Sunday Column: the fashion differences between Sydney and Melbourne

My friend Emma is one of the most stylish women in Melbourne. I’m not just being a suck when I say that. She’s actually been on official lists of Most Stylish Melbourne People, judged by those qualified to bestow such honours because…. well, because they wrote the list.

Emma is married to an equally fashionable man called Justin and together they have a toddler with a vastly better wardrobe than me. At Christmas time last year, our families were both holidaying in Byron Bay and we arranged to meet for dinner. Cue fashion anxiety. “I didn’t bring anything cool enough to go out with Emma and Justin” I shouted to my husband while rummaging…..

 …..frantically through my holiday suitcase of beach dresses, creased yoga pants and old Indian cotton shirts. “Babe, you don’t OWN anything cool enough to go out with Emma and Justin,” he shouted back, not unkindly. This is true.

Waving the white flag to fashion, I threw on some yoga pants and a t-shirt. Lame? Yes, but it didn’t matter because I was almost entirely covered by my hug-a-bub baby sling that wrapped around my body like a tricky bandage. Since the wrapping part was complicated, I’d put it on before leaving the house so I could pop the baby in there later.

As we walked into the restaurant, Emma stood up to greet me, a vision of effortless, fashion-forwardness in layers and heels. Lactation aside, I felt like a troll in that way you do when standing next to someone who looks amazing. Later, when the baby woke up, I inserted him into the baby sling, much to Emma’s surprise. “Oh, I thought that was a piece!” she exclaimed.


And that, my friends, sums up the difference between Sydney and Melbourne. Firstly, there was her use of the word ‘piece’. Very Melbourne. Secondly, my friend genuinely thought I might be wearing a full body bandage as an accessory. (Note, she didn’t say she liked it but she was open to the [itals] idea [itals] of it.) Had I been dressing in a more Sydney way, I may have dispensed with the rest of my clothes altogether and simply opted for bandage-as-dress.

Melbourne and Sydney used to fight about which city was the most fashionable but not anymore. We’re all more mature and less precious and peace has broken out. Not even fresh fire in the form of last week’s comment by influential fashion blogger, The Sartorialist, was enough to revive hostilities.

Here for fashion week and pushed to compare the two cities, New Yorker Scott Schuman observed, “I think Sydney is just a slight step ahead in incorporating the Australianism.” Whatever that means. He then noted  – as have many before – that Sydney fashion was sexier and Melbourne women wore a lot of black.

On the Today Show the following day, I was asked to comment on The Sartorialist’s appraisal. Co-incidentally, I was wearing an outfit that totally backed him up. It was a very short black dress I bought after wearing it for a magazine shoot (disclaimer: my life is not usually about TV appearances and fashion shoots, it’s more about sitting at my desk typing, hair pulled off my face with one of my daughter’s Dora hair bands). Anyway, for the shoot, the Sydney stylist put me in the very short dress with bare legs and slouchy boots. Very Sydney LOOK-AT-ME. In my real life and on TV, I wore it as a top, over black pants. Much more Melbourne.

At the risk of getting splinters in my arse from fence sitting, my position on the whole Sydney/Melbourne fashion thing is this: Sydney likes attention. Melbourne is more secure in its relationship with fashion. Sydney is about skin, Melbourne is about layers. At their extremes, Sydney can be a bit slutty, Melbourne can be a bit art-installation. Sydney accessories are a spray tan and those things you stick on your nipples so they’re not poking through your top. Not too much, anyway. Melbourne accessories are interesting glasses and an asymmetrical haircut. Sydney is LA, Melbourne is New York. Sydney looks in the mirror before leaving the house and follows Coco Chanel’s advice to ‘take one thing off’. That thing is often pants. Melbourne wears pants or leggings with everything, even dresses.

Emma – who works in the fashion industry as a creative director – was also in Sydney for fashion week so I asked for her view on the differences between the two cities. “It used to be whenever I came to Sydney and walked into a shop, they’d instantly say ‘You must be from Melbourne’ but that doesn’t happen much anymore,” she told me via phone while waiting in the basement of a Kings Cross car park for a fashion show to begin (oh the glamour).  “The gap between the cities is smaller than it’s ever been,” she said. Describe that gap, I insisted. “Sydney is sloppier but more creative. Melbourne has certainly loosened up but there are still rules around fashion in Melbourne. Sydney seems to throw out the rules or turn them inside out. Melbourne is more polished and classic but Sydney is rocking designer labels.” In other words: more splinters. Now, what about Canberra?