Chicago Fashion: Style Series Part 1
By Rebekah Lazear
A preliminary web search of “Chicago” and “Fashion” results in articles written about Chicago’s unique style as well as winter fashion. The problem is, these articles are from 2016, 2015, 2012… Is this indicative of the fact that blogs are now the current style reporters? Is it because Chicago is continually overshadowed by the other large U.S. cities? Or is it due to the fashion community at large disregarding Chicago as the underdog that never pulls ahead? With a wealth of personal style and much copied street fashion, why has Chicago received so little coverage in the fashion media? In this style series, we will explore these avenues, but focus on answering one central question; what is the current state of Chicago style?
Round 1: What Has Been Written
What is it about Chicago that keeps it off the lists of top style cities? Is it our dedication to utility? Chicagoans need style and function. There is no surviving winter in a linen coat, or running up a flight of L steps without scuffing too-soft suede boots. Fashion loves the avant garde, the highly artistic and the nearly unwearable. Few things showing on runways actually make it onto the streets while 90% of Chicago style is street-ready. Let’s take a look at some prominent features on the fashion industry in Chicago.
A 2015 article by Jessica Schiffer on Who What Wear asked a handful of Chicago bloggers to highlight the unique qualities of Chicago fashion. Utility was mentioned as frequently as practicality and Midwestern values. Jess Keys of The Golden Girl hit on what I think is part of the reason Chicago receives so little attention in the fashion news sources – “Chicagoans put more emphasis on style than they do on fashion,” and that Chicago style takes “inspiration from the trends in New York and L.A., but we don’t live or die by them.” If we don’t buy into the featured trends, do we miss out on being featured?
Refinery 29 posted style snaps of Chicago winter fashion in 2012. The post highlighted that style in Chiberia is about more than “parkas and skull caps.” The long, cold winters call for a solid wardrobe of layering pieces, sturdy boots and heavy coats that don’t sacrifice style. When most people you see on a daily basis see you in your coat, it should be a good-looking coat. The girls and guys in the Refinery 29 photos highlight a host of eclectic colors, prints and textures. Masterful layering, chic shoes (not just boots!), every type of bag, glove, hat scarf, legging, skirt, denim, fur… Every look is reflective of the wearer’s personal styling ability.
In September 2016, Andreas Rekdal wrote 15 Fashion Tech Companies Keeping Chicago Classy, published on BuiltIn.org. This article highlights Chicago-based tech fashion companies like Threadless, Tie Bar, Luxury Garage Sale, Trunk Club, Stock Manufacturing Co., BucketFeet, and more. These are powerful brands, each making significant contributions to the industry. They are still major players in their respective niches, but coverage of the Chicago area’s contributions to the industry hasn’t been touched on since 2016? Two years? Threadless is so innovative there is a Harvard Business School case study on its methodology. These companies receive coverage because they are innovating with tech. What about the production process making the actual goods?
There are few options for manufacturing your clothing and accessories designs in Chicago. This is a large part of why many brands move out of the city. If you can’t produce it here, and overseas production lands goods to ports on the coasts, why incur the additional costs of manufacturing in/shipping it to Chicago? Not every brand feels this way. There are companies who won’t trade the inspiration and pulse of the city they love for the ease of existing mass manufacturing and importing methods. Dearborn Denim maintains a domestic supply chain, producing final product in Garfield Park. Fat Tiger Workshop commits to enhance and uphold the community, working to elevate Chicago’s position as a style destination. Brands like these will be highlighted in the next round of this style series.
While the rest of the fashion media sleeps on Chicago style, we will explore what is now and what is next. Stay tuned for Round 2: Chicago Brand.Designer Yearbook ‘18/’19