America is often called the queen of leisurewear, the chief of all that is active and slinky, and the unchallenged president of preppy. Indeed, citizens of the States do laissez-faire clothing like no other.
However, to allocate such credit may be to miss the point entirely. America does loungewear best because they are the only nation who believes it isn’t a major faux pas to wear such quantities of nylon and loose fabrics outside the gym.
In almost every other nation in the world with an annual fashion week, such shapeless and, dare it be uttered, comfortable items…sweatpants, hoodies and sneakers…would not be touched with a barge pole for fear of unfashionable n’est pas mode contamination.
Maybe I am jealous. Girls from the States do wear leggings all the time, but they sure look like they do their yogalates. Indeed the all-American Colgate smile and projection of health from both genders does appear to be an offshoot of the white-picket-fence-American Dream.
Rather than claim that provincial America (in the cities they are as on-trend as any European capital) is devoid of any dress sense other than the devotedly sporty, it is more accurate to appreciate that what they deem cute (in English: hot) for y’all and nawwwt (in English: not) is fundamentally different.
No one in America particularly likes to look individual. In fact, to look that little bit different would be like committing the same sort of social suicide to which they refer in Mean Girls. If you are slightly kooky or edgy, you are that weird person in the corner who sits on their own at lunch, not the revered, stylish Shoreditch type who owns a DSLR and procrastinates in Dalston.
As such, all Americans desperately attempt to fit in to particular style tribes. The following may read as harsh and stereotypical, but I was surprised as any that although we share language, food and foreign conflicts, these were the categories of style in a twenty-first century Southern college town…
Sporty Sorority Girl Tribe
Probably blonde, and slightly sun kissed from the last family holiday to St. Barts. Always in good quality, bottom-engancing sports leggings, a college sweater and a North Face jacket (that your university queen bee would wear something so practical is beyond comprehension). Just as well since she is usually just coming from aerobics or rushing to yoga. Think Sweaty Betty models cross Southern darling. When the sun goes down and parties are to be attended, the skinny jeans (finally!), sheer blouses and wedges are dusted off….
‘I Want to be Kate Middleton’ Girl Tribe
She is semi-well dressed but incredibly unimaginative. This girl thinks she looks cool because she has the wardrobe of a minor royal. No. Just because you look relatively different from the sneaker/ pajama- wearing masses does not mean you are exotic. These females have brownie points for owning skinny jeans in a classic indigo or black shade, and occasionally donning ballet flats. However your Longchamp bag, Barbour jacket and Hunter wellingtons means you a. Know that looking English is better (obviously) and b. Still fall into the tragic identikit outfit tendency. Her instant giveaway as American is a pair of well-loved brown knee-high boots that I have only seen adorn the hooves of girls from the South.
Barbour, Hunter, Longchamp
Farmer/ Indie Fraternity Boy
This specimen proves a bit of a headache if I’m honest. Their defining factor is the faithful wearing of a pair of cream/ beige/ coffee-coloured chinos, which I will allow actually indicate a degree of effort since maintaining their colour in all weathers must be a nightmare. Also, they can even look fairly acceptable with a nice shirt on sunny days. It is usually fraternity boys who have adopted chinos as their uniform of choice. This may be quite cool, but the Dad fleece jumper they choose to wear with it is not. Also can someone please point out to me from where such awful items are willingly sourced. Dear Frat Boy, please stop wearing chinos at all hours of the day and in all seasons. A wise man once said that variety is the spice of life. If you insist, please follow the example of an Aussie guy I know called Brad who wears his slim fit and artfully rolled up, but dresses them down with a t-shirt or jumper.
Off-duty Basketball Player
If you wear all the following you are unfortunately him. College sweatshirt at all times, College sweatpants at all times, College t-shirt at all times, trainers at all times, rucksack at all times. Probably part of a sports team but will mostly likely look like this whether training or not. Honey, you are not Channing Tatum from Step Up or 50 Cent. Please buy proper clothes.
University of North Carolina American Football
However, it is not hard to see why this is the case. It is a no-brainer if you have your outfit already laid out every morning for you. There is little time for creativity when dear god they work you so hard at college here. Why not feel comfortable in your clothes? (Can hear Karl Lagerfeld shrieking in the distance). In the nation with the most obesity in the world, why not at least look like they are taking the first step to combat it by looking sporty? America you are not fooling anyone. The States also takes practicality much more seriously, and heaven forbid should anyone get cold with their ski jacket at 10 degrees Celsius or suffer wet feet in their ‘rain boots’ in a downpour quite average for Dartford.
Respect must be given to intrinsic American culture in all this. While branding and big business appear to dominate, the States is fundamentally conservative, and this is reflected in the majority of its clothing. Indeed, when Gap is considered quite ‘out there’ as an American girl said to me last week, you know what you are dealing with. There is an absence of fast fashion in the country’s shopping malls, and an abundance of Southern housewife favourites, such as Boden, J. Crew and Anthropologie. Daughters tend to dress like their mothers, in pearls, cardigans and flattering hems, while sons are mini versions of [Insert family name] Snr. Macy’s is a hallmark of America and a stop-off for many a tourist, however a quick peek at its concessions will make you feel like you’ve dropped by Country Casuals and Viyella. Is it any wonder that ‘Mobama’ is America’s queen of fashion, while we have Kate Moss and France has Clemence Poesy.
Let us not also forget that the internationally popular preppy ‘look’ was born here. Abercrombie & Fitch and Ralph Lauren are still more lifestyles than overpriced clothes stores. And dear god I spied a Jack Wills in DC. Even on the more liberal West coast, the LA and American Apparel vibe is clean, simple and easy going. Quite simply there is a safety in numbers attitude to what you wear here. There is almost a safety in number attitude to American clothing. While in London, Paris and numerous other European cities the more outlandish the better, in America you will simply look stupid.
Abercrombie & Fitch
There are obviously exceptions to the leisure-dominant rule. I went to Washington DC a couple of weekends ago and was relieved to be surrounded in a sea of skinny trousers, shoe boots and black going on. Also America, us tourists cannot get enough of Forever 21, American Apparel and Banana Republic. Nonetheless the best-dressed students on campus are my fellow British, Australian, Italian, Swedish, French and German study abroad-ers…or a rare lone American who used to hail from the North.
While I can appreciate the mainstream American-look and understand why it is so prevalent, the Declaration of Independence may as well have stated an independence from European dress all those years ago. Is it such a mystery which Gap is such a success here, and a flop across the Atlantic. However Europe appears to be reclaiming its colonies. Topshop, Urban Outfitters and Zara are gradually flourishing in a European invasion.
New York Topshop
America I love a lot of things about you. Your patriotism, your warmed-up apple fritters and your hospitality. But I do not love your clothes. Is it unsurprising that American Vogue is run by two Brits…Nonetheless, bravo to America, only you can make lycra so in…
American Vogue (January 2013)