Hi. May I take your picture? – I’m a street style blogger, and I like your style.
These were the few and convincing, yet true words I shared with complete strangers I had nothing in common with, for the past three months in preparation for the ELLE Style Reporter in association with Blackberry, search.
It was only fitting for me to set out upon a journey on the streets of South Africa available to me, Pretoria and Johannesburg respectively – with new eyes and a new mission.
So what does street style mean to me? And what did I find on the streets?
“People dress themselves every day, how they dress is an extension of who they are, what they believe in and where their tastes fall, in relation to the rest of the crowd.” – This is an excerpt from a street culture book titled “Street World: Urban art and culture from five continents” (including South Africa in case you’re wondering) by R. Gastman et al., and in my opinion, a very appropriate and informative definition. Street style is about diverse individuals expressing a piece of who they are whilst staying true to themselves without interference of mainstream media, through fashion. Ted Polhemus says “Styles which start life on the street corner have a way of ending up on the backs of top models on the world’s most prestigious fashion catwalks.”, and so – in the beginning of my street style scouting adventure I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that is expose a piece of the true style on some of our South African streets.
On the first day of my search, I made it clear to myself that I wanted to capture the unconventional and significant fresh ‘trends’ and inspirations emerging in my surroundings. Instinct made me stop everyone that looked good, and as my journey progressed I found that I was drawn to certain items on certain people and everything on others – drowning in the immaculate rawness of our streets.
The culture on our streets is captivating, I found that the poorest of people have the richest sense of style, I began to capture the innocence and edge of the street, I fell in love with South Africa each time I walked a block further.
Street style and culture often inspires designers and creative beings and for the more trend knowledgeable – it’s known as the “trickle – up theory” – when fashion and culture on the streets trickle up, in other words elevate from innovators on the street to fashion runways and eventually the mainstream.
So why do we merely pay attention to people that seem to be “dressing for the party”? And by that I mean people that consciously dress, with known catwalk trend knowledge, in hope to be photographed.
“The thrill of street style lies in its accessibility…you can be dumpy, knock kneed and as poor as a church mouse, but if you know how to mix your togs, you can still be a style star…” – Bel Jacobs of metro.co.uk says it best in her article “Is street style losing its appeal”.. Style cannot be bought, and style and inspiration can be seen and found in almost everyone and everything, it takes true observation to allow the ugliness to possess beauty.
Here are a few inspiring individuals:
The lady in the dodger blue sarong, with hints of black, white and maroon, strategically tied it so it became a skirt – a bold move in the eye of winter, and yet she’s standing on the street without a care in the world. She was waiting for something or someone and even though she has a smug look on her face, her style and personality depicts the opposite. She’s playful – her stripy pastel socks and navy blue Converse All Stars complement one another very well. She also, and I am sure subconsciously, paired her dominantly elephant printed sarong turned skirt with a neutral basic black jacket and finished it off with her maroon and navy blue beanie and chocolate brown satchel.
Inspiration comes from the zaniest things, clouds in the sky, a thought, a dream, practically anything – but in this case I found a connection and felt inspired with a diminishing wall and a painter. With reference to International Street style I found on wgsn.com earlier this year (first image below) – the gentleman’s pants had been the one he had used when he began to paint. He rubbed his hands on his pants and allowed the mistakes to become a beautiful creation. In the following photos I took in Pretoria, an undeniable array of feelings inhabited me when looking at the beauty of what a normal person would consider “a dirty overall” – I felt culture, hard work, stories, I felt like each brush stroke or mistake embraced its own personality, and having the wall as a reference was a bonus, seeing how the black paint was now chipping away and exposing the coral – also telling a story of its own.
“On one hand regularly photographed subjects are consciously or subconsciously dressing for the occasion…on the other, street style bloggers are vying for the most influential subjects and intriguing looks, thereby focusing their efforts on personalities with access to fashion from different avenues and making it sometimes unobtainable and unrealistic for the average consumer…”, “..The result inevitably detracts everything street style used to stand for.” – Nik Thakkar, creative brand strategist for Huffington Post
I agree with Thakkar, because street style has become more about people intentionally being stylish to make the cut of the hottest blogs, rather than unconsciously dressing up. Everyone loves “an unexpected combination of colours and fabrics that mix vintage with new…”, but everyone or at least I do appreciate that more when it’s done naturally and uninfluenced by anything, but that person wanting to be expressive.
The next individual is a child. When last have you seen a boy of a tender age wearing a garment that didn’t represent his favourite cartoon or soccer team? This young boy wore his faded custom pleather jacket, black denim jeans and camel ankle boots very proudly and stylishly in the midst of winter where warm furry pyjamas could have been opted for seeing that it was the holidays.
