Privilege Blog

New York City Street Style, For Walking And Wearing

We took several walks, in Manhattan. The first night, we walked back to the Crosby Hotel from Momofuku Noodle Bar.* I kept getting turned around, which required consulting my iPhone GPS and muttering. Finally my daughter thoughtfully, um, “released” the phone from my grasp and ran off on a scouting expedition. We found our way.

The second day, we walked through the Museum of Modern Art, often known as MOMA. If you walk through the 5th floor, at the end of the 19th century, and then on down to the 4th floor, through to 1970, you will see the entire sorry and hopeful process of mankind attempting to figure out what fine art is – besides beautiful – in the face of hard science, technology, and psychology. To say nothing of remembering why Starry Night became a postcard in the first place. Although my real favorite is this.

Looks as though Matisse is scraping off a layer of burnt red to find his room. Like the paint comes first.

But our real walk, the long walk, the grinning walk, was on the first morning, from 59th and 5th down to 29th and back and forth between Madison, 5th, and Avenue of the Americas. Usually known as 6th. Good thing I wore my terribly glamorous Aerosoles.

It was a beautiful day. The picture below is neither retouched, nor painted by Georges Seurat. It’s Central Park, taken with my little Panasonic Lumix from a vantage point on a street usefully known as Central Park South.

Come days like this, New Yorkers get giddy. Everyone rushes around as though it were their birthday, expectant, prepared for gifts. They sit outside for lunch, blowing out imaginary candles and making real wishes.

Don’t get me wrong. Nobody slows down in the sun. They just hurry more happily. Past some of the greatest architecture of the Western world.

On East 59th and 5th, kitty-corner to Central Park, Mr. Jobs has constructed an outrageous retail experience. He plonked down a glass cube on a plaza, thereby referring inevitably to I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre, all the while selling gizmos and gadgets to the entire world. Hats off, Steve, hats off to you.

Classic New York. Young Hasidic men, like young men everywhere, playing with their tech toys.

But retail of the technical type is not my home territory. I wanted to see what everyone was wearing. I did, and was surprised. New York is no longer the town of go black or go home. No longer about presenting an impenetrable surface.

It’s not a luxe look, these days, not confrontative. It’s about texture. Color. Patterns. People are wearing layers, clothes with little details, tone on tone color. That’s important. This is not the wornout “pop” of color we’ve heard so much about. It’s waves, maybe washes, of color. In terms of actual garments, we’re talking lots of jackets, skinny jeans, and flats. Everyone in scarves. Even me, by the end of the day. I bought a scarf from a street vendor for $10, and wore it with my cropped military jacket. High WASPs don’t need to be fashion-forward but we must, above all, feel appropriate. In tune with the social context.

I was wearing black, so there was no tone-on-tone way to join the throngs in floral joy. Gray with lettuce ruffles and lace was as decorative as I could get. But, I am blond, with blue eyes, and fairly pink of skin, so I brought some of my own pigment to the picture. And the trees were so green, the sky so blue, I believed there was enough color to go around. I only needed some flutter. And I got it.

If I were going again tomorrow, I’d find myself a shirt like this.

Or even a flowered dress to wear on the streets. What is the world coming to?

The woman below exemplified much about the style I saw.

  • An ornamented hat.
  • Flat sandals, tough but not too tough.
  • Jeans so skinny that they were leggings.
  • The trench with a fancy buckle.
  • A floral patterned bag.
  • And a patterned, colored, non-empire-waisted blouse in shades similar to the trench. The blouse is not visible here, due to my inability to buttonhole strangers and convince them to let me take their picture.

I’m working on that last part. I think.

I confess that the geometries of New York distracted me from fashion. Walking down the street, looking. The effort of assembling shapes into meaning, over and over again. If you live in the suburbs you are apt to see mostly what you know, day in, day out. In New York everything is familiar at a high level, like Plato’s archetypes perhaps, but completely new at the level of experience. You’ve seen Indian men with good hair before, but never that man. Yes, graceful storefronts, but not one filled with flowers and sugar. Know all about hot dogs and sauerkraut, but have never eaten from that cart. Not that one. Something is always new, and more than new.

It’s possible to feel drunk, just walking. Although this woman appeared to have no trouble keeping to her straight line.

