Back in the distant, pre-paleopandemic era, a trip to New York was always a bit like the ice bucket challenge, sartorially at least. Even at the height of one of those steaming, airless summers they always like to complain about, chic Manhattanites maintain a purposeful, unflustered air – and a lot of that comes down to their pared-back style. It seemed to me that New Yorkers make a few pieces go a very long way simply by switching around their heels and accessories.
Has that approach changed through several lockdowns and what, by all accounts, was a mass exodus to the beaches of Long Island, the farms of New Jersey and the cabins of upstate New York, idylls from which many have yet to return?
Hell, no. If anything, New Yorkers have doubled down on the less is more mantra. Take March’s Ralph Lauren show – his first in two years and the main reason I was there. Old-school glamour was in abundant supply, and yet everyone exhaled that kind of effortless, pared-back look which sums up New York style at its best, even if it’s the antithesis of the way those four patron saints of the city (Carrie Bradshaw and co) dress.
“There’s something incredibly special in the timeless elegance of wearing black. Not only does it give an effortless feel to any outfit, but it also gives me inner and outer confidence when I wear it.”
How do they do it? In two words: invisible grooming. Makeup, hair, nails… they’re all micromanaged so the chic New Yorker can look nonchalant and as if they’ve just nipped back from a beachy weekend in the Hamptons. In two more words: chic simplicity. Every single person – on the Ralph Lauren catwalk and the front row, including Anna Wintour – was in black or white. Except me. I didn’t get the memo, so I was in pale pink. Weirdly, I didn’t feel awkward because at least it was a trouser suit, the other New York stand-by. That’s the first lesson. Have some fall-back tailoring you can dress up, down and wear for years. Or as Ralph Lauren himself says: “I’ve always believed in timeless clothes that have no age attached to them – and today, timeless style has to do with clothes defined by a kind of beautiful tailoring that has an ease, sophistication and modern glamour.”
New Yorkers have inordinate respect for monochrome. A shimmery Jessica Chastain, one of Ralph’s guests of honour, in a beaded jumpsuit and tux, told me monochrome reminded her of old Hollywood. “There’s something incredibly special in the timeless elegance of wearing black. Not only does it give an effortless feel to any outfit, but it also gives me inner and outer confidence when I wear it.”
It’s one thing for a luminous, Oscar-winning, Titian-maned film star to cite the glories of black, but what about the rest of us who fear it may drain or age us? Then, lesson two is white is your friend.
My American colleague Emily Cronin, who did time in New York before moving to London, thinks the appeal of an all-black wardrobe lies in its psychological force as much as its superficial qualities. “There’s a competence and no-nonsense subtext to black that I really love. You can really tell who the tourists are in New York. They’re the ones in colour, pattern, with this season’s trends all going on.” New Yorkers do trends too – more than Parisians – but as Cronin says, “they pride themselves on their pin sharp black suits, foot-long coffee cup … and perfect manicures”.
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