[Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Aug. 9-15, 2001, issue of Flagstaff Live! In celebration of our silver anniversary, we thought it would be fun to republish the article to highlight how fashion has (or hasn’t) changed. This article has been edited for space and style.]
Everybody knows the Flagstaff fashion stereotypes: the hippie walking past you engulfed in a palpable cloud of patchouli, the grizzled mountain dude with North Face logos tattooed on every visible article of clothing. So when the opportunity came up to do a Flagstaff fashion story, I jumped at the chance. It seemed like an easy job. Flag is a T-shirt, shorts and sandals kind of place. I accepted the assignment, thinking to myself, “No sweat.”
Needing inspiration, I turn on E! the Entertainment Network and prostrate myself before fashion critic nonpareil Joan Rivers. Her acidic tone and acerbic comments cut through the self-obsessed fluff of the fashion world with an executioner’s precision. I try it on for a while.
Then I notice my own clothing. Faded cargo shorts, leather sandals and my favorite Mack truck T-shirt, green trim around the armholes and the simple message “Built Like a Mack Truck” emblazoned on the back. Why am I writing this story? My idea of being fashionable involves throwing on dark jeans and a black T-shirt. How could I possibly cover fashion and retain any shred of journalistic integrity?
I beat the streets of downtown Flagstaff, the Paris of the northern Arizona fashion scene, to do some research and ask people what they think about the state of fashion in our mountain town. People talk of a casual style, a style that is come as you are. But when asked to specifically describe it, I see an uncannily similar response: furrowed brow, knitted eyebrows and a heavy sigh.
I step into the inviting interior of Emperial Hemp for help. “We have open-minded, free individuals who try to express their true selves,” says Tahra from behind the counter in response to my questions.
“Flag has no fashion,” says Sena as I question her in a cave-like semidarkness of the neohipster Monte Vista Lounge. “It’s not like Santa Fe, you know, ‘Sorry, hippie, you can’t afford it anymore.’” Uh, oh. This seemingly easy job was more difficult than I initially suspected.
Emerging from the Monte Vista, I spot chic-looking Old Post Office Salon. Surely someone there will define Flag fashion for me. “It inculcates other styles—it’s kind of whatever works,” says stylist Jerry.
“It’s not one style. It’s an eclectic culmination of everything,” says Maura of Black Hound Gallerie as I detour through the Old Town Shops. “Flagstaff fashion is an array of different styles,” adds Clay from behind the counter. A trend was appearing.
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Outdoors fashion is perhaps the most prevalent around town. People wear their chosen sport. Multi-pocketed hiking shorts, or that uniquely American invention, the convertible hiking pant with zip-off legs in case of an unexpected heat wave, are de rigeur for the Flagstaff hiker. Footwear varies from heavy duty hiking boots, low cut Merrell trail runners to Chaco sport sandals—required footwear for the Flagstaffian outdoorsperson. Kavu hats and visors bob among the sea of heads strolling the streets. Fleece vests in the ubiquitous Mountain Sierra North Face Headwear Designs brand abound in case the cold mountain air suddenly spaces and this allows people to express themselves freely through their clothing. But inevitably another factor arises when talking Flagstaff fashion—the university.
The college crowd brings its own unique influence to Flagstaff. For the guys, the fraternity uniform of a baseball cap with the just right roll, baggy just beneath the knee cargo shorts, an Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt in varying stages of untuck, paired with athletic shoes or flip-flops is evident. For the girls, the midriff baring “oops, we dressed like Britney Spears again” look is common. The college crowd brings its own sense of style to the Flagstaff mix.
I step into Incahoots, hoping a change of scene will help me clear the chaos of my fashion-obsessed mind. Quite the opposite happens. The owner Nancy opens my eyes to another aspect of this multi-headed hydra of a fashion scene—the retro crew. The ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s are alive and well in our mountain town, and in some cases they never went away. New school bowling shirts, pimped-out cowboy gear, crushed velvet and powder blue leisure suits with contrast stitching paired with a nice ruffled shirt make an occasional appearance on the streets.
In addition, the punk/hardcore scene is a definite presence in town. Whether it’s as simple as all black dress or as elaborate as Sid Viscious-esque leather and spikes, the rejection of the status quo as a fashion statement finds its way into Flagstaff’s fashion scene.
What is Flag fashion? What is fashion? Is it the clothes we wear or is it who we are? Is fashion something determined on the runways of Milan, New York or Paris? Is there a particular style that defines our mountain town or is Flag fashion simply an alliterative oxymoron?
While Flag might not rank up there with the world capitals of haute couture, it has its own sense of style. That style, however, is ineffable, ephemeral and indefinable.
I decided to comfort myself with an ice cream cone. Waiting in line at The Sweet Life, I look about me. One guy wears a colorful Hawaiian shirt with a Tiki design and another wears Tevas and a well-worn String Cheese Incident T-shirt. Another guy is dressed in neo-retro style—a red bowling shirt, black piping along the sides and the name Zed embroidered on the left breast pocket. One woman wears black horizontal striped tights, a short leather skirt and a black leather jacket.
Then it dawns on me. There is enough room in our small town to fit any style. In Flagstaff, it’s not about conforming to a fashion sense set by some designer in a far off city. Rather, it’s about who you want to be and how you want to express yourself. That is the essence of Flagstaff fashion—the freedom to choose your fashion, no matter how out of fashion.