We wandered undirected down 5th. It gets pretty plebian, 5th Avenue, once you pass Bergdorf’s and Tiffany’s and their ilk. Until of course you pass St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And the Empire State Building. To say nothing of the Diamond District.** Otherwise known as 47th street, where the diamond dealers do millions of dollars worth of trade in gems, carrying sparklies down the sidewalk in paper envelopes, or speaking Hebrew into cellphones, leg up on parked limos. And Koreatown, where the smell of barbecue survives the exhaust of Escalades – which by the way appear to have taken over the city like alien spaceships descending from Dallas. Or Palm Springs.

We got tired. Tired but happy. Ready to close up the perceptual shop. And in Manhattan, there are cabs everywhere. Maybe not when the shows let out, maybe not when you leave work in the rain, but on a Friday afternoon around 2pm, plenty.

That day we took a cab to Chinatown and ate fish wonton soup, among other things. Just told the cab driver, “Chinatown.” He knew what we meant. I was too full of visions to take any more photos.

The next day, after the MOMA, we had pizza at John’s in the West Village. Squint your eyes. Doesn’t this kind of look like Starry Night, in red? All that circular motion? No? I told you I was a little distracted. A crowd of celebrants took over several tables and persisted in saying the word, “Martini!” over and over again, loudly, even though it was lunchtime. New York will do that to you.

Here’s our food from John’s. If you can resist calling this a Tower of Pizza you’re infinitely more dignified than I. The same would be true if you could resist asking for a box, stuffing it with leftovers and having your son carry it to the subway, like a tomato-based badge of Manhattan honor. Even though he’s walking.

*I recommend the tamales.
**Where my father bought me pearls for my 25th birthday. Someday I’m going back in.

29 Responses

  1. i too love john's pizza, and that CPS view of the bridge; i return to photograph it every time the season changes. your street scarf shopping skillz are vastly superior to mine; i have an unfortunate striped fellow from the winter of '03-04, and his still more unfortunate younger sibling, the celadon and wasabi polka dot debacle of '05-'06.

  2. I think this last winter was (is?? We went down to about freezing point last night here in the silly Midwest) such a long cold and dreary drag that even New York is ready for some spring color.

    Speaking of color ma cherie, my husband is blond…but you and I, we are blonde. ;)

  3. Gorgeous pictures! It sounds like a fun trip. My daughter was just in the big Apple and loved it.

  4. Oh this is marvelous! Feel absorbed into your day, and it was sunny, fun, good-tramping tired.

    I'm tired of skinny jeans- and I LOVE your scarf with your jacket.

  5. Fabulous! I love your pictures! I always end up buying myself some little accessory to fit in with what the local tribes are wearing. Funny, isn't it, that instinct.

    I've just booked 8 days in NYC in July and I'm buzzing with anticipation, now!

  6. fantastic post. makes me miss NYC. grew up not to far from there in Ct and would take the train in all the time as a youngster to shop and party. i plan to return to Ct this summer to visit family and friends, and take my son to a few museums in NYC. the pizza looks amazing. thanks for sharing and take care.

  7. What a delicious day! How giddy you must have been with all those distractions and landmarks.
    Your writing is very evocative…I feel like a tagalong.
    I think your scarf is pure fun and when you wear it you'll probably think of NY…whenever I wear my first Hermes, I recall San Francisco.
    BTW those really tight skinny jeans could have been what my lovely daughter calls…Jeggings…LOL!

  8. The lettuce scarf is very nice. I've been wearing scarves all over northern California this week – they're an excellent half-layer for unpredictable weather.

    (I'm not back yet. But I thought it was only polite to say hello while I'm practically in your back yard.)

  9. What a pleasant day!

    Love the photos and Louvre / Apple Store parallel. Very apt.

    SSG xxx

  10. I love this post. Especially the parts where you write about clothes and style. I've never gone to NY; this makes me want to, very much.

    Am now hungry for pizza….

  11. Thank you for doing all the walking, talking and looking for us all! What a fun way to travel.

  12. I loved this post. Thank you for sharing it and letting us travel with you.
    I love NY…It's already been 9 years since I last went and I long for the day when I'll go back.

