Cities and civilisation
Though early 19th-century colonisers envisaged New Zealand as a largely rural society, they also founded towns and cities, in part because of their perceived civilising influence. Urban centres provided opportunities for regular social contact. Clubs, theatres, galleries and churches, and events like musical recitals and political gatherings, facilitated cultural development. Cities were (and still are) places for people to see and be seen – places where trends are made and followed.
Cities are not the only sites of culture – New Zealand’s rural culture has thrived despite long-term and ongoing urbanisation – but they do contain a critical mass of people who can interact and network on a large scale. New immigrants from different cultures usually arrive in cities and often settle there. Subcultures and fashion and music trends can arrive from abroad or emerge first in cities, and city language is often more innovative than that in rural districts. Codes of behaviour also evolve to make cities run more smoothly.
Because of their size, cities present a dual opportunity to blend in with the crowd and stand out against it. They provide safety in numbers, which allows subcultures to thrive and trends to grow and spread. The inner city is often the seedbed for subcultures – it is an easily agreed-upon meeting place, it houses the shops, cafés, venues and public spaces where people congregate, and it is the hub for public transport which brings people from the suburbs and out of town.
Occasionally rural clothing makes its way into the cities and becomes fashionable. High-end designer Karen Walker began designing clothing for Swanndri, makers of a well-known bush-shirt, in 2006, and Swanndri stores opened in major cities. However, Walker’s range and the stores did not last long, which suggests the label’s urban appeal was more fad than enduring fashion. Gumboots (with a designer twist) also made the leap from paddock to city street in the 2000s.
Centre to hinterland
Trends in things like fashion and music tend to start in city centres and move out to suburbs, towns and rural districts. Rural to urban transfer of culture is more unusual, though not unknown.
In the past New Zealanders who wanted a taste of big city life and culture had to travel abroad. While this still happened in the 2000s, New Zealand cities had become more cosmopolitan and lively. Cultural influences from abroad remained very important, and people kept up with trends through print media and digital technology.