Last week, I described some of the friendly, unique traits of the Irish people, with a particular focus on the older Irish population. This week, I’m writing to begin a continuing conversation about the oddities of Irish culture (from an American perspective), starting with fashion.
It’s probably the romantic dreamer in me, but I always pictured jolly families in quaint houses, leading simple lives and dressed in a refined manner. I suppose that I was imagining an older, rural Ireland.
Instead, I feel like I’ve been dropped in a weird time parallel that rotates between 1950s and 1990s America. The fashion of Cork is a good starting place to begin painting a picture of urban Ireland. I recently walked into a local donut shop, aptly named “Sticky Fingers,” and had just started to give my order when a young girl walked in wearing a matching suit jacket and skirt paired with black stilettos. I probably came across as very rude for a moment because I gaped at her attire before I went back to looking at donuts. I couldn’t believe someone would wear a formal outfit to go out and get donuts, but I’ve come to learn that this is a common occurrence here.
These encounters have continued to pop up throughout the city. A few days ago, I was trying to find a light jacket in the city center and had just left a department store when a small, red car pulled up next to me. A beautiful blonde woman stepped out dressed to the nines. She wore red lipstick paired with a classic red silk dress and red stilettos. Again, I gaped. My over worn flannel wasn’t feeling like a bold fashion choice at that moment.
Speaking of department stores, the shops in Ireland stock an abundance of throwback styles. Currently the “in look” in Irish fashion consists of leather skirts, cheetah print everything, colored trench coats, high waisted jeans, ripped jeans and tights, athleisure outfits (think matching tracksuits) and striped sweaters. That’s just the 1970s and 1980s style of mundane clothing. If you go into the business section, you’ll find a lot of 1940s and 1950s styles.
It’s not like these occurrences are few and far between either. On the way to classes, I constantly pass by young women in short leather skirts and crop tops or glittery dresses. There are some others, of course, who wear sweaters and flannels. Fashion is obviously a huge part of the culture here. I’ve decided that I will have to go out and invest in one nice outfit for when I am here, especially because there are rumors circulating of upcoming balls that have a dress code of tuxedos and gowns.
Perhaps this isn’t just an Irish experience, but a European experience. I was talking with a friend from England who packed a tuxedo to bring to school. When I described that the fanciest we ever got back in the United States was prom, he was shocked. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t own a proper ballgown, not to be confused with typical prom dresses.
Fashion and clothing may not appear to be an important talking point about a new country, but it serves as a good reflections of how people want to be represented. It’s interesting to see how different age groups in Ireland dress and how these outfits can sometimes reflect different times in America’s own history. It’s an unexpected aspect of this new culture that I didn’t expect to see when I came here.