From street culture to high-end fashion, cities have provided the people and the spaces for indigenous or imported trends to surface and later trickle out to other parts of the country. Cities are the best place to watch different fashions in action. In the 2000s, improved technology (particularly the internet) meant that people in smaller centres and rural areas could access information about fashion trends much faster than in the past.
Dressing up for town
Until the 1970s people dressed formally when visiting towns and cities for shopping and social purposes – main streets were a sea of hats, gloves and smart handbags. Dress slowly became more casual. Accessories like hats and silk scarves were worn in rural areas and small towns when they had disappeared from the cities, though in the 2000s the occasional formally dressed elderly man or woman could still be seen in city centres.
Street wear, based on skateboarding and hip-hop music culture, has been strongly associated with urban environments in New Zealand. Hooded sweatshirts, baggy low-slung jeans, caps and sneakers reached uniform status among young people in the 1990s and 2000s. Hip-hop culture added puffy jackets and ostentatious accessories (‘bling’) to the mix. Many New Zealand fashion designers concentrate on street wear.
In 2005 Paraparaumu’s Coastlands mall banned people wearing hooded sweatshirts (‘hoodies’) with the hood up. Management argued that youths committing crimes in the mall invariably wore the garments, concealing their faces with the hood. Some shoppers also felt intimidated. But law-abiding hoodie wearers were outraged. New Zealand Aotearoa Adolescent Health and Development later instituted ‘Hoodie Day’ to counteract the negative connotations.
Other urban subcultures
Larger cities accommodate diverse subcultures, which are most recognisable by clothing. In the 1950s male bodgies favoured tight stovepipe trousers, long baggy coats and jackets, bright shirts and pullovers, while female widgies wore tight trousers or skirts with splits up the back, sleeveless blouses, silk scarves and slip-on flat shoes. Punks (around since the late 1970s) are associated with torn black clothes, spiky hair and facial piercing. West Auckland and Hutt Valley ‘bogans’ sport black jeans, heavy-metal band T-shirts and mullet hairstyles (short at the front and sides, long at the back).
Distinctive urban subcultures that emerged in the 2000s included closplayers, who liked costumes and role-play. Emos wore very tight jeans, cardigans and heavy eye makeup, and affected depressed, world-weary attitudes.
Auckland, with its warm climate, is known for its casual approach to dress – as is New Zealand generally. When high-end fashion label Versace closed its only New Zealand store in Auckland in 2005, its manager blamed the casual style wealthy businessmen favoured, which he described as the ‘property developer look’1 – jeans, white shirt and trainers. Wellington, home of the public sector, has been portrayed as a city of bureaucrats in dark suits. Christchurch – which historically has a greater sense of class difference – has struggled to shrug off a conservative image as the ‘navy [blue] and twin-set centre of New Zealand’.2 Chilly Dunedin encouraged dark, layered clothing, a look which inspired local fashion label Nom*D.
New Zealand’s fashion industry is based in the cities, which contain fashion schools, a sustainable consumer base, industry networks and exporting facilities. Auckland leads the way, followed by Wellington and Dunedin. The annual Hokonui Fashion Design Awards, held in Gore, Southland, buck this trend – though most winners come from the main centres.