carnivale – my neck of the woods
This week the Carnivale is hosted by one of my favourites (she’s like the honourary mom of the fashion blog set), Rebecca of The Space Between My Peers. Her topic is oh-so-appropriate to my mission to define Canadian (and more specifically Torontonian) fashion identity…
Suppose you stepped off a plane in your neighborhood, city, or country. Could you tell you were home by how people were dressed? Is there a Regional Casual Uniform? What do people (and you may narrow down to a specific segment of the population if you like) wear when they are going out, during the day, going to be seen, but not needing to dress up?
If you stepped off the plane and took a cab to downtown Toronto, my neck of the woods, judging only by the appearances of the individuals around you it seems like you’re in a city that is a little bit of every city in the world. Toronto is one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities.
As for sartorial distinctions, my lack of travel definitely limits my answer. But I will tell you my own assumptions based on what I have observed.
As a small-town girl, coming to Toronto for the first time was extremely intimidating. I was surrounded by people who were trendier-looking, richer-looking and much better dressed than anything I knew back home. I came from a town so small that there was only one clothing store – and I couldn’t afford to shop there, so I had to shop at the thrift store. In Toronto there was every type of store. I remember as a teenager going downtown to the Eaton Centre and marveling at the vast racks of new clothes and the stylishness of the shoppers around me. We also went down to Queen West where I gawked at stores like Siren (R.I.P.) and So Hip it Hurts, utterly amazed by the awesomeness of subculture-specific stores. The variety of riches was overwhelming – let me tell you deciding what to spend my $50 spending money on was pure agony. It’s amusing to realize what I did buy – cheap little screen-print t-shirts – seemed at one time so exotic and groovy.
Having lived in Toronto for four years now I have become more jaded. People here dress very conservatively, especially in the winter-time. I’m sure they look much the same here as they do in any urban center in the world – Jeans and t-shirts, and of course for most of the year it’s all covered up with winter coats.
Downtown where there’s street life it can be fun to watch out for those who put in a little more effort – we have a good smattering of punks both old-school and new-school, and in the fashion district you can see a lot of funky, individualistic dressing. Fancy-schmancy Yorkville is the only place where you can observe a lot of designer clothing – even though most of it is predictable and non-Canadian-specific – Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Prada. Since I’ve moved here, two chains in particular have revolutionized the way young people here dress – American Apparel and H&M. The trend-conscious have totally embraced these two retailers like no other – often to the point of being walking advertisements.
My perspective changed when I returned from my trip to New York. In New York, people care much more about designer clothing. Even young, poor people like myself are decked out in expensive-looking, magazine-worthy outfits. The variety in Manhattan is overwhelming compared to what is available in Toronto. I think because New York is a true fashion capital, its residents live and breathe fashion in a way that other North American cities simply can’t quite match.
Coming back to Toronto, it struck me how rare it was to see people in designer clothing. Torontonians are obviously extremely price-conscious when they shop. There simply isn’t the fashion culture here to fuel the need to covet the obscure, the authentic, and because of that there isn’t the necessary variety available to create a cult obsession with the rare and specifically sartorial. Though a few individuals do stand out from the crowd, strictly speaking, Torontonians are only trend-conscious in the most accessible way.
I want to return to this theme in future posts, where I’ll attempt to examine Toronto as a market for fashion versus Toronto as a producer of fashion… but until then, that wraps up my entry for this Carnivale!