Authenticity and Occasion:
Differences in Style Between the Country and the City
By Cody Elliott
Wandering around Dia: Beacon makes visible certain dichotomies between city and country life. We’re used to seeing art galleries and museums inside cities, and we’re used to their small, somewhat cramped confines, so often stocked with the bustling paintings of the contemporary cutting edge. Dia’s upstate space serves as something of an antithesis to that kind of experience. Although more crowded than you’d think, the monolithic works it contains gain an immense deal from their cavernous surroundings (it’s located in an abandoned Nabisco plant). I must admit a prejudice here- when I’ve encountered their more minimalist works at MoMa or elsewhere, artists like Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman didn’t immediately attract me. However, recontextualized upstate, with the benefits of a building specifically redesigned to display their works, I walked away with a whole new appreciation for them. Clothing, of course, is something of an art, and what we value in clothing changes depending on its context. What flies on Wall Street, or in Bushwick, might not have the same impact in Newburgh.
In art or clothes, small towns and the countryside will always make simplicity shine- perhaps that is why rustic basics, such as denim, work boots, and jean jackets endure for both men and women. Likewise, the city comes to stand for formality and occasion; though this also means the chance to wear something truly oddball or avant-garde. Cecille Castillon, a resident of New Paltz who also happens to be Mrs. Philippines America 2019 and a formidable lifestyle consultant, says she “tends to aim for a more sophisticated look if [she’s] heading down to NYC. After all, next to Paris it’s the fashion capital of the world.” She’s “more willing to take risks or make bolder fashion statements there.” Likewise Selena Cucuta, Peekskill resident and head of the blogs “A Touch of Radiance” and “The Hudson Couple,” says she “always looks at weekends in the city as a time to get to wear more unique outfits. Since New York City is the fashion empire, [she] usually gears towards more black & chic looks or goes crazy with mixing patterns, with a comfy pair of shoes for walking.”
While the city can mean the opportunity to dress up or wear something crazy, it can also seem to cover up the minute personal differences that let individual style shine. The Valley and home then imply something more personal. To Cecille, that means drawing inspiration from her idols and her past: "classic with a splash of kawaii" or “eclectic and ethnic. Think Audrey+Jackie+Hello Kitty+farm girl+tribal chic.” For Cucuta, it means drawing inspiration from her surroundings: “my style definitely reflects me a lot more, and the area too – very rustic, minimal & casual. Lots of denim with Clarks or Birkenstocks depending on the season, comfy and “outdoorsy” is more of a go-to for me.”
When trying to understand the appeal of boomtowns, such as Beacon, to Brooklyn ex-pats, the room for personal expression is paramount. When I asked Cabot, co-head of American Honey Vintage in Beacon, if the way he dressed changed much after leaving his former home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, he replied in the negative. For him and his girlfriend, Nicole, Beacon meant access to the kind of life they wanted to continue living and closer proximity to vintage clothing. His only complaint about his Hudson Valley home was that the new construction would often wake him up in the wee hours of the morning.
Selena says that growing up, people dressed “however,” but that now she’s aware of a larger yearning for what is rustic and authentic. For Cecille, this energy is one of the attractions, as well as an opportunity. She’s expanding her work, doing styling for photoshoots on the advice of her photographer friend Evangeline Gala. It helps that she finds satisfaction helping clients discover the bold new aesthetic territory, but that is definitely furthered by living in an artistic environment, and she appreciates “the creativity of the various artisans and craftspeople who call the Hudson Valley their home.”
The expansive spaces of the Nabisco plant are what give the artworks of Dia: Beacon their new life. Likewise, the scenic backdrop of the Hudson Valley will always partially dictate what people wear. When Selena’s traveling- like on her trip to Woodstock- she considers what the environment will be like: “If I know I’m going hiking, or being around nature more (and even in some of the smaller river towns) it’s important that I not only dress like a local (being that I am one) but also dressing in a way that best reflects me and what my true, personal style is.” For Cecille, it’s hard to not love the landscape: “the majestic mountains, serene lakes, and the lush farmlands which remind me of where I grew up in the rural Philippines.” Sometimes, this means it’s easier to see one’s self-reflected consistently with such serene surroundings than it is with the maximalist chaos of city life. Fashion and style can be a useful way of exploring these kinds of identities, for, as Cecille says “changes in fashion have been concurrent with important social changes, too- especially in terms of feminism... fashion isn't a purely superficial endeavor." As such, she’s looking at ways of uniting the demand for alternative fashion in the Valley with opportunities for indigenous people in the Philippines- “stay tuned!”
The city’s chaotic periods of economic upending- whether that’s bust or boom- mean that what’s in fashion changes quickly, in art or in clothing. To counter this, and to “get away” from the myriad complexities of city life, NYC residents have long traveled upstate. When Dia opened their Beacon outpost, they were undoubtedly escaping NYC for the same reasons people always had- a pursuit of the authentic, room for eccentricity, and a fondness for nature. Rising rent prices in New York, a plethora of competition, and an endless sea of concrete are all driving out residents. Once, they flocked eastward, toward the beaches of Long Island (where they were followed by wealthier folks looking for second homes). With that avenue expensive now as well, they’ve moved northward. As rents rise, though, and new construction dramatically alters the character of small towns, steps need to be taken to ensure that current residents are not forced out, lest those traits that make us desirable be lost. After all, we love the Hamptons, but who goes there to find authenticity?