend that I’ve been seeing, especially in a heatwave. Big dress shirts with bike shorts.

Do you know much about London style or British style?

Yeah, I do. I’ve spent a lot of time in London visiting friends. I would say that it’s definitely a lot more edgy and expressive. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of influence of London’s style in New York over the last couple of years. People have become a lot more expressive and experimental. I feel like many British fashion designers and even street style plays with crazier silhouettes and meshing of styles that I’ve seen more of in the States.

And finally, what’s your most sentimental item of clothing?

That’s hard. I feel like it changes pretty frequently. I did just get this second-hand pair of Issey Miyake Pleats Please pants from Tokyo Seven in Manhattan. They have a lot of [Vivienne] Westwood, which in London is like $1000 for a t-shirt. Here, it’s a lot cheaper.

So, they’re sentimental to you because they’re a great find?

Yeah, a great find.

How long do you reckon they’ll be your most sentimental item?

[Laughs] Hopefully not that long, I love finding my new favourite child!

Kimberly is 36, from Brooklyn, New York and works as a chef.

What kind of food do you make?

I work in a luxury bar; it’s called Goldy’s Tavern which opened up in April.

Getting your advertising in there, I like it!

[Laughs] Yeah, exactly.

I wanted to know what New York style means to you.

I mean, it’s different. Like, you see I’m just walking my dog, so I just got on Givenchy slides, sweats, and a t-shirt. But, if I was going out on a typical hot day, I’d put on a crop top, Zara jeans, and some converse or something like that. Even if you’re going somewhere luxurious, you don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to. Come as who you are.

Do you know much about London style?

No, but I watch a lot of UK YouTubers, like from the beginning [I’ve watched} Jennie Jenkins and Nikki’s Secret.

How do they dress; do you like it?

Oh my gosh! Yeah! It’s different; I mean, the thing that I like in the wintertime is the puffy coats. It’s not like how New Yorkers do puffy coats. It’s like oversized. To me, [Londoner’s] puffer coats are way better than New Yorkers.

Like the North Face style ones?

Yeah. Sometimes it can be off brand, but it looks so luxurious and chic.

I’m surprised. It gets way colder here, so surely your coats would be bigger!

Exactly! So that’s why we’re colder.

Do you have a sentimental item of clothing, something that means a lot to you?

Sneakers. I have sneakers that I have from high school that don’t fit me.

What kind of sneakers are they?

Jordan’s, the Retro’s, the 8’s the 9’s the 10’s – all those.

Why do you keep them?

It’s like a time capsule and memories of good times in high school when I was rebellious.

Cindy is living in New York studying piano performance and works at a bubble tea shop, part-time.

How long have you lived in New York?

5 years. I love it! It’s really crowded but fun. Before, I lived in Shenyang, China.

What does New York style mean to you?

For me, it [means] freedom. It’s so flexible and more comfortable.

Do you dress differently in China?

Yes; In China, it’s more like a uniform. Here, it’s more freestyle, like t-shirts and jeans.

Do you know much about the style in London?

They always wear hats! Pretty hats, with skirts and trousers. [I would say it’s] much more formal.

Could you describe a sentimental item of clothing that you own?

For me, it’s about the fabric. I love anything made with cotton as it’s really comfortable. [Points to the dress she is wearing] I own a lot of dresses in this style.

Francesca is a fashion schoolteacher and travel writer from Milan but visits New York frequently to gain inspiration and improve her English.

What does New York style mean to you?

I’m in love with New York City; it’s the symbol of the melting pot. I find all the elements for my work, and I feel at home as I come here every summer. There is no one ‘New York style’, but there is always eccentricity. People want to be noticed, but within that, there are a lot of different styles.

How do you think that differs from other regions?

If you compare it to Paris or Milan, you will see more uniformity. In New York, you will see no uniformity, other than everyone wants to be looked at!

What do you think of the London style?

I’ve been to London many times. I love London; maybe it’s the European New York. I love the style in Brixton, particularly the African influence of the style there. It’s my favourite place in the city.

Could you describe an item of clothing or jewellery that is important to you?

Probably earrings. I feel naked without them. My favourite pair have big eyes on them, and I love them. In terms of clothing, comfy long dresses like this are important to me. Being stylish is important but you have to be comfortable.

Taj is 22 and he lives in Downtown Brooklyn. Xavier is 20 and he lives in Williamsburg.

What does New York style mean to both of you?

X: New York style means freedom to me, you see so many different styles here, it’s not like there is just one. Everybody is very unique.

T: To me, in New York versus being back home, I just feel more comfortable and genuine. I wear what I wanna wear. I don’t look at other people and judge because I want other people to do the same for me. I don’t have to like your outfit, but as long as you’re comfortable, I respect it. You’re dressing true to yourself.

So, everyone is just doing their own thing?

X: Exactly.

Do you know much about the style in London?

X: I don’t really know much about it.

T: I’m thinking about Bridgerton!

X: Or The Crown on Netflix, I dunno what the style currently is.

T: I think we just have a concept of it— what we see on the screen, shows set in different eras.I wish we all dressed like we were in Bridgerton!

Could you both talk about an item of clothing that is sentimental to you?

T: Everything that my father has given me. I dunno what it is. Hand me downs are very common, but something about the things I’ve taken from my father’s closet, I hold them very dear. No matter how much it costs, I would never sell them.

Do you have a favourite piece?

T: It’s a hoodie and it’s covered in Swarovski crystals. This jacket is older than me, but it fits my style to this day and I still wear it.

X: I don’t know if I own anything sentimental. I feel something that represents who I am now are crop tops. It represents me being in New York, just the freedom. I will wear a crop top every day, every night, winter or summer, it doesn’t matter.

T: It shows his comfortability.

X: Where I’m from, I might not be able to do that.

Where are you both from originally?

X: Baltimore, Maryland.

T: Atlanta, Georgia.

Back home, you wouldn’t feel comfortable dressing the way you do here?

T: I do. Trust me I’ll wear whatever the hell I want. But, it’s just the reaction that throws me off guard. Being here in New York, I almost feel invisible but in the best way possible.

To see more of what Nell Richmond-Tanner has written, visit @nelllanne on Instagram.

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