When was the last time you sat in an airport and people-watched?
It used to be a fascinating pastime. Depending on what they were wearing and the gate at which they were waiting, you could create whole stories for the people passing by.
That guy is a ranch hand out West; this one, a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. The woman over there must be coming from northern Europe for a monthlong ski vacation. That one is on her way back to her art studio in Brooklyn.
You never knew if you were right or not, but that was half the fun.
Now, if you manage to pull your head out of your phone long enough to look around, you realize that much of that story-creating information has disappeared.
Everyone looks vaguely the same. And, if you’re in Utah, too many dress like a bland tech bro from Silicon Valley.
This is a change from the recent past, when people from other countries, and even Americans from different regions, had their own distinct and alluring ways of dressing and grooming. Think of the stereotypical Texan, Southern Californian or New Englander, and a look immediately comes to mind. There were also specific looks within subsets of culture: Hip-hop on the East Coast not only sounded different from hip-hop out West, but the artists dressed differently.
When we spoke, we had different variations of an accent, depending on where we came from. Many of us had aesthetic accents, too.
Sadly, it’s been a long time since Utah and other states in the Mountain West had an accent. Barring the overt signaling that comes with a University of Utah or BYU T-shirt, do you think you’d recognize someone from the Pioneer Corridor if you were sitting next to each other on a bus in London?
If not, why not?
We have such a rich history from which to draw — from the Native American tribes who were here, to the explorers and miners who fell in love with the land and its riches, to the pioneers who were peculiar people and wanted to practice their faith freely.
There is still a uniqueness to us today. We joke about the stereotypes of micro-cultures like the bleached-blond Draper moms or the Provo all-star with the flat brimmed hat and thin gold chain. They’re easy enough targets for the rest of us to pick on, but at least they’re doing their own thing.
We can poke fun at the mommy bloggers with their highly curated, Instagram lives but they’ve successfully done something many of us haven’t even had the courage to try — create an aesthetic that not only expresses who they are, but resonates with thousands and thousands of people who emulate it.
Now, just because something is emulated doesn’t mean it’s admirable. Why aspire to more than gray T-shirts and comfortable sweaters when Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey don’t do much differently?
In truth, clothing is more than merely comfort or protection from the elements. It’s communication. And what we wear can tell a story more quickly — and often more effectively — than the words we say. We in the West have not only one unique story, but many. And we should tell them.
So much of what’s happening in Utah is innovative. People move from all over the world to be part of the unique culture of recreation, business, family and faith. We aren’t just the little brother to the Bay Area, so why do we act that way with our style? We are home to a multitude of rich aesthetics in sports and recreation. Rather than copying other markets, we should build our own unique looks that reflect both our past and what we’re surrounded by today.
Whether it’s a Boss of the Plains hat with work boots, an après-ski look that could only come from one of our resorts or an entirely new tech uniform that separates the Slopes from the Valley, it’s time to start making some sartorial statements, playing with new styles, forging a path.
The West is synonymous with courage. It used to be a wild, untamed land that was merciless to those who braved it. The courage required to live here before it was tamed was both admirable and enviable. Let’s start to dress the way the West is to be lived.
Tanner Guzy is a style coach and author in Utah.