I’ve recently become NYLON.
No. I haven’t suddenly changed my matter from human cells to man-made fibres.
Rather, I have become a very frequent visitor to the great city of New York – the fabulous monstropolis (made-up word) on America’s north east coast that practically owned the twentieth century.
Whilst the rest of the world’s mighty citadels were bombing each other to smithereens (except Paris) and then building hideous replacements in the latter half of the century, New York was sprouting skyscrapers and creating a city emblematic of success, a symbol that countless others have attempted to outdo ever since (ahem, Dubai).
A NYLON Appreciates the Differences
The thing is, New York isn’t replicable. It’s a mix of the rapidly altering architectural styles over the past one and a half centuries. Congested canyons of old brownstone townhouses, Beaux Arts monuments, Art Deco icons and mid-century mistakes. Facades of historic and titanic wealth; graffitied embarrassments of poverty.
Like London, which is a low-rise combination of the genteel and the grim, its beauty lies in its imperfection. So, from my perspective – despite the obvious differences, New York shares more of a spirit with London than it does with many of the USA’s other major cities.
One of the benefits of being back in the Big Apple every month is getting to know the people and their nature. You only really ever get to know a place or the folk that live there when exposure is prolonged and frequently repeated.
A New NYLON is often Surprised
Some of the most entertaining things about New York are actually points which I celebrate as differences to my home town of London. Unsurprisingly, one of these is the way in which New York behaves in relation to style – my style specifically, but also that of others I have engaged with.
New York IS forward – London IS reserved
Though it seems a tired old stereotype, forwardness isn’t something the citizens of London can be accused of. As much as the city’s inhabitants might pretend they are dynamic, ambitious and devil-may-care, they have nothing on New Yorkers.
On one of my trips, I was standing in a bar, nursing a gin martini whilst surveying the crowd, a friendly face turned around and looked me up and down; “Hey! You wanna sit next to me till my friend gets here?” You could have knocked me over with a feather. I politely declined, but a similar thing happened on another trip, and then another and another. On one occasion, I asked what it was that made them so convinced I wasn’t an axe murderer.
“Come on now! In that suit?” came the response.
In London, attitudes towards suits can vary. For some, they are symbols of ‘boring jobs’ or at best a level of mundane success, but rarely have they acted as magnets for those seeking company.
A NYLON must adapt to His Environment
In New York, being dressed in a chunky weekend cardigan and shirt elicited no excitement; but put on a three-piece and the up-downs (passers by giving you the once over) don’t seem to stop. “Suits are sexy” one extremely forward girl giggled as she leaned into a gentleman she didn’t even know, seated next to her at a Midtown bar.
However, this forwardness also has its downside. For those with thin skin, New York’s straight-talking approach, though honest, can come across as abrasive. “You’re wearing a suit?! It’s a Sunday!” one New Yorker commented, as I stood waiting at a bar (OK, I go to a lot of bars).
I was actually not wearing a suit but a tweed blazer and blue trouser combo. Attempts to correct them fell flat and I was dished the dreaded “Are you serious?” low-lid look of disapproval and disbelief.
In London, people tend to save such recriminations for when they know somebody better – a feat which is scarcely possible within a few minutes of meeting.
A NYLON is always learning something new
For New Yorkers, style is a serious, practical business
Style in Manhattan is taken relatively seriously. There’s a gravity to the way clothes are selected, and a bias towards a practical consideration. It’s what seems to make New Yorkers appear so commercial, relative and realistic.
In a made to measure suit shop in Soho, a salesman informed an affianced couple that the wedding suit could have the initials of the gentleman – or a special message – inside the jacket. “Oh no” his girlfriend shrieked, demolishing the sentimental suggestion immediately “he doesn’t need that. What’s the point?”
The salesman, stymied by this valid but rather dull dismissal, was almost embarrassed to venture that it was purely a matter of personal taste.
Other eavesdropped conversations in the same shop revealed a more positive side to this ruthless practicality; efficiency. “What’s the least popular fabric? I’ll take that one if I can get a discount” or “I’m going to have this fabric for my fifth suit; it’s too aggressive to be part of my regular wardrobe” and “Is there a package deal you can do me if I buy more than three suits right now?”
New Yorkers get sh*t done.
Londoners, by comparison, are virtually terrified of tailors. Afraid of being shown up, exposed for a lack of knowledge or experience, they make bizarre remarks like “I’m just having a look” or “Do you have a website?” And critically, few ever ask the question that is the most sacred for many New Yorkers: “How much does this cost?”
However, style isn’t that serious a business in London. It’s more common for people to burst out laughing when they’re shopping, avoid asking shop assistants for assistance and style advisors for advice, buy things they’re unsure of because they felt guilty for wasting the store’s time, and all kinds of self-loathing behaviour that underlines their insecurity. ML