American Girls

Lady Melbourne in Soho

One of the special luxuries of travelling is the capacity it allows you to spend an extra amount of time in one place should the fancy arise.

It gives you extra minutes to linger at a café in the morning, banishes the gobbled lunch on the fly and allows for weeknight dinners that stretch out into the lingering hours, or indeed, permits for no dining at all if you’ve become gleefully taken with the pre-dinner bar. Ask me how I know.

By spending the last couple of weeks delightedly tripping along the streets of New York, I’ve come to realise that there is most definitely an American girl. I’m not sure you could say the same for Australia, I think we perceive that the ‘Australian woman’ is some sort of beautiful Frankenstein stitch-up of Jennifer Hawkins and Miranda Kerr, but it’s simply not the case.

And while I also realise that it is a sweeping generalisation to say there is an American type, I hope you will permit me to relay what I’ve seen and why I’ve seen it thus.

I thought when I arrived that all New York women would look like something from the pages of The Sartorialist or Bill Cunningham’s NYT coverage. I thought that all women would get around in heels – thank you Sex And The City.

But, with a curious blend of disappointment and pleasantness, I realise I was wrong. Disappointment only because I thought I would see these exotic and rare birds of fashion on every street corner, and pleasantness in the relief of knowing that it is, in fact, a myth.

American girls are far more practical in their dress sense – conservative with occasional risqué flair. The general uniform is: skinny jeans, a blouson top, ballet flats, long glossy hair, white teeth, thin necklaces and a designer handbag – usually American. It appears as though they are loyal to American brands like  J Crew, Michael Korrs, Madewell, Calvin Klein, Kate Spade and Tory Burch to name a few off the top of my head.

The cultural equivalent in an Australian sense would be the surfer chick that wears brands like Ksubi, Cheap Monday, Havaianas (although they’re not Australian, we’ve certainly adopted them as part of the national dress code) and Zimmerman.

Lady Melbourne in Soho

Lady Melbourne in Soho

This concept of whether there is visual recognition of a country or culture because of the way they dress really fascinated me ahead of this trip. Setting aside the obvious cultural, traditional and religious dress of your destination, I’m talking about what people wear on an everyday basis.

In Hong Kong, for example, I noticed that a lot of the women wear shorts and a t-shirt or singlet top as opposed to, say, a simple dress.

So why do American girls revel in simplicity for their every day wear?

Going back to the idea of American brands holding predominance here, I wonder whether it’s because the brands are so well publicised that saturation advertising has informed people’s dress sense over the last say, 20 or 30 years.

Think Calvin Klein’s simple lines, DKNY for sports luxe, and Ralph Lauren – who does the American heritage thing to a tee. What is American heritage? I believe it’s best encapsulated along the lines of: polo shirts, chinos, denim and shirts with the sleeves rolled up.

What it promotes, most certainly, is a lack of creativity and innovation. It could be said that even fashion industry darlings like Alexander Wang and Opening Ceremony basically produce edgy basics, the irony being that their fashion over the last five years has been largely ripped-off and replicated.

We emulate and copy what is every day and basic.

I haven’t yet uncovered what makes homogenous fashion so covetable here and why there is such a devotion to big name brands.

But don’t worry, I’m spending my days in pursuit of that notion, all the while wearing skinny jeans, a blouson top and my trusty ballet flats.

Here’s a gallery of images I found on Pinterest illustrating my point…

  • Having visited many parts of the US (just not yet NYC) and living with many American expat friends I’d definitely say there is not a general type for all Americans as every city and region have their own flavour. Same as Australia. Melbourne girls dress VERY differently to Brissie girls to Perth girls. I think your just able to comment on New York. I’ll put it this way, one of my best friend’s is from New York and whenever I introduce her as being American she says, no I’m a New Yorker lol.

  • Bingo Banjo

    I enjoyed your analysis. Thanks.
    I think day-to-day fashion is crying out for something radical – imagine if something as jarring as punk kicked off again! It would certainly shake things up. Everything is far too safe and ‘on trend’ bah humbug I say!

  • Lady Bracknell

    Miss Venezuela & Lady Bracknell are certainly in agreement here about “American girls style”. And my reference to Hispanic ladies in NYC certainly includes bright, amusing & lovely Latin American & Cuban style, though that is to be found more southwards around Miami than NYC.

  • Miss Venezuela

    Coming from Venezuela I have to say I felt the same as you in NY when I arrive in Australia. It was surprising to see women with corporative attires completed with havainas or even worse wearing sandals without a proper pedicure, call me superficial but I think that is the beauty of being woman.

    On the other hand, there are beautiful Australian ladies like you, that make the difference, but sadly from the latinamerican perspective Americans and Australians in general look the same…

    “Primero muerta que sencilla” First dead than simple..

  • Sorry about the spelling mistakes in that last comment;)

  • Hi girl.
    After Reading this article/comments, and having a think. I have to say that i the “American girl outfit” thing i see in Oslo as well, and the main reason is for its simplicity…it is just so easy to through on, and yet feel wonderful …

    Have a great day LM 🙂
    Kiss kiss

  • Leah

    Interesting comment from LadyBracknell about this being a ‘white girl’ thing.. I have to say I agree.

    But also, the above mentioned American Girl outfit is really just an easy but cute outfit to get around in for lunch with the girls or shopping or running errands, or basically anything other than corporate work! So i see why so many women, not just in America, gravitate towards it. Skinny jeans, ankle boots, a blouse and a blazer is pretty much the day time uniform of most busy but stylish ladies I know in Melbourne.

  • ladybracknell

    A good summary of white American (US) girls around NYC in Summer weather. Would be interested in your fashion observations of African-American & Hispanic girls around the same city, very many who seemed to me to be very stylish according to their economic circumstances. Any thoughts?.