Fashion is unquestionably a global industry and, in America, it’s no secret that clothing designers and manufacturers are concentrated on or around the West and East coasts. Studios in New York, Los Angeles and surrounding metropolis are busy with designers, models, showroom staff and Fashion Week fanfare. A close look into the creative clusters on each coast reveals that American designers are setting trends in tune with their home bases, and a stroll down Fifth Avenue or Melrose Place is an easy opportunity to step inside the small shops and boutiques operated by some of the world’s top designers.
There’s no doubt the friendly competition between West and East coast artists results in the edgy, youthful looks that go on to gain popularity around the world, but what kind of clothes make the grade? Here are a few style categories you might see on either side of the country.
Styles on the streets of L.A., New York and other coastal cities confirm that American music and skateboarding has produced a parallel industry of cool, chic streetwear. In clothing terms, the genres of punk rock, hip-hop, ska, techno and electric funk translate into hoodies, baggy pants, cargos and zip-up overalls branded by designers who are often active participants in the culture they’re expressing. James Jebbia, founder of Supreme, started out in New York’s punk rock skating scene. Since Californians loved his hybrid Levis and graphic print hoodies, he soon opened up shop there. New York designer Leah McSweeney founded the “feminine and feminist” label Married to the Mob to give girls and women the slouchy sweats and bomber jackets that let them claim street cred too. And anyone can shop at Los Angeles’ Noon Goons — the loose-cut hoodies and colorful zip-up jackets don’t discriminate according to gender (even though the velour zipper-pull Henleys might be for men only).
Clothing trends on the American coasts are sometimes geared toward saying something strong about a social issue or political concern. The reverse psychology of OBEY, a label produced by West Coast activist Shepard Fairey, encourages wearers of the printed casual clothing to promote pro-art messages on the shirts, jackets and zippered packs the company sells online. Another trend tiding from the coasts — recycled fabrics and sustainable materials — is embodied in the jeans, jumpsuits and swimwear made by Reformation, a Los Angeles label created by “dress healthy” advocate Yael Aflalo. The popularity of “statement wear” is also evident in the number of pop-up shirt shops that set up on busy streets or protest marches to sell messages of the moment to passionate passersby. “Fast fashion” T-shirt designers like Bella + Canvas of New York make the process affordable and accessible to all body types and sizes.
Look to both the East and West for celebrities with their own fashion lines and labels. Comedian Melissa McCarthy puts out cheerful collections of asymmetrical jackets, jeans, and ruffled dresses and tops available to every size on the spectrum. Actress Zendaya Coleman isn’t quite as size-aware with her line, Daya, but makes up for it with the creative designs and materials used for the brand’s track suits, shirt dresses and cuffed pants. The celebrity influence coming from the coasts isn’t always concentrated in the clothing itself, but in who is wearing it: An editorial shoot featuring famous Californians Lily Rose-Depp or Kendall Jenner can take a label through the roof within a week. Other celebrities keep it real by focusing their fashion on positive ideas like faith, truth and justice, as is the case with Humble Beast, a clothing and music label co-headed by L.A. native Kendrick Lamar.
From sea to shining sea are luxury fashion brands that might not be within wallet’s reach for most Americans but stand in the spotlight of Vogue editorial spreads and Fashion Week runway shows. Besides upping the game with luxury zippers and deluxe hardware, trends set by pricey brands like Public School, Amiri and Libertine are taken up by clients willing to spend more on quality clothing that’s artfully designed but perhaps wearable only in exclusive environments. The impractical but show-stopping looks from Los Angeles designer Rick Owens might be an example: His collection of draped dresses and cloaks speak to clothing connoisseurs who have both fashion intellect and deep pockets. For those looking for casual clothes with a luxury feel, there’s The Elder Statesman, a California-based clothier of tie-dye sweaters and knit skull caps priced much higher than the skateboards you’d use when wearing them.
With so many popular labels coming from hubs like London, Hong Kong, Rome and Paris, it might feel at times that American designs are lost in the color collage. Yet trends from both coasts ebb and flow just as the waters themselves. It’s not likely that American designers will slow down anytime soon, so pull on your color-blocked brass zipper hoodie and hoist a simple, sustainable backpack over your shimmer-powdered shoulders, because the trends are heating up. You can bet that all creatures great and small, from Kim and Kanye’s kids to pit bull terriers, will never stop showing off the designer apparel that makes America the trendiest nation on the globe.