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Does “Classic Style” Work Down Under?

A while ago, I found this rather charming interview with Antipodean plus-size model, book-lover, and Lord of the Rings fan Robyn Lawley. I would marry her except for one thing: she says, “I can’t stand the classic aesthetic, it bores me.”

Classic clothing in the UK and Europe is associated with nobility and the upper class. In the USA, it is associated with preppies. Down Under, it seems to be associated with outdated colonial aspirations towards the UK/European upper classes. It’s more Lynn of Tawa than Martha Stewart. From what I’ve seen in NZ retailers, “classics” are farmwear at best.  At some point in the 1990s the Kiwis and Australians decided to just start the future already. Since then, Antipodeans are, to a transplanted North American like me, terrifyingly fashion forward.

A mild defense of some classic style elements, here. Classic clothes are not fast fashion. There’s the winter coat I’ve worn regularly for 8 years, the evening gown that still fits and looks great after 18 years, the scarves I’ve had for 20. A lot of this comes down to the “Sam Vimes’ Boots” theory of quality clothing purchases. There’s also a Nancy Mitford quote about clothes. I’ve lent the book to somebody and I’m not sure if I got it back, so I’ll paraphrase. “If you’re like me and you fall in love with your clothes and want to wear them forever, the trick is to follow the lines of your body. Clothes like that don’t date.”

Classic clothing versus fashion doesn’t have to be a throwdown between Audrey Hepburn and Lady Gaga. (Though we would all pay good money to see that!) For me, classic clothing is:

  • Flattering sweaters, pants, skirts
  • Jeans and tees that fit just right
  • A clean-lined coat or leather jacket
  • Quality shoes and boots that avoid toe-box and sole extremes (very thick platforms, very pointy toes)
  • Stripes, polka dots, and leopard/animal prints
  • Colors that suit you best
  • Luxury fabrics – silk, cashmere, fine wools

I also must offer this list of American sartorial ‘classics’ that do not look so good outside the US:

  • Schott motorcycle jackets. In the US: “Outside the mainstream/actual biker/gay man into a bit of rough”. Down Under: “Not just bogan, but out of date bogan.”
  • Polo shirts. In the USA: “You see this embroidered animal on my pectoral? Good! Another julep please”. Down Under: “Corporate tool, mate”
  • The “Nantucket Look,” extreme New England preppy with pastels. In the USA: “I’m rich, ironic, or both” . Down Under: “I can’t find where to get back on my cruise ship.”
  • Classic white or pale blue button down shirts for women: In the USA: “I’m professional, verrrrrry professional” Down Under: White shirt – “May I take your order?” Blue shirt – “How can we help you today at our bank?”

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