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Image / Style / Fashion / Off The Cuff

Does your personal style change when you emigrate? I asked four Irish women for their thoughts

by Freya Drohan
27th Aug 2020

Home is undoubtedly where the heart is, but do new surroundings shape your attitude towards getting dressed each day?

Having relocated to New York during my formative early 20s, I often think about how living in the epicenter of one of the world’s fashion capitals has impacted my personal style.

While access to Manhattan’s legendary vintage stores and frequent sample sales has certainly helped hone my taste and understanding of which clothes actually suit me, I’d be lying if I said the biggest factor wasn’t the anonymity of being just another person in a crowded cityscape.

As much as fashion has always been a guiding passion in my life and career, when growing up, I still tended to follow the flock when it came to dressing. Meaning? I definitely coaxed myself into the occasional overtly-sexy bandage dress for an 18th birthday party or opted for the failsafe skinny jeans and a nice top combo, purely for the sake of blending in, but ultimately not really feeling comfortable — or like myself — in the process.

A hometown friend once told me that his favourite part of living in another country was the fact that he could walk down the street, on to a bus, or into a bar without anyone knowing him or anything about him. That perspective resonated with me as it put into words how I’ve finally learned how refreshing it is to let go of my preoccupations about how people may view me: neighbours or strangers or otherwise. And as a result, I’ve naturally gravitated to dress to please myself and only myself over the years.

With that in mind, I asked four other Irish emigrants working in various fields and geographical locations for their opinions on whether moving abroad changed their style in one way or another, and what they’ve figured out along the way.

Stephanie O’Quigley, Beauty Publicist & Podcast Host 

Current location: New York

Do you think your style has changed since you moved away from home?

Absolutely, but I also moved away when I was younger so it was probably bound to change regardless. I think I grew up, but I also think my style and choice of clothing has adapted to a life in Manhattan. I wore different things when I was driving in Dublin; if shoes were uncomfortable, it wasn’t a big issue since I didn’t walk many places. But in New York, uncomfortable shoes are not an option. As a result, I’ve tried to master the ‘blazer and sneakers’ look for work in an effort to be comfortable but not too casual.

Have your surroundings inspired you?

I don’t think they have. I’m very much an ‘I like what I like’ type of person when it comes to fashion. I’ll admire people on the streets of New York but I won’t try to emulate them.

Do you have more access to fashion now?

Yes, for sure, although nice clothing stores in New York are extremely expensive. I turned to fast fashion for a number of years when I moved to the US both for convenience and cost, but I’ve decided not to continue to support it. Instead, I can go thrifting in Brooklyn on a Saturday, or get Rent the Runway delivered to my desk at work. Or just repurpose the clothes I have. It makes fashion more fun!

Has your attitude towards fashion changed in recent years at all?

Definitely. I’ve seen the education around fashion change in the past number of years. Sustainability is, thankfully, something more and more people are considering. I love to rent clothes with Rent the Runway, and I’ll make an extra effort to bring my clothes to a charity shop or something similar. Also, Carrie Bradshaw had the best idea by keeping her shoes in the oven! New York apartments are tiny which leaves less room for hoarding coats, boots, and jumpers. Fewer options means that I have to get more creative!

Alice Murphy, Journalist

Current location: Sydney

Do you think your style has changed since you moved away from home?

In many ways, yes. There’s a perception that Australia is behind the times when it comes to fashion — as it’s a season behind London, New York and Paris — but Sydney and Melbourne have distinct styles of their own. In Dublin and Switzerland, where I worked in 2016, I incorporated a lot of faux leather and fur and PVC-type fabrics into my looks, paired with statement footwear like over-the-knee boots, all of which were conducive to the climate.

In Australia, I’ve swapped most of that for white crochet mini dresses, 1970s-inspired lace-up crop tops and classic black Birkenstocks (which are rarely off my feet.) I find myself wearing lower heels and runners more often, even when I’m going out. It’s also bare legs all the way Down Under; whether you’re at the office or the bar. That was a big change for me — I feel like Irish women leave the womb swaddled in black tights!

