Cape Town, granted, is what one would call cultured – Capetonians, generally speaking, have a definite interest in aesthetics, and there are stylish individuals to be seen throughout the city. The other two are slightly more questionable.
Knysna is home to two main groups of people – those that have been there forever, and those who decided that moving to the coast would be a welcome respite from the crime and traffic in Johannesburg. The ones that have been there forever will recognise you, your offspring, and their offspring for decades to come, simply because they recognise the Chauncey nose, or the Davis ears. They also, surprisingly, are blessed with natural taste. It always seems to shock visitors to our hamlet that we aren’t all clad in tie dye and tea tree. The others – the imports – are slightly worse for the wear (pun intended). The old adage ‘money can’t buy you style’ rings true in the Garden Route, for the imports are the ones with the cash, but they’re also the ones in the Juicy Couture velour tracksuits with the French pedi’s.
Grahamstown wasn’t much more stimulating in the style department. In fact, if anything it was a vacuum in which all manner of fashion atrocities were committed, unbeknownst to the outside world. We called it ‘The Bubble’. Girls in pink Uggs and distressed denim skirts ran amok; boys in matching judrons and golf shirts strolled the streets, their torsos inflated, their legs small. It made me feel pretty good during my four year university stint there, because there was literally a handful of people that gave a toss about fashion, and I was one of them. The rest succumbed to the tracksuit epidemic, and by night, wore cowl necked synthetic tops with layered mini skirts and slip-on shoes. And I cringed.
This is the problem, you see. Having spent most of my life in places that are firmly committed to all that is casual, I didn’t gain the confidence-building exposure that city-dwellers have when it comes to dressing up. Knysnarians and Grahamstonians wear flats. Everywhere. One of the only time I ever wore heels at Rhodes was to my graduation ceremony. It got so dismal that I stopped transporting the few pairs I owned between the two casual capitals. Similarly, growing up in Knysna, there was no need for heels. We were either delightfully slumming it at Tin Roof Blues, or going for dinner at the local Waterfront. Heels earned you dark stares and even darker leers.
Cape Town has thus been truly enlightening for me. When your job involves sitting behind a monitor for most of the day, heels become a serious and tempting possibility. Not to mention clubs, exhibition openings, launches, wining ‘n dining and of course, parties. And having the opportunity to wear dressy and outlandish clothes that I have been stockpiling since I was 15 is also the business. With this personal revolution has come a new way of looking at dressing up. Never one for Tshirts and jeans, my wardrobe is gradually being gleaned of all that is dull and quotidian. And here and there, on the streets of Cape Town and the feet of stylish girls at indie evenings all over the city, I have spotted a rising tide of heels, makeup and party dresses. Not the cotton knit, stretchathon type. The really special, glitzy vintage pieces that usually gather dust and longing looks for years; the scandalously sheer; the dangerously high.
Girls seem to be taking a stand against the quintessential Cape Town casual we’re familiar with – ballet flats and day dresses with eyeliner for clubbing; jeans and Tshirts with cardis for bar hopping. And rarely, very rarely, makeup. I am all for comfort, but can’t we make it look prettier? More interesting? More reflective of our idiosyncracies? I think so. Maybe it has to do with the rising interest and exposure to global streetstyle blogs – maybe we are all realising that the rest of the world takes to the streets looking chic, rather than comfy; interesting, rather than boring. And we want to show that Cape Town has what it takes to dress alongside the likes of style capitals like Stockholm and Milan.
Well, I’m certainly in. Let’s dress up! The next time you start dragging on your jeans and cardi for a night at the movies, think twice. Dust off your heels, slick on your Cleopatra eyes, and slink on by.