By Emily Fanning | Photography by Madeline Heising
Boston has a reputation as a somewhat—how should we put this?—elitist city.
A fair claim, as Boston boasts over twenty-five nationally ranked colleges and universities, a handful of the best hospitals in the nation, ten national sports championship titles in fifteen years, and over a hundred Dunkin’ Donuts locations. And we don’t hesitate to remind you of those numbers.
One thing Boston is not on the honor roll for? Fashion.
We get a bad rap here in the Hub. GQ infamously called it “the worst-dressed city in America.” The jeering at Boston’s supposed lack of taste is almost cliché at this point. When you remove the college students in beer-stained North Face jackets and leggings with UGG boots, the skirt sets paired with commuting trainers, and the 20 percent of the city sporting some form of Boston sports apparel on any given day, there’s a neglected layer of the city that does give a second thought to its wardrobe. One that encompasses a sophisticated and practical—with a splash of vintage collegiate—style.
Function over Fashion
In our defense, we are met with certain limitations in the city of champions. Winters offer us an average of 44 inches of snow (110 if it’s a bad year) and an average daily temperature of 29 degrees. Weather on any given day in September—the month style is often judged by—ranges from lows in the 50s to highs in the upper 80s with late-summer thunderstorms that develop quicker than you can say “Hunter boots.” And we walk everywhere.
Thus we build a wardrobe of classic, versatile, comfortable layers.
Bostonians invest most in what goes on top. A timeless trench coat for fall (field jackets for casual weekends—plaid-lined Barbour or J.Crew, preferably). Parkas and cocoon coats—red for the holidays and camel or black come New Year’s Day. A Canada Goose, if we are so lucky, is for ski weekends in Stowe or Killington. The more adventurous of us will opt for a pastel coat à la Princess Di come spring.
Footwear is where we struggle, admittedly. Its two feet of snow aside, Boston is covered in cobblestones and uneven brownstone-lined streets—charming, but challenging. As long as I live, I will never comprehend how women can come within five hundred feet of Beacon Hill in heels.
It comes down to practicality over polish for many of us.
It comes down to practicality over polish for many of us. There are more Hunter wellies and L.L.Bean boots per capita than any other state—let alone city—in the country. And yet, thanks to the likes of style bloggers like Sarah Vickers and Carly Heitlinger, these formerly scoffed-at shoe choices are no longer unacceptable.
Cape Cod Classics
I speak for many of us when I admit that we place too much of an emphasis—and a large portion of our paychecks—on our summer uniforms, seeing as they serve us for less than three months of the year (two and a half, if we’re realistic). Color-splashed Lilly Pulitzer shifts. Ralph Lauren blue-striped regatta sundresses. Handmade Nantucket basket purses. Jack Rogers sandals in every shade of gold. Blame it on the euphoric wave of bliss and relief that hits us on that first day of spring weather (often arriving mid-June). Akin to what you’d find in any Ivy League parody, these summer essentials adorn and accompany us to clambakes over the bridge and down the Cape, on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, and to the country’s largest Fourth of July presentation on the Esplanade.
The rest of the year is branded with striped shirts, ballet flats (black, navy, and nude), well-tailored (or purposefully not) denim, neutral cigarette pants, little navy dresses, and a leather bag for every season.
Rodeo Drive of the East
The rest of the year is branded with striped shirts, ballet flats (black, navy, and nude), well-tailored (or purposefully not) denim, neutral cigarette pants, little navy dresses, and a leather bag for every season. Newbury Street is our headquarters, lined with everything from Burberry and Brooks Brothers to Madewell and Zara, with a sprinkling of vintage treasures and independent boutiques in between. Reserved for the wealthy it is not; its High Street fashions are what draw in so many of the thousands who stroll its eight blocks every day.Many claim this city plays it too safe, but I beg to differ. We embrace print—just ask the girl in the lobster-print dress. We never turn our backs on classics, yet we play with trends. We flirt with menswear. And we aren’t afraid to dress for the weather. Only in New England can one pair tweed with plaid, men’s fisherman sweaters with pearls, or duck boots with dresses.
Perhaps that’s the difference. By definition, Boston may not be fashionable—but it has wicked good style.
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Emily Fanning took the Amtrak Regional north to Boston ten years ago and never left. A writing and publishing graduate of Emerson College, she is the sole writer and content curator for New England life and style blog shell chic’d. Though she may be Boston’s biggest fan, rare is the weekend day you’ll spy her in the city—not when seaside havens like Nantucket, Scituate, and Marblehead are just a jaunt away. Follow her on Instagram (@emilyshell) and her site, shellchicd.com.