It’s also warm from late October to mid-April in Sydney so the weather has definitely influenced my style choices — latex skirts and fur trim collars don’t fare well in temperatures of more than 20 degrees.

In Ireland, outfits are built around outerwear for most of the year, which meant I invested in a new coat or leather jacket every six months or so. There’s no need for that here. I still switch between the black aviator coat and a denim jacket I bought second-hand the first month I arrived in Sydney two years ago. I’m slightly ashamed to say I spend my money on swimwear instead!

Have your surroundings inspired you?

Australian women exude a sort of effortlessness with their clothing: think lots of crisp linen, floaty pastels and colourful swimwear. I’ve developed an appreciation for softer fashion by building friendships with lots of beautiful Aussie girls. My Sydney-born friends Matilda and Billie have inspired me in different ways; Matilda with her bohemian prints and loosely braided hair, and Billie with vibrant block colours like pink and purple.

Do you have more access to fashion now? 

For its size, I find Ireland to be a remarkably creative and fashion-forward nation. Temple Bar vintage shops, the colourful corridors of Georges Street arcade, rifling through discount rails in the likes of Om Diva and Lucy’s Lounge: I always had access to quirky and unique clothing and felt totally comfortable experimenting with fashion to develop my own sense of style.

So I think Ireland (or Dublin, rather) is up there with the best of them when it comes to vintage and second-hand options. Australia has definitely opened the door to a world of new ideas for me and there’s a lot of up-and-coming Aussie designers who could stand up against the best of them at fashion week. I love the tailoring and strong but sensual silhouettes at Dion Lee (even if I can’t afford them), Zimmermann’s playfully sexy dresses and almost every piece from Hansel and Gretel. Sommer Swim is my all time favourite bikini brand — I never want to wear anything else.

Has your attitude towards fashion changed in recent years at all?

Absolutely. I’ve loved vintage clothes and shopped second-hand for as long as I can remember, but until I moved to Australia I was ordering things I didn’t really want or need from Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Nasty Gal probably twice a month. It got to a point where I was wearing tiny little bra tops or shorts once, washing them to discover they’d practically come apart at the seams, and either stuffing them in the back of a drawer or throwing them in the bin. It was such a wasteful and uninspiring approach to dressing.

I’ve become more discerning in Sydney and I try to hold out for good quality pieces I can incorporate into a sort of capsule collection. I heard Jenny Claffey on the It Galz podcast say she tries to “shop her own wardrobe” before going out these days, and she’s inspired me to do the same. It’s much more satisfying to create a new look from something I already own, rather than reverting to the default of buying a new dress or top. It makes you appreciate your clothes and reconnect with your personal style.

Katie Brennan, DJ & Community Manager 

Current location: Barcelona

Do you think your style has changed since you moved away from home?

I think in general, I’ve stayed true to my own personal style since I moved to Barcelona. When it comes to autumn/winter, I’ve always loved vintage shirts with mad patterns and long flowing kimonos layered with a winter coat. It’s probably only changed when it comes to the summer months, in which case I definitely get the legs out a lot more than I would at home with denim skirts. In Barcelona, because we have the beach so close, there’s an overall chill, laid-back style that oozes through the city.

Have your surroundings inspired you?

My surroundings have definitely influenced me when it comes to dressing more casual. In Barcelona, there’s an urban/skater vibe, so people dress accordingly. I don my Nikes a lot more than my heeled boots around these parts.

Also, now that I’m a DJ, I’m probably wearing a lot more black than I used to. The underground music scene is huge here. People in Barcelona live it and breathe it, and so it definitely has a knock-on effect on how people express themselves.

Do you have more access to fashion now?

There is absolutely a lot more choices available here than at home. There’s many shopping outlets that have all the Inditex names, some of which are missing in Ireland, such as Oysho and Uterque. These are nice to have if you’re a “Zara girl” — a phrase commonly thrown around — and would like to have more choice.

I feel that in Spain, as well as in Catalunya, in general, girls tend to go for a comfortable, colourful daytime look and then at night it’s almost always a more neutral take: blacks, greys and whites with an overall sophisticated finish. None of that getting dolled up to the nines like we do back in Ireland!

