All dressed up and nowhere to go

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2011, 12:00am


Almost every fashion insider I have met comments on how dressed-up people in Hong Kong are, and it's not always complimentary. Even at a glance, it's clear this city likes to dress up to the nines for any occasion. 'How fashion-forward,' you might think. But does dressing up equal dressing well?

Secretaries and executives alike traipse along Wyndham Street in their beaded neckline, satin-wrap dresses and four-inch Louboutins at lunchtime, but by happy hour many are stumbling bow-legged down Pottinger Street. Most 'suits' keep their two-pieces on for nights out - sometimes, even more bizarrely, at the weekend, despite the summer heat. Wouldn't you rather just throw on a pair of soft leather flat sandals and a simple loose white shirt with flattering shorts outside office hours? Good designers make those clothes too, you know.

Dressing up adds formality - the pomp and circumstance that makes our lives seem more glamorous than they really are - and we are suckers for glamour.

Dinner with friends gains pizzazz when you have the Bulgari Kaleidoscope clutch in your manicured hand or have squeezed yourself into a gorgeous Herve Leger strappy dress - even if you're just going for pizzas. Walking into a sky bar in a well-cut Armani suit and D&G aviator shades gives a man a sense of confidence, even if it's occasionally misplaced (especially four hours after sunset).

Fashion is all about creating a state of mind and confident dress transforms people. It's peacock culture in full bloom.

Does it boil down to our city's rampant brand obsession? Or is it a deep-seated status anxiety?

Ostentation, or 'bling', usually comes with loud, fussy clothing. It often detracts from a well-cut or well-draped item, quality materials and a beautiful silhouette. It's rare to see seasoned fashion designers dressed to excess - they usually prefer very well-made, perfectly balanced styles.

All is not lost. Hong Kong is also home to some of the most sophisticated dressers in Asia; and people are quickly learning the difference between carrying a Louis Vuitton bag and carrying it with style.

British fashionista Alexa Chung's style is admired because it looks uncontrived. Put together with personality, a Burberry studded-leather jacket is mixed with a vintage crochet handbag, 60s tunic and men's brogues.

And look at what Karl Lagerfeld has in store for us this autumn. Chanel's beaded jean leggings worn under a distressed grungy skirt? Cropped Chanel tweed jackets, loose black pants rolled up at the ankles worn with tough military inspired boots? And that's on the runway. If Chanel can go grunge, then laid-back chic will soon take hold in the mainstream.

Minimalism resurfaced in 2009 as a backlash against nouveau riche conspicuousness and the financial crisis. It sent excess and bling out of vogue, albeit not in Hong Kong. True luxury became more about the finest quality, personalisation, exclusive experiences and a thoughtful style.

Will people here take note and break their overzealous habits? Modesty is back in fashion. And, sometimes, less is definitely more.