Once voted the worst dressed state in the nation by Travel + Leisure, Alaska does a great job of living up to that title as comfortable clothing and outdoorsy accessories dominate everyone’s closets.
The pops of color, bright labels, stylish boots and excited attitudes of Jordan Keosodsay, Daija Sypakanphay and Jovelle Emperador looked out of place against the pale evening light of downtown Anchorage. With backpacks full of outfits, these three looked like a walking H&M advertisement. An odd sight in Alaska, they received countless stares as they walked around the city.
For anyone who wants to make it in the fashion industry, living in Alaska is less than ideal. Local model Jasmine Alleva has been modeling for four years with Vivien’s Model Management in Australia and Ford Models. She noted that getting involved in the fashion industry is hard here as it’s pretty much nonexistent.
“We’re so isolated from anything having to do with fashion,” she said.
Despite this, Alaska’s homey outlook on fashion gives Alleva a level of coziness unlike anyplace else. This is something she loves about Alaska: nobody here cares what you wear. It is a pretty laid-back state.
“I can walk anywhere in sweatpants and no one would look at me or treat me any different for it,” she said.
There’s no social contract here for dressing nicely. Although you may not be able to immediately pick out the Alaskans while traveling out of state, Alleva does think that we have a distinctive look. “I think there’s an Alaskan culture and I think people here care less. You don’t have to show off. You don’t know who is next to you in bunny boots and Carhartts with, like, millions of dollars in their worth,” she said.
Anywhere else, it’s not like that. In California, for example, she once wore sweats to a swim show and someone asked her if she was lost.
UAA alumna Christina Gorelick also remembers growing up in Alaska and feeling as if she never fit in.
“It’s weird because everybody is so casual that if you do care about how you look, it’s so out of the norm, people kind of look at you like ‘Why are you dressed like that?’” she said.
But fashion is about more than just following the latest trends and looking good, it is about creativity and expression.
Ivan Nate is a senior accounting major at UAA who loves fashion. “I try to dress nice because it makes me feel good,” she said. “I always kind of thought like fashion was a form of art. I’m not really good at drawing or any other art, so I use outfits and looks to portray that artistic side of me.”
For anyone who loves the outdoors, living here is the dream. This is true for Marti Pausback, an avid skier. For her, practicality is the key to fashion and winter wear is her style.
Bertie Spiers, a nursing student at UAA, loves Alaska because of its cultural diversity, outdoor opportunities and eclectic fashion-sense.
Even though there may be stereotypical Alaska things such as Carhartt or The North Face, Spiers also said there is a lot of uniqueness. When she went to Michigan, everyone there was “white and there were no interesting haircuts, dyed hair, piercings … just everybody looked the same.”
Spiers chooses her outfits based on comfort but really just wears whatever she wants. “Like this sweater, it’s really kind of ugly and it’s not even that comfortable, but I just like it,” she said.
Alaska weather can be unpredictable and the outdoors seems to be embodied in our outfits, which can lead us to choose comfortable and practical outfits rather than fashionable ones.
It is a diverse state with a hidden beauty in this laidback culture. Going to events at the Performing Arts Center, there are people wearing all sorts of things, something Pausback says is not looked down upon.
“I mean, big bushy beards and flannel shirts … pilled up piles – and then there’s the lady with the little black dress and the pointy-toed shoes and the coiffed hair and they’re sitting right next to each other having a great time,” Pausback said.
On the other hand, fashion is also a means of expression and for those who do care about how they look, this is not the place to be. Fashion here is unconventional. It’s all about comfort and functionality, and Alaskans take pride in this simple sense of style.