City Clichés

by Ailee Hendricks

Photography by Carson Blair

Stylist: Nikita Belathur

HMUA: Cameron Young

Models: Julia Vastano, Lindsey Ehlers

Throughout an episode of the comedy series “Portlandia,” one of the show’s creators Fred Armisen suffers from an identity crisis. Desperate to offset his misery and gray hair, Armisen jumps at his former high school counselor’s suggestion to move to Austin. Once he arrives, a basket of barbecue sauce and Dos Equis is promptly awarded to him as part of a customary Austin-welcome. The mayor, who is, of course, sporting a bolo tie and a massive handlebar mustache even gifts Armisen a cowboy hat decorated with a longhorn emblem in hopes of helping Armisen feel a little more at home.

For the entirety of the sketch, similar stereotypes of Austin and its residents persist. Whether it’s the cowboy hat and handlebar mustache, ending phone calls with “keep it weird” instead of a simple “goodbye,” playing the banjo on the front porch all day, or drinking an ungodly amount of Dos Equis, all of these characterizations have become proverbial. But I wonder: where exactly do the clichés come from? And how do they reveal themselves in fashion?

Ockhee Bego (an apparel designer, director of the UT Fashion Show and lecturer for The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Textiles and Apparel) listed a number of things that play roles in creating a city’s specific style: “the brand, the designer’s ideals going into it, the economy, where [the consumers] live and their professions…” She also added that the city’s unique climate and demographics, particularly age, also influence the designs and fashion a city personifies. Austin is not the only city to which this applies.

Urban areas around the world are sucked into niches, creating their own cultural personalities that end up manifesting in clothing. These cultural distinctions are juxtaposed most clearly during fashion month, when designers’ collections for New York, London, Milan, and Paris embody the city on their respective catwalks.City ClichésThinking back to the “Portlandia” episode, with regards to all the cowboys, hippies, and musicians Austin has to offer — does this make the clichés true? To Bego, they take amiss when compared to reality because cities don’t fall into any one category or even several categories.

“Austin is a bit unique, especially the Austin demographic,” Bego says. “It’s a little young and hip, so it’s very individual … Everybody is uniquely different, but they’ve harmonized.”

Bego lived in Austin for a few years during the early ‘80s, left to work around Europe and Asia, and returned to the capital of Texas 16 years ago. She talks about her city affectionately and with a hint of pride.

“People in Austin are free-spirited, very unique and very competent,” Bego says. “They are comfortable with their own skin. They can adopt anything and wear anything.”

New York City, on the other hand, differs in the name of conformity, elegance, and structure. The city is colder, older, and richer than most. Their climate brings about distinct changes of season, necessitating a conglomeration of clothing types.

“Winter garments are very structured, very well-made, and look stylish,” Bego says. “In Austin, people wear T-shirts and jeans to go to a nice restaurant compared to in New York and European and Asian countries (where) their garment is their status.”

The emphasis an area places on clothing correlate with the wearer’s economic and education status. In these places, well-dressed people get more respect; their garments become a part of their individual identities and how they view themselves. Paris also has a reputation of its own. The romance, lights, cafes, ferociously chic, wealthy, and cheeky men and women all contribute to creating what seems like a utopian fairytale from the movies. Parisian group identities perpetuate throughout countless advertisements, celebrities, films, and fashion trends in ways that often border satirical. But as is usual, the concepts are oversimplified. Their only achievement lies in superficially representing a limited portion of the population.City ClichésIn the fashion world, designers are left to interpret these factors as part of what is referred to as “understanding the customer profile.” Successfully marketing one’s brand and product hold the same significance in the apparel industry as it does in every other commercial enterprise. Imperative elements of marketing, like knowing your target audience, are essential for constructing socially and economically successful garments.

“A lot of people think designers only create,” Bego says. “But it’s part of my job to sell my creations. I can be as creative as I want, but at the same time, I have to make a living. I have to eat.”  

The misconception that designers do not need to think from an economic point of view is sorely contrary to fact. Designers are ever more aware of who is purchasing their garments and where this market is located in order to produce and sell a product to an accepting segment of the market.

The countless factors determining the relationship between what one wears and where one lives may always remain slightly crisscrossed and curious. Bego explained this phenomenon: “Most people go (to cities) for their profession and then they start adapting to the culture. That being said, certain atmospheres, cultures and social structures draw people back to the place they want to live… That’s also got to do with what people wear, because clothing is reflecting our life and who we are.” •

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