The following gentleman’s ears caught my eye – you know how tattoo and piercing enthusiasts have plugs in their ear holes, well this guy had a bullet in his. It blew my mind, I was so fascinated. Amongst the piercings, he wore all black everything, with custom embroidered patch work designs on his black denim jeans, lime green neon wayfarers and African wooden beads tangled in a potential dread-lock in his ginger hair.
When it comes to men’s style you’d expect the rich to only look dapper, right? Wrong. The next few gentlemen’s professions include washing cars, cleaning, guarding cars, delivering packages and street vending. Their job titles do not depict their style. They are all expressively dressed as they can be and even though the gentleman in the orange cap is wearing his uniform he made it his own by including an onyx marble bracelet and his navy blue Converse All Stars. He added a piece of himself to this rather plain khaki uniform.
These men haven’t lost themselves as people because they can’t afford designer fashion, instead they made do with what they have and didn’t settle for less than they are worth. I mean wearing tailored jackets to guard streets, tailored pants and dress shirts to wash cars, and tan leather jackets all the way from Germany to deliver packages, if that’s not something then I don’t know what is – they are not following trends, they’re creating them, they’re being themselves. That’s street style to me. As a fashion design graduate, I would thrive on such inspiration from the streets to create new looks for the catwalk.
Apart from the unique individuals I encountered, the fresh and noteworthy trends in relation to the ELLE Edits section in the July edition of ELLE magazine that were evident, were a collection of things like: a wide variety of accessories and key clothing items.
Sentimental Wrist Wear – imminent in the form of bracelets, bangles, wristbands, etc. and necklaces, or beaded chains -these people and majority being males had a connection with their sentiments, these items were not just for decorative use but held strong sentimental value to them. One man had an elephant hair bracelet and African shell leather wristband and Mr “I have a bullet as an earring” made DIY gloves – consisting of different colours he cut the finger compartments out and paired them with tied string which made his wrists unique. A remarkable piece of jewellery was seeing the silver cutlery that now possessed new qualities by becoming a bangle and ring, and it was only until I looked at the photos did I notice that it was actually a table spoon and fork – very inventive.
Top left: Elephant hair and African hand-made leather band, Bottom: Cutlery turned jewellery
Also striking in this wrist wear trend in the right hand side of the image below, is that these beings – male and female correspondingly, have messages on their wrist wear which is something that they stand for or are acting out against – the one embroidered wrist band says “Abortion” and the colourful rubber wristbands say “Celebrate life; Passion; Pride; Confidence.” – This contributes to their personalities, thus they are expressing themselves.
The neck jewellery consisted of a collection of unique and beautiful African hand-made crafts that these people attained in special places.
Distinctive Jackets – As it was the middle of winter, jackets in this cold season naturally becomes what cotton thread is to a needle. These jackets were a combination of leather, Melton, denim and wool individually. They all possessed tailoring qualities like lapels, collars and interesting pockets, whilst all having a unique look to them in the varying lengths and styles -the one jacket was even the gentleman’s pilot jacket and so eye-catching on the street.
Top: Leather jacket all the way from Germany
Vintage Handbags – These are beautiful vintage satchels, black and tan respectively, which belonged to these ladies mothers prior to them using it, apart from that they both confidently paired their looks with skinny red denim jeans. The hand-made denim bag was made from a vintage pair of jeans by the guy who guards cars, extremely innovative.
Bag made out of a pair of old denims
Rastafarian influences – Highly noticeable in the form of these men’s outstanding accessories, the one gentleman all the way from Germany, who came to visit SA for the first time, had a lot of African hand-made crafts on him that he wore every day. The Jamaican and Rasta pin badges are also very cool, the way they are contrasting and outstanding on this guy’s beige tailored jacket and colourful marijuana printed shirt. He is clearly expressing who he is.
Lastly…The Bold and the Blackberry – One thing I noticed from the beginning of my search were the cell phones that were used. These people are but a few of the many that use Blackberry handsets, including myself – it’s convenient, quick and easy to use, compact and all round an amazing phone. I was not surprised, but as a part of my search I had to photograph the types of bold and dashingly fabulous individuals that are Blackberry savvy.
Bold fashion choices and Blackberry’s go hand in hand.
At the end of my search I have gained a lot of new knowledge and experience. I got to roam the streets, and embrace the culture, whilst understanding some of the country’s wonderful style. As a firm believer in style being your own I was highly inspired by a quote from Bel Jacobs where she says “If anything it’s bloodshot eyes, gaping pores and the psychology behind the make-up I want the viewer to probe in”.
I hope by reading this blog post I have exposed you to what I was set out to do and that was capturing and going back to true street style, and to open up your eyes and mind to the beauty around and be yourself even more than you are. When I asked all of my street style encounters what made them dress the way they did, after coolly agreeing for me to take their picture, they all individually said the same thing:
“I wear what I wear because I want to.”
Photos: Chanelle Naidoo, with my cell phone or digital camera