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With hundreds of new folks flooding into Austin weekly, the city is fighting to retain its beatnik identity, which is its very allure. The influx of new flavors can make it difficult to discern what Austin’s true heart is, even when it comes to its style culture, but if you look closely, you’ll find that indie nose-thumber underneath it all. You can boil her down to a Haim sister facsimile and call it a day, but it’s not just boots and belt buckles that make the Austin aesthetic desirable.
The appeal of Austin style is that you can express your personal flavor however you see fit, free of judgment. Perfectly embodied in Austin musician Carrie Bickley, of psychedelic party folk band Calliope Musicals, who performs onstage in larger-than-life glitzy, goddess, genie-incarnate getups, she says, “Being Austin means you get to be yourself. It’s not being anything specific, but whatever you want to express. I’m from a very small town where that’s not valued so much. I feel like who I am is valued here, and I get to be myself.”
The concept might sound trite and yes, a bit heady, but before you knock it and stereotype Austinites as feel-good hippies, remember why you’re so drawn to this sub-genre of Texas trailblazers. It’s not that Austin style is unaware. The style is born of necessity; dealing proactively with a humid desert climate. In a city where outdoor adventures abound, and a full day might include biking around town and working up a sweat, hiking the Greenbelt trails, taking a dip in Barton Springs, and dancing the night away at a White Horse sock hop, layers and versatility are queen.
And you can take that kickass free-spiritedness and self-assuredness and make it your own, even if you live in a tower of ice in the Russian countryside. It’s a state of mind with tangible manifestations, described by longtime former Austin resident Lauren Kochavi as a scrapbook.
“To those wishing to rec-reate an Austin look, arrange your wardrobe like a scrapbook," she says. "Don’t be afraid to draw from past style phases you’ve built on. Think practicality and layers for texture, with a focus on both soft and hard elements for contrast. Austin women are so powerful and independent, and there is a masculine energy in their wardrobes. Don’t be afraid to wear those harder elements.”
She describes this as a romantic Southern borrower’s look — a mashup of a person’s personal history and changing aesthetic, worn each day like scout badges.
Local clothier Madison Enloe of Hoiden Supply Co. said, “You can be whoever you want to be in Austin, totally free. No judgment. You can try out whatever you want, and the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ sentiment is absolutely true and carries over into fashion as well.”
But for those looking for tangible tips and tricks for showcasing their true grit — Austin style — Enloe, as well as stylists Breezy McNamara and Lauren Dunkin of Feathers Boutique in the South Congress shopping district, offered some specific insight into re-creating yourself as the prairie priestess/boho eccentric/punk motor-gang leader of your dreams.
First, they recommend for the cash-strapped amongst us to not turn a blind eye to your neighborhood Salvation Army. Dunkin warned against impulse buys and said to know when to spend a little more for a quality piece that will last you for years. Her recommended splurge pieces? Perfectly fitting Levi’s shorts. Those can take years to find, so don’t let them get away. Also, a third-piece-layer robe, because it adds versatility to any outfit, and statement jewelry pieces you love, because the right piece can be worn every day.
Enloe, who was born and bred in Austin, opened Hoiden Supply Co. in 2014 to meet the need for a women’s general store and mercantile in the area, naming it Hoiden for the adjective meaning, “a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, bold, or carefree behavior.”
Drawing on her own experience as a skateboarder and motorcyclist with a penchant for good design, she provides clothing that reflects the everywoman of Austin who’s up for anything. Clothing that translates from the campfire to the bar all in the same day. The foremost quality staple she recommends to pull it all together is a killer boot.
“I literally wear boots to the beach,” she said.
It’s another splurge item, and quality counts. Find a short ankle boot with a little bit of a heel and you’re set. For the biker-babe look, find a quality leather belt and understated leather (pants, jacket, etc.), and you can’t go wrong.
Life is like a Pinterest board, so here’s your homework. Study these real-life dream warriors who personify this Austin look on and off the stage: Dana Falconberry (a soulful pioneer priestess), Wild Child’s Kelsey Wilson (chic bohemian earthling), and Octopus Project’s Yvonne Lambert (mod undercover assassin). Just to name a few.
And take the words of the locals to heart. As Bickley said, “Be totally fearless. If you think something looks ridiculous, who cares? Mix patterns! Play with textures! Be flexible with gender roles.” It only takes a peek inside her radiant closet and under-the-bed drawers tumbling forth with colors and patterns to see that she lives her message.
Discover for yourself the world of kaftans, lace dresses, jumpsuits, and hand-dyed slips. Leathers and Levi’s, boots and handcrafted baubles. And don’t be afraid to “modify and vaguely destroy,” as artist Lauren Kochavi says. It’s that little bit of DIY that will bring your Austin look to life.