Last February I discuss Street style, a concept often captured in a picture, yet rarely written about
With Paris Couture Week having closed its colourful catwalk for yet another term and London fashion week fast approaching, those who don’t eat and breath fashion would be forgiven for thinking that it is merely a concept reserved for the runways of the world. But of course, those of us who don’t just see fashion as a way of life, but life itself, know better. As the Queen of classic couture, Coco Chanel once put it “fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live and what is happening” and decades on there is still nothing but truth in this statement. Fashion is fabricated into the veins of society; finding its origins in youth and popular culture with the result being presented on the pavements and park benches of the world on a daily basis, from New York to Newbridge. This form of fashion, which is hardly ever written about, but displayed to us through images varying from the candid to illustrious, is known as street style.
While social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram, may have pushed the concept of Street style in to the public sphere, it is far from a new phenomenon. Since the invention of the camera in the 19th Century, street style has been at the very core of fashion. Women in the late 1800’s were just as infatuated with the idea of posing for picture after picture, as we are today for pulling “duck faces” and showing off our outfit swag. Continuing into the 1950’s, rival magazines, Vogue and Harper’s Bazar, dedicated their glossy pages to the street savvy. These remarkable and historic, monochromatic images, featuring men in dapper suits and women in preppy poodle skirts, allow us to gain a glimpse into the fashion of our ancestors showing the importance of street style in understanding the development of our culture.
These black and white photographs, although endearing in tracking the evolution of fashion, the subjects more often than not posed for these images for a considerable length of time, taking away from their authenticity. This is where Bill Cunningham comes in. Celebrated fashion photographer, Cunningham came to prominence during the 1970’s for his capturing of honest and original images of sidewalk style, as pedestrians went about their daily lives. Unlike the stilted images of the past, Cunningham had the unique ability to take candid images, in casual situations, yet proving that street style was anything but casual. Known for his signature bicycle which he used to glide through the streets of New York, Anna Wintour once stated that “we all get dressed for Bill”, indicating how Cunningham and his brand of street style photography has been just as influential, as having a front row seat at any couture show.
Perhaps, Cunningham’s greatest achievement has been that he demonstrated to the world that anywhere has the ability to be a fashion capital and that being chic isn’t confined to the bustling boulevards of Paris. The funky fashion of Manhattan morning commuters, is different to the understated brogue wearing French, but just as worthy. New York street style, although ever-changing, ranges from the preppy Upper-East side Gossip Girl generation, to the Brooklyn hipsters who team sleek trainers with over-sized jumper dresses while managing to still look immaculate. London, street style, which is giving its French and Stateside counterparts much needed competition in their titles as fashion capitals, also has its own unique look. Since the swinging sixties, London has attracted the youthful and fresh fashionistas of the world. From Twiggy and her signature eyebrow flick, to Georgia May Jagger’s gap-grin, Londoner’s have had more than enough inspiration to unleash on their own style.
While street style is most prominent in the smog-infested cities of the world, its influence can also be seen in smaller urban centres. Edinburgh, Dublin, even Cork are fast becoming hubs for quirky, fashion conscious trendsetters. And it’s not only the high end fashion magazines which document street style, most newspapers, not forgetting Verge, dedicate their print space to footpath fashion lovers. Is it any surprise then that most of fashion’s popular trends have had their origins on city streets rather than in the style houses of London or Paris? Diego Zuko, photographer for Harper’s Bazar has noted that the recent trend of tassled kimonos and fringed cloaks, found its beginning’s on the streets of New York. Moreover, the variety of clothing sold in highstreet stores such as Topshop and River Island, along with quirky items in vintage outlets, allows for the mixing of old and new trends, and the creation of revolutionary looks. Skinny jeans, choke-chains and tartan all have street style to thank for their popularity in main-stream fashion. And it’s not just the cities that influence our daily attire, the strong waistcoats and shiny leather riding boots preferred by country dwellers has given way to the Heritage trend.
Perhaps the biggest threat to street style, is that everyone claims to be a hipster these days. Originality is harder to find and the obscure images of Bill Cunningham are more difficult to capture. But is anybody really original? Every single one of us is influenced by popular culture from Taylor Swift to Leonardo di Caprio whether we like it or not, that is how trends take off and that after all is what fashion is about! Fashion is about people, faces, situations, past, present and future. Street style is an embodiment of what fashion actually is; a means of expression, a manner in which we can make our dark days a little brighter by wearing that luminous hat. Long live Street Style!