Has your attitude towards fashion changed in recent years at all?

To be honest, I’ve always been interested in sustainability when it comes to fashion, so in that regard, nothing has really changed. In Barcelona, thrift and vintage stores are quite popular and I’ve definitely noticed an increased interest among young people in moving more towards pre-owned clothes. You can also find those places where they’ll do €15-20 deals for a kilo of clothes, which is always a steal! I recommend checking out places like Gracia or Eixample, if that’s what you’re into.

Lisa McLoughlin, Lifestyle & Entertainment Journalist

Current location: London

Do you think your style has changed since you moved away from home? 

Moving to London has definitely refined my style rather than changed it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learnt which silhouettes and colours work for me, so that’s probably the driving factor in how my personal style has evolved. When I look back to my style a decade ago though, I just want to shake 19-year-old Lisa and say, “It’s ok. You don’t have to wear that red bra under everything on that island hopping trip around Greece!” — but fashion is a learning curve, right?

Have your surroundings inspired you?

I would be lying if I said that living in London, which is just filled with the most gorgeous melting pot of cultures, hasn’t influenced how I dressed. When you’re surrounded by people who love playing with their personal style, you definitely aren’t so self-conscious of taking a few more risks no matter how small or big.

While I’m not pushing the fashion boundaries in a Lady Gaga’s-meat-dress-kind-of-way, the tube, rush hour, despite some of its faults, has become one of my greatest fashion resources. Honestly, forget #streetstyle on the ‘gram and get yourself on the underground. There’s been many an evening on the Piccadilly line when I found some inspiration on how to style pieces.

You get people in everything; high street, office wear, black tie and even tourists in pajamas coming from Heathrow Airport after a long-haul flight. There is inspo for everyone and any occasion there. The underground is London’s true runway.

Do you have more access to fashion now? 

I’m lucky that in my line of work that I’ve access to fashion previews and runway shows, as well as the opportunity to meet the people behind the brands, so that has definitely helped educate my mental style file and given me a heads up on exciting, emerging brands. But much like New York, London has a plethora of extraordinary secondhand and charity shops, which are just a treasure trove of designer one-offs and reasonably-priced statement pieces. Like anything in life, the more expensive the postcode, the better your finds will be.

Yet, in regards to the fast fashion world, ASOS and other high-street shops’ next-day delivery blew my mind. When I first moved to London in 2016, I thought to myself, “What is this sorcery?” because that degree of delivery wasn’t as accessible, both logistically and financially, in Ireland. While my attitude to fast fashion changed quickly upon landing on UK soil, I still marvel that anyone can get anything on the same day of purchasing online.

Has your attitude towards fashion changed in recent years at all? 

My approach to buying has completely changed. Partly to do with being more educated about sustainable fashion, and partly to do with wanting to spend on quality not quantity. It was mainly influenced when I tried to condense my life when I moved here.

I remember clearing out my rental in Dublin after I accepted my job in London and I had bin bags upon bin bags in my attic of clothes that hadn’t seen the light of day. I remember the stress of clearing it out and trying to put my life into two suitcases to move. From that day on, I vowed to never accumulate that much stuff ever again, plus the truth was I didn’t need any of it.

So, now I really only buy three pieces, if even, every season and when I do buy, I buy strategically when sales are on to get more bang for my buck and make sure it’s from a sustainable source. It’s true what they say, if you invest in good quality staples, they will carry you through the years.

I adopt a one in, one out policy and donate to either a charity shop or to my local H&M as part of their conscious drive. But if I’m stuck for something to wear for a wedding or a big work occasion then I opt to rent from either Hurr, MyWardrobe HQ or By Rotation, rather than buy.

Read more: Personal Style Files: The two Irish sisters who work in fashion but have completely different style

Read more: Personal Style Files: The LA-based designer who counts Frida Kahlo as her fashion crush

Read more: Meet Audrey Hamilton, the artist with a closet as colourful as her eye-catching artwork

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