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“The Hyde Park Fashion Bubble”

It’s no secret that the University of Leeds is famed for its stylish student body, effortlessly slaying the fashion game from grabbing a bite at Bakery 164 to dashing off to an early morning lecture. Crafting a killer outfit and strutting through Hyde Park is practically a sport, with everyone’s A-game turning campus into a living Pinterest board. But let’s face it, the pressure to keep up can be exhausting. There are days when you just want to roll out of bed in joggers and a hoodie, yet even for a chill study session in Brotherton Library, we’re wearing what we affectionately call “pub outfits”, just in case we bump into that library crush or last night’s get.

 

Since trading Leeds for the Netherlands last August for my study abroad year, I’ve been immersed in different international fashion aesthetics. I vividly recall a friend from Canberra, Australia, during one of our first nights out, marvelling at the vibe of my outfit, which he dubbed “British rah-core”. While my wardrobe still bears hints of Hyde Park, it’s strayed from the quintessential trends characterising this bubble. Nestled within the streets of Brudenell or amidst the vibrant crowds of RPP’s smoking area, you’re immediately engulfed in a fashion scene dripping with the unmistakeable essence of Leeds uni. Here, trends aren’t merely followed; they’re birthed, swiftly embraced by the masses, and adorned with the coveted stamp of “cool”. On and off campus, these trends seamlessly blend to form a shared fashion identity unique to the University of Leeds. But what exactly makes this aesthetic so distinct?

 

Hyde Park is a melting pot of styles, where genres blend into a vibrant fusion. Enter “Leeds core”, a genre born from mixing and matching with abandon. Upon my arrival in Leeds, one thing stood out: the prevalent appropriation of working-class aesthetics in fashion. Labels like “roadmen”, “chavs”, and “rude boys” – once used to stigmatise working-class individuals and their attire – now dominate Hyde Park’s trends. This transforms the clothes of the less privileged into fashionable costumes worn by those with privileged backgrounds. Adidas tracksuits and Stone Island jumpers, once mocked, now earn nods of approval on campus. The Carhartt utility jacket, steeped in working-class history, now reigns at the top of Leeds’ fashion ladder. Jeans hang baggier than ever, resembling tents adorned with bold designs. It seems every Leeds boy either own a pair of Evisu jeans or has them favourited on Depop. Elements of “gorp-core” are also hard to miss in Hyde Park; girls sporting that rugged, outdoor look straight from their dad’s camping stash. Whether it’s a day session at Edward Boyle or the latest DJ set at Wire, you’ll spot parachute pants and multiple pairs of Solomons, elevating practicality to high fashion.

 

But, you never see these styles in isolation. They’re always mixed and matched with other elements. It’s this random and incohesive aesthetic that contributes to the “rah” reputation of Leeds uni fashion. The key is all about the art of disingenuity. Successful “rah” girls and boys give off this vibe that they effortlessly threw together a killer outfit in five minutes flat. But they might have skipped a couple of lectures just to hunt down that perfect red belt to match their leopard print camisole and Navajo-inspired earrings. You’ll see girls rocking mini scarfs with that intentionally messy hair look, strutting around jingling with every step, while sporting a Boho belt, and adidas trackies on the bottom. Rah style pretends to be haphazard, but it’s all a clever guise. Every messy hair strand is artfully placed. Every layer of clothing is deliberately arranged to look effortlessly chic.

 

This Leeds-edginess reaches peak absurdity at events like Beaverworks day parties – the annual extravaganza post-exams. Everyone turns up looking like they raided a costume closet. And I’ve done it too. For me, Beaverworks is Leeds’ version of Coachella. It’s where you can wear whatever you want and totally pull it off. Exaggerated patterns, loads of faux fur, cowboy boots, layered jewellery, trackies, low-rise jeans, winter hats worn with utter seriousness, and four metal belts stacked on one another. It sounds crazy, and it is, but somehow, with everyone playing their part, it all clicks, creating this cool mishmash which forms the “Hyde Park fashion bubble”.

 

The transition from Leeds to the Netherlands has been a breath of fresh air, particularly in the realm of fashion where the pressure to dress to impress is notably less intense. Perhaps, it’s the anonymity of being in a new environment, where faces on campus are unfamiliar. But, while Amsterdam exudes a subversive fashion culture, the fashion landscape in Nijmegen, particularly around campus, is defined by practicality and understatement. Skinny jeans, high-rise silhouettes, and classic Converse trainers are ubiquitous, complemented by long trench jackets and hair adorned with bows or cute scrunchies. For men, it’s all about the conservative elegance of suit trousers, shirts, cargo trousers, straight leg jeans, and puffer jackets. Unlike Leeds, the Dutch approach to fashion does not actively follow trends. Given that cycling is the preferred mode of transportation, clothing is as functional as it is fashionable.

 

My time studying in Nijmegen has broadened my fashion horizons beyond the familiar confines of Hyde Park – especially evident in my rain-ready cycling attire! Yet, amidst this exploration, my outfits retain the unmistakeable essence of Leeds. Our university boasts a distinctive aesthetic that I’ve come to cherish, although I can’t ignore the potential for homogeneity when trends are blindly followed. Moreover, I’m keenly aware of the discomfort that arises when appropriating working-class styles in our fashion choices. However, I also recognise the boldness and experimentation fostered by the “Hyde Park fashion bubble”. As September approaches, I eagerly anticipate returning to Leeds, eager to see where my wardrobe journey takes me, always striving to navigate fashion with confidence and self-expression, as well as sensitivity and respect.


Words: Lauren Williamson, she/her

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