what makes the new york woman different

 

The most unrealistic part about Sex & The City is not the ridiculously expensive brunches or witty jokes about casual sex, both happen all the time in New York. It’s honestly the heels. As much as we’d like to believe we could prance around uneven cobblestone streets with the same ease as Carrie Bradshaw, it is not happening without a state increase in broken ankles. Heels, though purchased often, are seldom worn.

The average New Yorker takes more steps a day than the rest of the country, which means the relationship most women have with their heels are less about wearing them and more like an intense staring contest. The heels stare at us. We stare at the heels and only consider wearing them if the date/meeting/whatever would be worth the pain. In which case we would be prepared to handle, because the one thing you won’t catch a New York woman doing is complaining about her feet hurting. This is not LA. When you do catch us wearing heels though, please know that there has been a plan set in motion. It combines an expectation and tolerance for pain along with some soft plushy sneakers within five feet of wherever we are standing.

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Because of the commuting nature of the city, New York women need their sneakers or perhaps a comfortable pair of boots or loafers to get around. We have stairs to climb, meetings to rush to, trains to catch. We can’t afford the immobility of heels. In heels you must walk slower, with more concentration. And depending on what street you’re on it can feel like you’ve for some reason put your body on stilts, and now have no choice but to sway and jiggle past the men who can’t wait to tell you about it. Even in a city that treasures beauty, the alluring aesthetic of heels just still does not add up to the comfort and rationality of sneakers, and so, we found the beauty in those.

It’s within the environmental and social infrastructure of the need to get around that the New York woman’s sense of style was built. It’s responsible for the athletic undertones and masculine elements that you can find in each of our closets. Men aren’t the only ones who are into “sneaker culture” you know. We have had to make them work for us too and in the good old American way, look sexy while doing it. You can thank New York women for figuring out how to assemble the biggest, dorkiest looking Timberlands and Jordan’s (which are essentially snow boots and basketball sneakers) and turning them into fashion pieces that have attracted men all over the world. Reeboks, Nikes, Vans, Adidas, you name it, are brands that have caught on to the New York girl’s need to get around. It is in this need to commute in combination with the pressure to look good that has created a blended fashion genre of which we now know as “street wear” and it’s one of the trickiest of them all to pull off.

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This is how it works: as soon as you leave your door in New York, you have willingly (or not) entered a competition. Everyone knows that the real fashion week is every week here and it happens down the wide, flat sidewalks in Manhattan or on certain trains during certain times of day. While you are out, you are silently (or loudly) critiqued for things like attractiveness, style, grace and the winner is whoever can pull off a look that appears as if they don’t give a fuck, when in actuality they do. Your effort in getting dressed or looking cool must not be readable. There can’t be a trace or even a sniff of it because if so, you’re out the game. You have to look like you just do this—like you are just this fly by nature. A quick trick to accomplishing this is making sure that your whites are really white and your blacks are really black.

The goal with street wear is to send people home wondering about what it is about you that looks so effortless and carefree. This is separate from the carefreeness of Bay Area fashion, where they also dress like they don’t give a fuck, but it’s different because they actually don’t. It’s also different than Los Angeles where women work on an entirely different scale of fashion. The effort to look “good” is very obvious and it’s meant to be. They operate on another set of rules. The more attention paid to the curvature of the body or the illusions provided by makeup, the better.

New York girls usually don’t know the first thing about makeup until later on in life and when we do, we are skeptical of its alleged powers and cautious about being caught with too much on. I didn’t pick up my first mascara wand until I landed in the sunny plains of California and even then, I had to make sure my New York friends weren’t looking. In New York, we like to see how much you can pull off using your own hair and skin. The woman who is most naturally pretty is the most naturally envied. We aren’t jealous at how well you can contour as much as we are about how full your natural eyebrows are.

The style of the New York woman is probably closest to that of the Parisian. We both have integrated these carefree, casual aspects of style into our “iconic” looks as the result of being in a city that overflows with culture. There’s just no time to pile on makeup or spend hours on our hair when there’s a big world out there to explore. We have to distribute the energy that would be going into that and lend it out to enjoying the energy of the city. We need to catch the next art or media event and we need to read our new book on the way there. We need hairstyles that can be ready to go in five minutes and makeup routines that involve more skin than makeup. And of course, we need to figure all of this out and still look good enough to snag a number or two should we need a date later that week.

It’s this lifestyle which leaves this intangible zeal that the rest of the world tries to recreate. And it can’t really be captured through clothes alone. The clothes themselves, should they be hung up on a clothing rack, can easily be overlooked or ignored. The aesthetic that graces the style of the New York woman doesn’t shine through unless you watch the garments in action. Well made coats can be appreciated because we catch their linings in the most flattering positions, like when an arm is raised to hold onto the train bar or hail a taxi. Sneakers are followed with eyes because they pedal down the blocks with speed and intention that stimulate the mind. We find each other’s way of commuting interesting and get a healthy dose of jealousy when we find someone doing it with less effort than us.

Lastly, what seals the elegance of the New York woman’s style of course has nothing to deal with her clothes or shoes at all. It is her opinion. Standing tall and proud like a stubborn bowling pin. I’ve traveled the world but I have never heard silence more neatly used than after a New York woman finishes her sentence. We don’t tend to hedge or embellish our thoughts with apologies or concern. Dilution is not our style. We cut our sentences bluntly and end them as a matter of fact.

It is the most refreshing, most empowering connection I have with the women here, both alive and dead. Even if I don’t agree, I am proud when a woman has spoken her mind sans a “sorry” because in doing so, she’s carved out more space for me. It is this firm opinion in a society that transforms women from boobs and butts into actual individuals. Our thoughts, when so boldly delivered, snatch culture down by the collar and force it to face what is beyond the enticement of our anatomy. It demands you to swim through and appreciate the depths of our intellectualism and finally land at the core of what makes us the same, our humanity. And we do this, we do it in the dopest sneakers we could find.

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This piece was orginally published for Spoiled NYC. 

 
Alex Wolf