The Aussie Fashion Beat
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, January 30, 2012 17:01
This year, with not a job prospect in sight, I took two weeks off to vacation in Australia during winter break. The goal was to relax, see beautiful things, bond with some classmates and forget about learning things. Just what I needed!
However, forgetting about learning things was not to be. As much as I tried to let my mind vegetate, I couldn't help but ponder deep theoretical questions throughout the trip. Of course, given my area of interest, they were all fashion-related. But still, they were deep. Most of the time, I was wondering: if it's winter in New York, Paris and Milan, whose fashion lead are Sydneysiders following for their summer trends? And more specifically, could Sydney and Melbourne be global fashion leaders in their own right?
Now, it's no secret I'm a bit of a New York fashion snob. My default is to imagine that no one in the world is as hip as the New York set. And to make me more certain of that fact, I heard at the start of my trip that Australians are about 10 years behind New Yorkers as far as fashion goes. So I anticipated a group of people in Juicy Couture velour tracksuits, bulky cargo pants and acrylic nails. Needless to say, I thought my shopping prospects would be limited.
So I was very surprised when I found Australian style to be super-cool. Unlike the fashion capitals of the northern hemisphere whose style identities are all somewhat similar, Australia boasts a completely different style. And being different is highly relevant in the fashion community. I spent much of my time looking for traces of last year's New York summer trends – sheer blouses, 70s influences, lace – but saw few. Then I racked my brain for Summer 2012 runways and looked for those trends – pastels, crop tops, asymmetrical hemlines – but hardly saw any of those either. Everywhere I looked, there was only a trace of New York fashion on Australian streets.
While my friends and I wore loose denim shorts rolled up at the bottom, the girls in Sydney sported the shortest cutoffs I've ever seen. And remarkably, they looked good and worked perfectly with the Australian beach culture. We wore oversized sunglasses while they were into smaller "sunnies" with floral frames. Somehow, though, I didn't feel that we stood out as foreigners, but kind of blended with the eclectic Australian style.
And that got me thinking that perhaps Sydney and Melbourne are themselves fashion capitals. Their styles are completely unique and they impact the communities surrounding them. Instead of following global trends, their residents tweak them to meet their needs or start their own trends altogether. This fascinated me. Other places I've traveled have been clearly impacted by American or European style, but this fashion culture was its own beast.
On my last day in Sydney, I found an Australian clothing store called Sportsgirl where I bought the most on-trend round sunglasses (after spending a good 10 minutes debating whether I should go for cat eyes), a wonderful turquoise crop top and a rose gold necklace that will make a perfect 70s look with a pair of flared jeans. At that point, having observed Australian style for two weeks, it was no surprise at all that a local store would have such awesome stuff. The entire store, which the sales girl described to me as "the Australian Topshop" was filled with cool pieces – some New-York-trendy, some not – that sat perfectly with the impression I had made of Australian style.
I left the country pleased that I had discovered an unexpected and really interesting cultural norm. Not only did I learn something about a new culture, but it was about fashion too! I couldn't ask for anything more on a trip.
Of course, this is not to say that everyone in Australia was fashionable and hip. I was shocked to see that almost every patron in a very busy nail salon was getting her acrylic tips filled. When I asked the manicurist to cut my nails short, she was utterly confused. I thought they were super behind the times until I returned to New York and told a friend about it, who quickly replied, "it's like that in Queens, too!"