By Rhona Sleath, First Year, Liberal Arts
The Croft Magazine // Exploring what makes Bristol’s style scene so unique, Rhona Sleath shares her recent experience of style-spotting in the city.
Two almost identical baker boy hats and thin, somewhat impractical scarfs float in synchronised formation into the Wills library. One yellow and brown. One blue and green. The wearers each carry cumbersome cream tote bags advertising independent businesses. The hues are so similar, you’d think it must be planned. And yet, I know it’s not. Clothing is, after all, a mode of expressing some shared identity. Clothing moves in groups. It connotes kinship. Love, even. I do imagine that the two friends must live together and mix and match in this way, as family. That’s the thing about Bristolian style, it feels so homemade and practical. Dare I use the term ‘down-to-earth.’ There’s a complete lack of pretentiousness.
Us students seem to have silently decided that soft fabrics like wool, cotton, linen and corduroy, to name a few, are the order of the day. The colours that are most ubiquitous on garments here include every shade of blue imaginable – the same for green and browns and soft creams. These pastoral tones echo nature’s subtle influence on city life, the proximity of the downs. In November, we seek comfort in these soothing, amiable shades and cosy, homely garments whilst simultaneously hoping to comfort one another. That’s my observation, anyhow. My hope. The assumption also comes from the way that the two friends smile at everyone they glance at. Perhaps it’s naively sentimental to think that kindness is involved in the way Bristolians dress, but I believe it does.
Leather, leather, leather. Four guys, black jeans and black leather jackets. Black shoes, various backpacks. Cool, suave manners and cups of piping hot coffee. Intellectuals. Clothing moves in groups.
Actually, I do love the monochrome, contrary to popular opinion. There’s something so effortlessly bold, so cool about it. The guys make me think about how often I see Bristolian outfits and think “why can’t I do that?” The truth is, I’m shy about what I wear and tend to simply want to blend in as much as possible. In Bristol, however, clothing is a definite choice. People are looking, not judgementally but curiously and keenly. That does make fashion a constant temptation here. There are so many vintage shops. So many outfits that you want to try out. It can be draining, honestly. Financially mostly. Fashion is a sport and a pastime in Bristol.
Perhaps I should talk about class and clothes here…
With the rapidly changing trend cycles and the gentrification of this city I can’t help but comment that I believe, even vintage shopping is becoming wasteful. There are clothing shops everywhere, so shiny and mesmerising. We shop for something to do, something to feel even. To feel that we belong. Of course, our vintage shops in Clifton are more sustainable than the fast fashion shops in Cabot circus. But not every student can afford this way of dressing. There is this need to look effortlessly fresh with layers and layers of staples and references and trends to conform to. The North Face puffer jacket and the Osprey gilet and, oh my god, ‘how do you not own a Kanken bag?’ This isn’t exclusive to Bristol students, of course. It’s all part and parcel of our digital culture and capitalism’s murderous leap into consumerism. It creates an unspoken desire to be included in the clothing culture which has a mental as well as financial price because all we really want is to belong. Clothing moves in groups. I’m not sure what can be done about that but acknowledge its presence we should. Perhaps we should emphasise fashion less in identity formation. But how?
I went into that big yellow vintage shop on the triangle today and bought the strangest jacket that I have ever owned. From the front, it is a seemingly smart-looking black zip-up jacket which cinches in at the waist but then the party on the back is a huge, colourful, embroidered eye with pink and blue lightning bolts seeping from its tear ducts. I love it. I have been looking for something funny like that because the Bristolian style, for me at least, has had a lovely tendency to surprise me. To be irreverent and witty. Bristolians are not afraid to be silly. Take, for example, a sweater I saw recently with a giant teddy bear knitted into it. So blatantly childish, but it made me happy. The wearer was smiling and laughing too. So that was the point of it, I think. You see, there is joy in style here too. A joy in individuality. An inherent 'funness'.
And here concludes my odyssey of several days of style-spotting. Ultimately, the main way I will describe Bristolian style to you is this: a humorous, cosy, inside joke that smells most aromatically of the passionate optimism that is so often associated with the city as a whole.
Despite its complexities and flaws, fashion in Bristol is something to be proud of and a visual conversation to which we all belong.
Featured image: Emily Fromant
What do you think of the distinctive Bristol style scene?