The Village — the “artistic” section of New
York, the East Coast’s haven of poetry readings and
avant-garde jazz clubs, where college students, gays, misfits and
all those others on the fringes of mainstream society have long
sought refuge — is becoming normal. Or maybe uptown
Manhattan’s getting weird. Either way, the huge chasm that
once existed between experimental downtown and classic uptown is
diminishing—most prominently exemplified in the fashions of
the two places.

Candace Mui
Boots are a hit regardless of the weather (Raquel Laneri/Daily
).

I have many memories of visiting the Village and SoHo when I was
younger , observing, with wide-eyed wonder, the bright blue hair
and tight plaid pants on the teenagers hanging out at Washington
Square. I remember noticing the eyebrow, tongue and nose rings
decorating the faces of shoppers at cluttered used-CD shops, or
older male couples in pink shirts and berets, walking
hand-in-hand.

It’s not that the Village has become bland; it’s
just that its inhabitants are no longer so extreme and defiant.
They haven’t succumbed to the mainstream but have adopted
certain classic staples and incorporated them into their dress,
without completely losing their flair. Likewise, swanky uptown
inhabitants have acknowledged their downtown neighbor’s eye
for fashion and have borrowed some of its trends. The result: a
wonderful hodgepodge of juxtaposing patterns and styles thrown
together for an interesting, if not entirely weird, style
characterizing both areas.

For example, many people would add one brightly-colored or
quirky item to an otherwise bland outfit to create an unsettling,
mismatched effect: A bright-purple striped hat draws attention to a
guy wearing a preppy grey pea coat and brown cords; a
’20s-inspired knit hat with a pink flower attached to it
spices up a dull color scheme; straight-legged jeans and a
conservative cloth tote are set off by an outlandish cow-print
coat.

Speaking of coats, coats or blazers often would act as the focal
point of an outfit — come on, it’d be no fun if we only
wore coats for the functional purpose of keeping warm. Here again,
it’s the details added to pretty standard styles that give
these outerwear their uniqueness: a hook-and-eye closure adorned
with ruffles replaces the usual zipper or buttons on a snug, purple
corduroy jacket, or a fur collar and trimming adds drama to a
classic, tweed coat.

Blazers and short jackets are huge and add great contrast when
mixed with materials and quite opposite styles. A tan, vintage
velvet blazer is thrown over a T-shirt and Puma track pants. A more
masculine, striped corduroy one is worn with a flowy pink skirt and
dainty heels. A classic denim jacket and rugged Ugg boots ground a
neon orange skirt.

Actually, the less an outfit matches, the better. Pair torn-up
jeans with a sequined top, rough corduroy with feminine lace,
cowboy boots with an elegant dress, polka dots with stripes, plaid
with fur — the possibilities are endless.

In an age when rock musicians and glamorous actors rub
shoulders, where women appear in menswear on the runway, where the
term “metrosexual” has been accepted into everyday
vocabulary, where sorority girls wear studs in their noses and huge
glasses are considered sexy, it’s no surprise that
underground fashion is turning up in the mainstream, and vice
versa. Lines of distinction in virtually everything — gender,
sexuality, labels, classifications — are becoming blurred. It
only makes sense that the distinction between avant-garde and
mainstream fashion is obscuring as well.

Of course, not everyone blends the edgy and the classic in such
innovative ways. There is a slew of designer-bag-carrying,
tight-blue-jean-and-button-down-Oxford-shirt-wearing women with
fake tans infiltrating the bars at the Village and frequenting at
the Au Bon Pain by Washington Square. But if you know where to
look, you can see how the Village, despite toning down, has managed
to maintain its notoriously individualistic and unconventional
attitude, meanwhile making the Uptown fashions much more
interesting.

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