Melbourne has its own style; everyone knows it, even those who’d rather not admit to it. As a city, we know we’ve got it good when it comes to food and fashion, bars, coffee, the arts, and not to mention sport. Though its organic roots sit in the diversity of lifestyles, there is much in it that ultimately becomes self-referential. We are known for something that we look to live up to. I’ve little doubt that there is no other citizen in Australia with as much civic pride or sheer affection for their home town as a Melburnian does. We know we’re stylish, and so we strive to be stylish and ever more so.
In some sense, that’s one thing that sets Melbourne apart from many of the other Australian cities. Style not only matters, it is a distinct and central part of the cities consciousness and identity.
So what is Melbourne style? I was given cause to wonder this a few days ago on a visit to the CBD. I’d made a day of it managing my appointments and catching up with the odds and sods of my city life. About mid-afternoon, I was on my way to have coffee with one of my ex-IT guys when I stopped at the pedestrian lights at Collins Street. In that mindless state you have, while waiting for something to change from red to green, I took in the guy standing beside me.
He was a stripling, really, one of those pale and weedy types of no particular physical distinction. He had dark hair cut into a style Robert Smith might have looked upon with approval, reflective, no doubt, of his personality. It was different, but not objectionably so. What really took my attention was his attire.
It was a pleasant day of about 23 degrees. It wasn’t hot, but it certainly wasn’t cold. I was in shirt sleeves, but this guy was dressed all in Melbourne black with a woollen coat tightly buttoned and bound around his narrow body. He had oversized cans on his ears as he cruised through the city to his own particular soundtrack. My first thoughts were that he must be bloody hot. Then, as the lights changed and he raced ahead of me, I reflected that certain sacrifices are willingly made occasionally on the altar of fashion – discomfort is small cheese, really.
I went my way, and he went his, but I was left pondering. I wondered why I so rarely saw pale and weedy types in the summer. It’s true. You see plenty of hale and hearty types spreading out in beer gardens or sitting down to indulgent breakfasts or improving their tan in shorts and t out and about. The sun, for most, is the occasion to celebrate wherever you are in Australia, including Melbourne.
In the summer, Melbourne style is at its dimmest, if only because it has the least scope. There are only so many ways you can pull on a pair of shorts, and flip flops are only thongs no matter how you dress them up. That might explain why the pale and weedy type is invisible in the sunny months. It’s my guess that they have pretty much the same relationship to the sun as Count Dracula does. I couldn’t imagine one in a pair of shorts, thongs and a pastel polo shirt. Summer is the season they hibernate, huddling inside their home, the blinds closed and watching the calendar keenly waiting for daylight savings to end.
It gets damn hot in Melbourne through the summer, but Melbourne really is a winter city. I wonder if that’s the European influence. The city itself, the style and a lot of the attitude is European, as are the passions and the intellectual discourse. I’m gilding the lily perhaps as there is no shortage of bogans either, but in general and in the CBD and inner suburbs, that’s the life. In winter, the Melbourne look really comes to the fore, woollen coats, dark colours, long boots, layers…
A few years ago, when I was living in Brisbane, I returned to Melbourne for a conference. I befriended a guy from Adelaide and showed him around. He had a great time of it as we went to one obscurely located bar after another. That was Melbourne, he said, it’s all down laneways and in arcades and hidden in the nooks and crannies only the locals know. He commented on the things that I had always taken for granted, most particularly the Melburnians propensity for black.
We ended up at a bar near the Arts Centre. We sat there sipping on a wine. At the next table was a table of very stylishly attired Melbourne women. I saw them as I had never seen them before. They had a glamour that I had forgotten living in Brisbane. They had individuality and self-assurance that was very attractive. They were women in the best and most alluring sense of the word. Listening in, they were discussing a show they had all just seen, and I thought then that this is my town too, the place I belong.
Melbourne style, we’re all a part of it.