When I first moved to Alaska, some cynics in my family posited that I’d made the move because I’d found the only city left in America – Barrow – where there were no clothing stores so I wouldn’t have to shop. They were wrong, of course. Barrow was not the only place in America or Alaska without benefit of a clothing store. Other than that, the rest of their ruminations on my move proved to be more true than not. I considered the lack of stores in Barrow an absolute plus to the whole ambience of living in the Arctic.
I moved from Barrow to Anchorage right around the time I was deciding that bras were an optional form of clothing if you were always wearing oversized sweatshirts with t-shirts underneath for warmth, all covered up by a bulky coat. Seriously, even Pamela Anderson would be lost under all that.
So when I heard that Anchorage had been selected as one of the least fashionable places in our country, I actually lifted my head a little higher with a sense of pride. We may not be the rugged Alaskan town on the edge of nowhere that Fairbanks is. And we might not be the traditional Alaska Native village where subsistence in life threatening weather is a way of life. And we may not be a small town clinging to some sense of Alaskan-ness based on the fact that bears sometimes wander through our yards. But we are still Alaskan through and through because our clothes are primarily made of polar fleece with the occasional tasteful display of duct tape holding a rip together.
My sister works in an industry that demands she dress to the nth degree every day. I’m sure there are jobs like that in Anchorage. The difference is how you define dressed to the nth degree. Back East, that apparently means heels, makeup, bras, hair coifed to perfection. In Alaska it means that before you go into that meeting with an important client, you make sure you comb your hair so you don’t enter into negotiations with “hood hair”. I’m pretty sure that back east, hood hair is not a factor, or even an understandable phrase.
I always know when I’m heading back from the East Coast to Alaska and reach the leg of the flight that will take me to Anchorage. The difference in dress and behavior is significant.
The clothing of people on that last leg of the flight always causes me to exhale a sigh of relief. I no longer feel like the dowdy spinster aunt at the wedding. I am again surrounded by my people, people who understand that it’s more important to be warm than to worry about whether that particular combination of stripes and plaids with snow boots looks like the latest fashion line.
We wear fur hats because they are the only things that keep our ears from falling off during twenty to forty below walks with the dogs. We wear bunny boots because we’d like to die with all our toes on. When we need to look our best, we make sure our Carharts are freshly washed. And if we want fashion, we leave the state. Then, when we’ve had our fill, we rush back here because we know in Anchorage no one will judge us for wearing too many layers of coat liners or snow pants over our opera ensemble. We come back to be surrounded by people who understand that fashion is the least important item on our bucket list.
So you can crown us the least fashionable city in America. I proudly accept the title for all Anchorites who understand that some things in life just aren’t as important to us as they are to people outside. We know that wearing a bra is simply not as important as accessorizing your ski pants and parka with the appropriate ruff so the ice doesn’t stick to your face. We know that bunny boots make their own fashion statement and that statement is “warm toes”. And we know that when it comes to taste, the only thing that’s important is that the salmon is fresh and the moose is sweet.