One winter morning in Greenwich Village I sat in an oatmeal cafe (because of course that’s a thing) eating a warm bowl of oatmeal topped with peaches and swirled with cream and brown sugar, watching New Yorkers try to make their way to the W-4th St. subway station.
I say “try” because it had snowed the night prior, leaving behind a lovely layer of ice on the sidewalks, topped with a film of light and fluffy snow. Knowing I’d have to make this same trek I was in no rush to leave, and witnessed many topplings. Some would go down in the “slipping on a banana peel” fashion where they wind up on their backs like a turtle. Others would spill over in the other direction, breaking their fall with gloved hands.
Taking all this in — to channel the city’s own Carrie Bradshaw — I couldn’t help but wonder how even when splayed out on the street, New Yorkers still managed to look stylish. Over time I’ve spent several months in the city, across all seasons, and I’ve made some style observations which may prove helpful when packing for the Big Apple.
New Yorkers love to paint it black. The stereotypical New Yorker is one wearing head-to-toe black, usually imagined stepping into a bright yellow taxi, or emerging from the subway where our city goer is lost among the similarly dressed crowd.
Black is forgiving on wearers, eternal in its chicness (when was the last time someone declared black was “out”) and seems natural in a landscape of skyscrapers. Amongst the chrome and the cement it does seem easier to blend, rather than to fight the nearby surroundings.
I spent a February in New York, where a temperature of 20 degrees was considered a warm day and nights falling below zero were common. Snow would blanket the streets, immediately be shoveled towards the gutters, and within a matter of hours would turn black from the car exhaust. Try to wear white and the city will leave its mark on you.
When packing for my trip I made sure to fold some black staples into my bag, and made sure my outerwear was all in the city’s preferred color. (the boots I brought did not hold up against the endless slush and snow the sky dumped on us, but an emergency stop to kmart and a $10.00 boot purchase worked out A-ok). Below are the items I brought with me into the city and some of my favorite combos, and while there may be a bit of color, I still felt comfortable in every outfit I put together.
Unlike wearing a floral coat in Stockholm or red in Tokyo I never had an “oh crap, I don’t fit in here” moment with my clothing.
No matter the month the palette still seems to range from light gray to black, with color popping out every now and then. There’s not much of a “girly” vibe — women’s style is more architectural than romantic, more fitted than flowing. Less boho, more “borrow your boyfriend’s tee shirt and pair it with your best skinnies”. There’s a reason New Girl took place in LA. Zooey’s colorful and cute-as-a-button wardrobe wouldn’t fly here as well as it does in the city of sandals and no bras.
This carries over to the makeup trends I’ve seen — instead of crazy worked up Kardashian style lashes, women focus more on a strong eyebrows à la Cara Delevingne. Lip shades like aubergine, crimson and mauve stain Starbucks cups and will catch light in East Village speakeasies. It speaks to the character of the city that these highlighted areas aren’t meant to be dewy or supple; they’re not meant to be inviting. A dark lip on a New Yorker has an armor-like effect; it’s the fashionable war paint in a city of 8.5 million residents.
While there can be a severity to the cities style, that’s not to say it’s a highly formal city. On the streets denim is king. It can be skinny or high waisted or torn, it can even be the quintessential “mom jean”, it doesn’t matter. New Yorkers have elevated denim to high fashion —spend an evening in a Brooklyn brewery and you’ll inevitably spot overalls or a Levis jacket.
Denim isn’t the only workman’s staple that’s been reappropriated by city slickers though. Take the humble Timberland boot which can be seen on the feet of hipsters everywhere. I’m not going to lie, I’m still a bit perplexed by the popularity of Timberlands and Birkenstocks (Timbs and Birks). Like the Ugg boot of the 00’s, I hope when they fade they fade hard.
However, the other footwear I see day after day in the city is the ankle boot and I hope they stay in forever. Be they open toed, stiletto, platform, flat, sparkly or slouchy (just not furry) they look sleek as can be and are also pretty decent protection from the cockroaches that seemingly take over the city from Spring to Fall. Whatever you do, don’t pack flip flops — You’ll end up with black feet by day’s end and no one likes hearing the thwack thwack of rubber hitting cement. The flippy is made for island living, not for city dwelling.
With all this in mind, I drew up the style I interpret the city owning. Even when decked out in denim, the wearer still brings personality into their pieces:
One of the many beautiful things about New York is that it doesn’t have a uniform — true, a bright yellow floral maxi dress may not be a common frock, but if that’s what you want to wear, wear it. Cliche as it may be, the city is a melting pot. It’s incredibly diverse and the city isn’t just Manhattan. It’s five boroughs and everything and everyone in them — the hipster haven that is Brooklyn, the ocean front mansions of the Hamptons, the Long Island accent, Meatpacking District club-goers, soft pretzels in Central Park, bodegas in the Upper West Side, Yankee Stadium, the sky above where the twin towers once stood, and yes, the Statue of Liberty.
You may blend in wearing black, but in a crowd of millions you won’t offend anyone by walking into a subway car wearing a zebra print coat, or a zebra costume.