Thursday, August 5, 2010

Two Cities, Two Fashion Cultures

Last month (July, 2010) I spent several days in Madrid, Spain, followed after a short interval by several days in London, England. Somewhat to my amazement, I found people in both cities to be highly fashion conscious. I have been reading lately in the academic literature on fashion a number of criticisms of so-called "street fashion", writers who are disappointed with the apparent lack of imagination of everyday people regarding fashion. I must say, however, that my experience in several cities does not support this jaded view. I find street fashion to be quite fascinating, especially as it seems to differ in "flavor" in different cultures. I wish I could share more photos from Madrid - I took several photos while there, but I then lost my camera with the images still not transferred to my computer, to me great frustration. I could have accepted the loss of the camera if I hadn't also lost a number of great pictures!

Madrid in July is hot and humid and filled with people - lots of tourists, yes, but also lots of locals. In the evening, the city is abuzz with places for eating tapas. There are streets more devoted to tourists and others which seem to cater more to the indigineous population. I went down one set of streets that clearly catered to the young crowd. (The photo is the only one I've got from Madrid - it just shows me in a restaurant that could be anywhere in the world... but it is a kind of "proof" I was there :) ... )

Everywhere you go, people dress up - they are extremely chic, men and women. The ones who don't are actually more the tourists. Fabulous clothes, many quite originally, for the most part very sexy, even, I would say, sensual. None of it in bad taste, none of it crass or vulgar. Often, very elegant but also very simple clothing, but lots of attention to how the clothes move with the body and not just how they look when you're standing still.

Madrid struck me as a very livable city, with a vibrant lifestyle and many different areas of quite different character. I understand it is listed as one of the world's most liveable cities - I can see why.

London, England, provides a very different sense of fashion, but no less trendy or interesting in its own way. The one label I would use to describe London street fashion (obviously more relevant to women than to men) is "cleavage, cleavage, cleavage"! This is very different from Madrid (or Quebec, for that matter). Londonians seem to think that cleavage is sexy (well, it is, too, but it can be rather overwhelming and not always appropriate, in my experience!). I would say that well over 50% of the women in the streets display a lot of cleavage, and this includes young teens as well as women in their sixties. Where women might wear a man's shirt in other cultures with the top one or two buttons left undone, in London it is likely that the top three buttons are left open, if not more. (The photo shows some cleavage, but is not a great example of the fashion-sense I found in much of London - perhaps more so in the green dress... I have to say that I discovered that the second floor of London's buses makes a great platform for taking interesting pictures!)

Londonian clothes in general I found to be eclectic and chic, but not stuffy or overly conservative, as I half expected. No doubt it depends which parts of London you visit, but I was staying in North London (Hackney and Islington), working in Shoreditch and visited areas in Southwark, Kensington and Greenwich/Blackheath. I'm sure if I hung around in more business areas, I would have seen more conservative dress, but overall I say a wide range of clothing and fashion styles.

The trip left me intruiged by the whole issue of street fashions. I wish I hadn't lost my camera, because I become convinced that good photos would help reveal these cultural differences from place to place. The world could use more "sartorialists" I think!

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