I stated on Twitter the other day that North Americans dress badly and it ruffled a few feathers. I don’t even see this as a debatable point. The evidence speaks for itself. Put someone from Europe next to someone from America or Canada and it’s game over. No need for discussion. However, people wanted me to explain my viewpoint, so here goes.
North American ‘style’ is lazy and unoriginal for the most part. (I did mention I was gonna ruffle a few feathers, right?) I lived in Canada and the States for years and not a day went by where I was not completely underwhelmed and unimpressed by the style choices of the majority of people there.
When I lived in New York, I found it laughable that it considered itself to be a ‘fashion capital’. Everyone dresses the same. It’s like a uniform. You can even break it down by ethnicity. Most white people wear Gap or Banana Republic and where I lived in Spanish Harlem (a predominantly black and latino neighbourhood), I was pretty much the only one not in Rocawear or Baby Phat. And before you get your knickers in a twist, I do realise that not every white, black or latino person falls into these categories.
Every outfit is a variation of jeans and T Shirts. Oh except when they go to work. For work, men will wear what they call, ‘dress pants’ (which I think is a complete oxymoron, but whatever). Show me an American man that doesn’t own at least three pairs of these and I’ll give you the £5.72 in my bank account. They’ll team that with a ‘button down shirt’ – Americans make the distinction that the shirt has buttons, because they need to know up front that it will require some effort to put it on. Like I said, North American fashion is lazy, so wearing a shirt with buttons is a big deal.
And of course, everything is ill fitting. I think the concept of tailoring has completely escaped North Americans. Mens pants are always too baggy. Naturally, American men refer to European style trousers as ‘gay’ because they are what they consider to be ‘tight’. In actuality, those are how your trousers are meant to fit. Ladies clothing on those shores never seems to hug the form correctly. But, it would require time and effort to change those things and that would infringe on the time they get to spend in their jeans and T Shirts, so why bother?
In New York I was complimented on my clothing on virtually a daily basis, probably because I put some effort into my style. But there really is no excuse to dress badly in NYC – there are boutiques selling nice clothes (which, I’d like to point out, they import from Europe), but I guess JC Penney or whatever, is easier for most people. God forbid you make a little effort or stand out from the Gap uniform!
In Toronto, I despised shopping. Everything was the same. Even boutique stores that were two doors away from each other were stocking the same dresses (which really just comes down to poor research and business skills on the part of the shop owners).
The whole theme in North America seems to be casual comfort. And, due to the growing obesity problem, there soon won’t be any other choice.
But a great deal of this is cultural. Here in England, we are lucky enough to have the rest of Europe as our playground. From a young age, we go on holidays to France, Spain or Italy and get to absorb all the different styles there. Our style is a constant fusion of what we are lucky enough to be surrounded by. Since most Americans don’t have passports, well, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with that one. Few people on the planet dress better than French women or Italian men. There’s experimentation, there’s flair and there’s a genuine desire to always look your best.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course there are people on this fair continent who are yet to master the art of style and the constant cheapening of fashion through discount stores is definitely having a negative effect on the way people dress, but that’s a whole other debate.
If North Americans are honest with themselves, their favourite designers are most likely, European. From McQueen to Missoni – we produce the best. You’ve either got it or you don’t and when it comes to fashion, we Europeans definitely have the edge.
Update: I have written a new post revisiting this topic in 2013, you can read it here