Right up until my freshman year of college, I had lived my entire life in the same place, the suburbs of Northern Virginia. More specifically, my family home was located in Fairfax County, a perfectly acceptable, (and to me) rather dull place to spend my childhood years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the area and grateful to have grown up in such a privileged and safe neighborhood. Walking alone at night wasn’t particularly frowned on, the symmetrical rows of houses were all the same with their well-groomed lawns, and the rather cookie-cutter families all looked (and were for the most part) lovely. However, there was and is a distinct feeling of “sameness” that came along with living in a suburban area. It wasn’t an issue but I found myself ready for something more. And I definitely found that something when I moved to Richmond. Not only is walking alone at night a terrible idea and there is a lack of lawns to actually maintain, but the people are all so extremely different from each other. All of this to say, the city is much less cookie-cutter than where I grew up and this also applies to the way people dress/present themselves. Returning home for holidays (and the most recent quarantine) I find myself missing these and truly noticing just how different the fashion is in NOVA and Richmond. Not only that, but I feel that I currently embody more of a Richmond aesthetic than a NOVA one, which I personally find to be a good thing. However, this is noticed and commented on by family and friends when I do return home simply because of the obvious differences.
I feel that one of the most obvious differences is the mom jeans. Before coming to Richmond I always thought of mom jeans as high waisted monstrosities that had no business trying to creep out from the 80’s into current times. However, after living near the VCU campus, where art students and their pants of choice reign supreme, my view has definitely changed. These mom jeans also aren’t just for moms. In fact, they seem to be almost exclusively worn by the younger generation, whether that be male, female, or otherwise. Personally, I find the style both more comfortable than its skinny-legged alternative and for a lack of better word, very “cool.” When I was home most recently over winter break, I do remember receiving several comments from family members about how my jeans were too big and didn’t fit. I didn’t bother to explain to them that this was the point as they all seemed to be of the firm belief that the fitted jeggings of NOVA seemed to be the most solid choice for a teenage girl.
As mentioned earlier, the area surrounding VCU also happens to be filled with art students. This isn’t surprising as VCU is one of the top art schools in the country. However, that does mean that many of the people walking own the streets are artists, students or otherwise. And unlike the engineering school on campus, who’s students tend towards safer and slightly more lackluster apparel, artists generally have a very specific aesthetic. This normally includes the ever-present mom jeans, large flowy tops, excitingly colored hair, DIY clothing, excessively large earrings and layers and layers of colors and patterns. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all but it is a common theme I see walking down the street.
Androgyny is also a big thing that I’ve noticed when comparing the two locations. In NOVA. Fashion and clothing in general are not necessarily gendered. However, society has placed certain types and styles of dress as either meant for male or female. For example, a skirt is stereotypically to be worn by a female but oftentimes in Richmond, I will see a more masculine-presenting person strutting down the street, skirts flowing behind them in the wind. In NOVA that would be an anomaly, in the areas surrounding VCU, it’s just “there goes another art kid.”
Lastly, one of my favorite fashion trends I see walking the streets of Richmond is something that I refer to as “bum chic.” This generally includes baggy sweatpants, an equally baggy top and perhaps an oversized jacket over top of all of that. I especially love this style as it equates to moving through the city in ultimate comfort. Oftentimes I feel as though I am wearing pajamas outside while still being socially acceptable and, dare I say, rather cool. While it is clearly a relaxed look, people often put large amounts of effort into getting the right kind of baggy pants and the correct kind of oversized jacket that will manage to say “I don’t care but I do have both a fashion sense and a certain amount of money” (bonus points if you can fit/afford a brand name in there somewhere). However, for individuals such as myself, you truly can throw on whatever you’d like and it will look essentially the same. As with most looks popular and enjoyed in Richmond, when I return home wearing them I get a less than ideal reaction. While in the city this may be a very specific vibe many can pull off, back in Fairfax it is simply seen more as a permanent and barely acceptable pajama day. The “bum chic” loses a part of itself and simply becomes “bum.”