When I moved to Los Angeles from New York ten years ago, I had a telling conversation with my first employer about Pamela Anderson. In a weak attempt to bond, I made a sarcastic comment about the “Baywatch” actress’ boobs, which I had seen on TV the night before, and which were, at the time, engorged and purple. “They were so gross,” I snorted in a Northeasterly manner.
But my joke backfired. My boss, with her platinum blonde hair and large breasts, shot me a disapproving look.
“I think Pamela Anderson is awesome,” she said.
I was immediately shamed. My understanding about the world and the country and the beliefs I had been raised with had already begun to crumble since making the drive cross-country, but in that one, singular comment, in that small insight, my boss at an upscale bath and body shop brought the assumptions I was living with about fashion choices crashing down around me.
Of course she thought Pamela Anderson was awesome, and of course I was out of line to judge her, because what did I know about Pamela Anderson as a person? Maybe it was awesome to be free enough to flaunt your sexuality the way she did. Maybe it felt good to have the power that comes along with double D breasts.
Now, bear in mind that this was ten years ago. It was before Slutwalk, before most feminists had embraced sex work, before whatever wave we are currently in acquiesced that Pam Anderson was as much of a feminist as anyone else because her choices were just as valid (a line of thinking, by the way, with which I agree).
Instead, what I was seeing firsthand was a reflection of L.A. style.
See, in New York, there’s high fashion, there’s street fashion, there’s what you wear to work, there’s always feeling inadequate when you go out to bars, there’s vintage, there’s very expensive clothing, there’s DIY clothing, there’s thrifting, there’s uptown, there’s downtown, there’s midtown, there’s Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx and they all have their own brand of hip and stylish and fashionable. But no matter how many types of fashion choices are available to New Yorkers, one thing is certain: Some sartorial choices are wrong.
It’s reminiscent of the episode of “Sex and the City” in which Carrie wears some kind of taxidermied bird on her head whilst snickering to her then-boyfriend about women who wear scrunchies. There is a code of fashion in New York, one that has millions of iterations but that also has thick black lines between right and wrong.
But in Los Angeles, “wrong” doesn’t really factor into the equation. Pamela Anderson is as correct tin her fashion choices as, say, Heidi Klum. When I’m walking down Hollywood Boulevard, for instance, and I see a Nicole Ritchie circa “The Simple Life” lookalike slouching along in Uggs and a miniskirt trailed closely by a man in a Zoot suit with the whole parade brought up in the rear by an Ari Gold type with a Rolex and a Blackberry attached to his ear, I think very little of it. They all have their style. It’s all good, and mostly, it’s none of my business.
And that’s the main difference between L.A. style and New York style. In New York, fashion codes are determined by a small group of tastemakers, be they street kids or magazine editors.
But in L.A. — a city whose casual style is often derided by the rest of the country — we wear whatever we want and call it our own. That can range from Beverly Hills women in head-to-toe Gucci, to East L.A. girls in skinny jeans and Converse, to Santa Monica moms in Lululemon. There is no right and wrong.
In other words, contrary to popular belief, there’s very little pressure in L.A. to adhere to a given aesthetic. What there is pressure to do is find your own style, own it and make it work.