  13. I heart NYC. :)
    It's my favourite city in the world.
    A wonderful thing to do is to visit Saks just as it is opening (10) and walk through the cosmetic department. It's a quintessentially NYC experience – beautiful women and loud rock music. They always play loud rock when they open and I think it's to get a vibe going.

  14. Oh it looks like you had fabulous weather, never a guarantee in April. I am going again in May and can't wait. And you're right; while it will probably never relinquish black entirely, Manhattan has gotten much more colorful the last couple of years!
    Fun post.

  15. Fantastic choice of scarf! What a great day you had. I was in Koreatown, too, shopping. But not til Saturday, so I just missed you ;-)

    Two weekends ago we walked from the 40s up to 103rd on Madison – it was one of the best walks ever.

  16. Things I'm envious of:

    Trips to New York.

    Visiting the MOMA.

    Eating tamales.

    People watching.

    Eating Chinese food in Chinatown.


  17. Absolutely my kind of holiday! I love walking a city, just like this, right to the point of sensory overload. What a fabulous way to spend time with your daughter. Looking forward to hearing more and seeing more of your great photos of NYC

  18. Oh how I miss NYC…having lived there on and off for 2 years. ANyhow— love the look you took a picture of, and love your jacket!

  19. Wow, that was like a walking tour of Manhattan!
    I'm glad that you had such lovely weather. And, your photo of the park was exquisite.

  20. Lauren – Did you have to go to scarf rehab?
    Someone – Yes, I wanted to write blonde by was terrorized by Blogger spellcheck.
    MollyC. Thank you! Hello!
    Duchesse – I couldn't wear skinny jeans with flats so I'm completely perplexed.
    Caroline – I look forward to reading about your trip to NYC>

  21. Kiki – I hope your son loves NYC.
    Hostess – Yes, I think they were exactly jeggings.
    Julia – Feel free to ping me if you're ever here again.
    Town and Country – Tell us all about it, OK?
    Sydney – Glad you liked my little attempt at architectural deconstruction:).

  22. Cardiac – Thanks.
    Metscan – Thanks.
    Marcela – Thanks.
    I hope everyone gets to go for the first time or as a return.
    Anon – What a great image. I will have to see that next time.
    Maureen – I will cross my fingers for your weather.

  23. Patsy – Just missed! Next visit maybe. What were you buying in Koreatown?
    Jan – There's a lot of retail in NYC….just saying, market research?
    Mater – Thank you, especially since I have loved your photos of your water vista.
    CDS – Thank you. That woman was seriously chic.
    Belle – Thank you. It was kind of the elephant in the boa constrictor of that trip, that walk:).

  24. Such a fabulous post Miss LPC, where to begin? For openers, it really does look similar to a "Sunday in the Park with George," very lush and pretty. Your look is TDF, that military jacket is a great piece on its own, and with that scarf it moves into the 'perfect' zone.

    We love your "They just hurry more happily." description, very apt from the sound of things. It truly is such a divine post one could "almost feel drunk" just reading it!

    Smiles at you,

  25. It is so funny that I found your blog today! I was just commenting to my husband this morning that I was the ultimate WASP because I just put a sticker for our Episcopalian church on my '89 Mercedes sedan. Ha! He's the real WASP, I just tag along. Anyway, I LOVE your blog. I have to go to bed soon, but I will be back this weekend to peruse the archives. Cheers!

  26. "Patsy – Just missed! Next visit maybe. What were you buying in Koreatown?"

    We were buying jewely supplies and a cheap watch with a giant white band. And smelling the Korean BBQ.

  27. Oh, how I adore New York. Thank you for this little trip back; I'm envious of that walk! I can't wait to bring my partner there some day and show him one of the best cities in the world (it could be number 1, if only it had Barcelona's weather).

    That is a fantastic scarf, and it just goes so perfectly with the jacket. Caroline said: "I always end up buying myself some little accessory to fit in with what the local tribes are wearing. Funny, isn't it, that instinct." Yes, it is. And I've only just realised that I do that too! I actually started wearing scarves because I was the only one in my city not wearing them one spring. Then I bought my first navy blue item of clothing (a cardigan) this year, and now I have to go back through LPC's archives and figure out what to wear it with, since I always thought that navy and black cannot go together and I wear mostly black, purple, and blue jeans (and white t-shirts, but that's a separate issue).

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