L.A. beach babe. New York glamour girl. Southern belle. Many cities and regions bring up images of distinct styles, fashionistas and fashionistos who take their locale into account just as much as they do designer names and the newest trends.
So doesn’t it make sense that Madison, a city known for being “locally grown,” would have its own distinct, locally grown fashion? Although it may be difficult to see when surrounded by fellow Madisonians, I would argue that yes, this little city of ours has its own unique style.
Over spring break I had the opportunity to visit friends in Charleston, S.C., a small college town similar to Madison but with a very, very Southern flair. However, with my two travel companions/fellow Badgers, I realized that one of the biggest differences between these two towns was the fashion sense. While the vacation-wear of our Southern counterparts consisted of clean khakis and pastels, we Midwesterners cloak our sun-starved bodies in flannels and cut-off denim. I was surprised to find that, of all things, clothing was what best gave me a little taste of home.
I had a similar experience in L.A. while visiting family last winter break. While walking down palm tree-lined streets, my brother and I (distinctly Midwestern in appearance) did not look any less sophisticated, urban or hip than the L.A. rich kids we passed, we just looked different. Whatever this quality that made us stand out was, I am certain that it was of Midwestern origins, and that it made me (dare I say it?) proud to be from Madison.
This “Madison Style,” is a direct reflection of a Madison lifestyle, each piece of clothing a small picture of who we are and what our city is. One thing that makes our city unique? Its proximity to rural areas and its appreciation of a pastoral and more natural lifestyle. We see the influence of this in our favorite flannel shirts (the go-to piece of many Madisonians) and our ability to transform the farmer’s durable denim into modern and unique shapes. Both boys and girls pair hiking boots and Carhartt floppy hats with more urban pieces, transforming practical wear into a fashion forward statement. Although Madison would barely qualify as a small town, small-town influences in its fashion make it all the more unique as a city.
Now that spring is upon us, it’s easy to forget the one thing that influences our dressing every day: the weather. And here in Madison, as we all know, the weather is very, very cold more often than not. Even when a blizzard is not looming in the forecast, cold weather favorites continue to make appearances all year long, lending unmistakably Madison accents to our wardrobes. Think of the beanie paired with an otherwise weather-neutral outfit, the one that hides your bad hair day and gives just a hint of apathy. We also have the unique tendency to pair boots with bare legs, or an oversized jacket with shorts. Cold, unpredictable weather has given us the pieces and ability to play with textures, weights and shapes, making us masters at layering. As the weather evolves, so do our fashions, and we Madisonians manage to keep up creatively.
Another factor in the Madison lifestyle? Academia. Badgers are smart, scholarly and not afraid to hide it. For every night on the town there is another night in the library, and despite the “nerdy” connotations that this may bring, we manage to make it cool. Preppy pieces such as button-down shirts layered under clean pullovers, oxfords with crisp skinny pants and soft cardigans look good both in and out of the classroom. Ironically oversized or thick-rimmed glasses are one part hipster, one part academic. Clich? sayings like “nerdy chic,” take on a new originality when they’re materialized in the outfits of studious Badgers.
In comparison with those from outside the Midwest, we have an uncanny ability to do grunge right. Of course, I’m not saying our homeless friends on State Street should be fashion icons, I’m just saying we have the modern Kurt Cobain look down. We can effortlessly balance oversized tops and flannels with skinny jeans or distressed denim “mom shorts” and tights. We’ve even perfected the jeans and t-shirt look by finding these grungy basics with perfect fits and fashion conscious details.
Why are we so damn good at grunge while others struggle in front of the mirror trying to get “effortless” proportions just right? The reason seems like nothing to be proud of, but I am proud of it nonetheless. We do grunge well because years of partying – of “thirsty Thursdays” and bar deals on Tuesday nights – have taught us how to roll out of bed, throw clothes on and look good.
Madison fashion reflects the Madison lifestyle, a lifestyle that I am proud to wear with me wherever I go.
Maggie Schafer is an English/creative writing and sociology major. Let her know your opinions on the latest trends at firstname.lastname@example.org.