Call it hometown pride if you like, but I was surprised to find out that there is a battle of the North and South brewing in the UK. In London, we heard about how the Scots and English were feuding, but apparently the English have a bit of a battle going on within their own country. In northern England and Manchester the locals had an openly harsh opinion of their southern neighbors in London. People of Manchester referred to themselves as the “real British people” and the backbone of the country. The feuding of the two regions reminded me not only of the North vs. South in the States as a whole, but also of the rivalry in the city of Chicago and the state of Wisconsin when it comes to sports. For example, Northern Chicago residents are typically Cubs fans, and Southern residents are very passionate about the White Sox. The fans have a long history of bitter rivalry, however at the end of the day, both the North and the South can agree that the Milwaukee Brewers are their ultimate enemy. And in this case, the Milwaukee Brewers and Wisconsin are the Scottish. What does the rivalry between London and Manchester (North and South) have to do with fashion? After spending about two days in Manchester, I was able to draw some similarities as well as vast differences between the two cities when it comes to their cultural understanding and view of fashion.
As stated in an earlier post, in London, everyone is always well put together. Londoners are confident in who they are and value individualism. They enjoy mixing vintage, timeless fashion with cutting edge trends and styles of the modern day. For Londoners fashion is a form of self expression that allows them to be who they want to be and tell others who they are. Londoners like to follow trends but like to let people know that they still have their own point of view and don’t need to look like everyone else to be accepted in the city. London is culturally diverse, pack with residents and tourist of all different ethnicity’s which perhaps also contribute to the variety in style. Think about it, with so many cultures packed into the city, it’s only natural for Londoners to pick up on styles and tastes of other countries and blend them into their lives to make a style that is so culturally blended it becomes a cornucopia of trends that are undefinable by any one culture. Londoners in the South liked to be unique and trendsetters in their own way. Londoner’s want to look like they are ready to go out on the town with a sophisticated, put together look. However, they stay true to who they are and don’t try to emulate who they wish they were.
I had never been to Manchester before, and I had expected it to be basically London only farther North. Upon our arrival however I couldn’t help but notice how much more industrial the city was. Manchester was smaller, less modern, and dirtier. My first impression of fashion however was at the train station where I saw a massive woman body builder looking woman who was built like a linebacker. She was wearing leather leggings, a spandex black t-shirt with army boots and had a scarlet red mohawk and looked about 45 years old. What kind of city was this?! Luckily I quickly realized there are exceptions in every city for the norm of fashion. We went on a walking tour of Manchester early Wednesday morning with our tour guide who while put together, was much more traditionally dressed than some of the men seen in London. While our guide was put together and dressed sharply, there were no surprises. Classic suit with button up shirt and matching tie, and a pair of classic wingtip shoes to finish the look. In London, he would have maybe had a bit more of a modern flair with some funky shoes, vintage shirt, or crazy hat or watch. However while his outfit may be lacking spunk, his attitude was not. Our tour guide was sassy, with witty jokes and comments. On the tour we had a chance to explore the different corners of Manchester, while also observing the local residents. One of the first things I noticed was that the guide was not alone in his more traditional, laid back attire. Mancunians were much more subdued, wearing jeans, t-shirts, even sweatpants out and about day or night. Our guide informed us on the background of Manchester being the more industrial, working class society in comparison to London. This explains why perhaps most of the residents did not seem to be dressed up as much as Londoners. In order to compensate for not having as much disposable income to spend on expensive clothes, Mancunians wear vintage clothes which are less expensive yet still make a statement. On the tour we visited several different areas that meet the needs of different consumers.
Affleck’s is located near China Town in Manchester and is actually the name of a building that houses several smaller independent designers and stores such as No Angel and Space Hop which have a vintage and gothic style. Affleck’s was not overly packed with shoppers and when I spoke with one of the shop workers they said they have a rather loyal consumer base that comes in. Affleck’s did a great job of building making the store fit the consumer. The shoppers that were in there (apart from some tourists) all dressed very uniquely in a hodgepodge way that was very eclectic. The store was set up uniquely as well with multi-colored walls and really no clear cut organization of where one shop ends, and another begins. The smell of the building was also very vintage it smelled musty like my grandmother’s basement mixed with potpourri. The shoppers of the store seemed at home and comfortable in the store where they knew everyone. Affleck’s wasn’t just a place to shop for vintage looks, it was a place to meet up with friends and talk.
I had no idea what a Primarx was before Manchester. I had seen a few Primarx bags around London, but didn’t actually go in one until Manchester. All I have to say is SEARS. Primarx screams SEARS from the white floors and walls, to simple to the point signs in bold fonts giving the price and basic item description. The bright sterile fluorescent lighting and scent of synthetic fabrics and leathers wafted throughout the store. Also the store was packed with shoppers like back in the states on Black Friday. At first I thought they were all tourists buying the 1 pound sunglasses and 5 pound dresses but as I walked around and listened nearly every shopper sounded like they were from Britain. Once again this low budget shop was packed with locals who needed to shop on a budget. On huge difference I noticed in Primarx was that it had a lot of young teen shoppers in it and for the first time, in groups larger than 2 or 3. Primarx is an ideal shopping spot for teens to go to after school with their babysitting money or allowance to pick up a new top at a low price. However, like London, there was a large amount of young women shopping with their mothers and talking about clothes and seeking the other’s opinion. Primarx was one of the first places I saw more people shopping together than alone. I think this may have something to do with the affordability and universal appeal it has. Primarx offers consumers a little bit of everything and in a generic way where shoppers of all ages can find something they may like or need. Primarx was a popular place for families as well because of the cheap clothing and large selection. Just like SEARS, people in Manchester know that Primarx will offer them the selection they want for their wardrobe at the low cost they need.
New Cathedral Street
New Cathedral Street is located in the newer up-and-coming area of Manchester than was completely rebuilt after the IRA bombing. Along this street are all the high end and big name brands such as Louis Vuitton, Ugg, Lactose, and Harvey Nichols. This is not only the most modern part of Manchester, but the most expensive. Even though Manchester is a more of a working class city, there are still residents who can either a) actually can afford to buy more expensive brands or b) save up to splurge on high end brands once in a while to complement a look from a cheaper store. However When I walked around this area, I saw more tourists here than in any other part of the city. Much of the older parts of the city were much quieter with a few locals here and there but Cathedral seemed like the hub for tourists.
Manchester and London shared some similarities such as the quest for individuality and a sense of confidence in staying true to who you are. Where they differed was that Londoners tended to be able to splurge a bit more on clothes and looks with a bit more cutting edge flair while mixing in vintage looks. Manchester on the other hand, had to be more creative in being unique. Mancunians buy a lot of vintage, with more traditional basics that are of a lower cost. While high end retailers and brands are present in Manchester, they are not the first choice in shopping among locals. Mancunians don’t want to be like those “southern city-slicker Londoners,” they want to retain the identity of Manchester and still think of themselves as “the real British.”