The Genteel
January 28, 2021


The uniformity of fashion. UNIQLO's New York City flagship store. Source:

For as long as some of us have been around, New York City has been considered an epicenter of exaggeration in all forms. While the Big Apple continues to attract and breed starry-eyed individuals, the city has changed, and that's no secret. New York is more expensive than ever, more conglomerate than ever, and while New Yorkers still look chic and of the moment, has their once snarky, extreme flair for style actually become...ordinary?

Alexander Wang and Jason Wu, although adored, are ultimately similar to the minimalism of Calvin Klein in the '90s...

I witness the unofficial uniforms of cool when walking down the streets, which nowadays include Jeffrey Campbell chunky heels, body-con skirts and dresses, glitter adorned hats and shirts, animal print anything and designer jeans. Black, leather, rainbow-coloured hair and simply not giving a damn still rule the roost. Yet, New York City seems to be showing signs of stagnation on the style front.

What's partly affecting New York City's approach to fashion is the rest of America. For so long, the rest of the country has embraced New York as "the hare" of eccentric confidence. But, with its tortoise steps, America is finally catching up. More than ever, middle America is just as updated as Manhattan. With the aggressive globalization of fast fashion retailers such as Zara, Mango, Express and Aldo; Macy's and H&M expanding their in-store lines; and even tween cheapskate favourites such as Charlotte Russe and Forever 21, funky fashion is more accessible and affordable than ever and hasn't been exclusive to New York for some time.

The city is not necessarily becoming docile, but with fashion being so available, dressing up, or even dressing down, is lacking a unique touch. New York City fashion has evolved to being more obvious in that many people still look great, but great in the same way. Elements of irreverence and subversive attitudes are missing, which is a little disappointing. The art of fashion is much more exciting when it's a bit intimidating and fantastical - especially when showcased in the metropolitan arena that is New York City.

Additionally, as style blogs are now a go-to source for shared ideas and proof of charming outfits from around the world, it has never been easier for anyone - from New York to Wichita to Casper - to access the latest happenings in fashion. Obsessed fashion mavens look up to new iconoclasts of the field whose names aren't just Karan, Lauren and Kors, but avant-garde art school progenies such as (Nicola) Formichetti for Thierry Mugler, (Nicholas) Ghesquière for Balenciaga, and (Christopher) Bailey for Burberry Prorsum. 

New York fashion week street style
(Source: streetfsn).

Noticeably, it's the non-American fashion houses that are the current leaders of fashion's progressive proposals. London and Milan fashion weeks were lauded for their reliably grandiose ways while New York fashion week, the most influential representation of American fashion, has been viewed as a bit of a bore in recent years. Alexander Wang and Jason Wu, although adored, are ultimately similar to the minimalism of Calvin Klein in the '90s and their branding akin to Marc Jacobs'.

So what of New York City's status as a fashion capital? The current state of New York fashion can be a visual commentary of the position and prominence of American fashion design. The most natural reason for the city's fall from capricious grace is the topsy-turvy economy, as many of the once uber exclusive and whimsical retailers that crowded the Lower East Side and even spots in Midtown have gone under as the aforementioned brands are more available in popular shopping districts such as 5th Avenue, SoHo and Herald Square. It's a wonder that independent clothing stores like TG-170, Trash and Vaudeville, and Bess, are still standing, although such stores have maintained a loyal following even in these dismal economic times.

It is necessary to mention that New Yorkers still love to feel comfortably standoffish when it comes to fashion. Other large American cities, such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., tend to have a collective hospitality to their fashion ensembles that in return are emblems of how dressing lovably sedated can actually help you excel in life. New York remains the most supercilious when it comes to style because brash, ostentatious style often translates to confidence and leadership in this city. While people do dress how they want in New York, they very much dress for the purpose of being recognizably stylish, rather than stylish on their own terms. On the flip side, when hi-lo fashionistas do dress for themselves, it is done in a deviant manner that harkens to the city's fading but not forgotten mottos of anything goes and anything can happen. New York still likes to be conspicuous in appearance.

I could possibly be expecting too much from New York City. I've been living in New York for over a year now, but I've been visiting since I was a little girl, so my memory reassures that I was there as a precocious voyeur of New York's panache for grand fashion, whether a bit raggedly austere or affably opulent. Now that I live here, I observe the fashion of the people every day, since it's also known fact that looking great is an unspoken prerequisite to surviving this habitually indecisive concrete jungle. Almost nothing is done in moderation which has always been a part of its appeal, but when the city's hullabaloo doesn't live up to its delicious, delirious demeanor, it can be very underwhelming. Fashion is one of the greatest escapes of New York City life, and when the fashion reflects the city's historic devil may care ways, it's still a sight to behold. Here's to New York City not losing anymore of its vision and lust for life anytime soon. Fashion for the people indeed.



Sign up to receive a weekly dispatch from The Genteel.

About Us

The Genteel unearths the forces shaping global fashion and design through the lens of business, culture, society and best kept secrets. 

More about us

Our Contributors

A worldwide collective of contributors currently form The Genteel. On a daily basis our team dispatches thought-provoking and insightful articles from the streets of Oslo, Toronto, Beirut, Moscow, United Arab Emirates, Seoul and beyond.