Whose NY is it, anyway?


Our guest blogger, Jessica Chung, elaborates on how her experience people-watching in New York has sketched an expressive image for her.

New York is universally considered to be the unrivaled “melting pot” of the world.  True, the city’s history may have derived a few names from the British (such as “York”, “Brooklyn”, and “Soho”), but back in London, can one wait for a 3:00 A.M subway train to arrive while double-fisting a piping hot gyro along with an overstuffed sub from an authentic Jewish deli as your friend finishes her honeydew bubble tea- all while listening to a 3-man band playing an amazing African tribal instrumental version of Adele while standing next to a group of girls arguing in Spanish? Probably not.

Indeed, one could venture to guess that many tourists anticipate their trips to New York to see this side of her, even though they tell everyone that they are coming up for more intellectually inclined activities, such as touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other New York landmarks. Most Americans, lucky as we are to have New York only a reasonable bus or a plane ride away; we share this “melting pot” view of New York as our nation’s cultural center.

But in the minds of the fashion-obsessed (or simply fashion-aware), New York is the style-Mecca of the western hemisphere. It is fascinating to observe the vast range of stylistic tastes jumbled together in the chaos of speeding cars, bright lights, crowded sidewalks, and towering skyscrapers all together as everyone’s New York. Instead of hunting down the richest penne arrabiata or the most delicate sashimi with the local foodies, many a fashionista would be quite content with a cup of coffee and a good vantage point to sit and people-watch.

Like food, regional or ethnic fashion styles of any kind can be overwhelming and quite distinctive. For example, nearly anyone on the campus of a somewhat “preppy” east-coast college, ranging from Alabama in the south to UPenn in the north, can tell you the unofficial casual “sorority girl”- including the wannabes or just bandwagon riders- ensemble. This is either a plain v-neck or a “t-shirt tee shirt” paired with Rainbows or Sperry’s, and North Face or L.L. Bean backpacks with Longchamp totes. In the fall, the look transforms into a hardier outfit of baseball hats, jeans, riding boots (not too edgy), and a jacket of some variation (military-inspired or hunting… Burberry for the dressier sorts).

The “t-shirt tee shirt”

Sitting on New York City’s Highline Park today, I had the perfect opportunity to observe this phenomenon. The dozens of trend-conscious maxi-dress or skirt-clad urbanites who swooshed by were mixed among old men in Panama hats, young women in colorful tops and Tory Burch sandals, European men in capri shorts, older ladies in crisp white button downs, hipsters in Ray-Ban sunglasses and tank tops (and sometimes high tops), and perhaps surprisingly (I mean, it is New York) more than a few middle aged couples sporting the, to put it kindly, “practical” look. All of these people may blend in quite blandly in their natural habitats, but in New York, people-watching is like eating jelly beans. While reaching into the bag, you’ll never know what you’ll get; though they’re all variations of the same little bean, there are countless shades all of unique flavors.

While the sheer repetitiveness of many outfit formulae are influenced by the nature of our desire to conform or be accepted (a very forceful aspect of almost every type of community), this may make us nearly immune to the sartorial value of each look. However, New York City’s juxtaposition of all of these styles is a consequence of the city’s universal appeal, and this “melting pot” collage simply recreates a new individuality.




written by Jessica Chung, Guest Contributor

Jessica is a UPenn senior pursuing a major in Art History and a minor in Fine Arts. While patiently waiting for a sign from destiny, Jessica is currently exploring a career in the fashion industry while working on writing and charcoal drawing projects.

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