What do you know about South African style? I have to be honest, I don’t know much. Which is why I was so interested to read Philippa Allen‘s take on it. As part of our Style around the World series (we’ve also covered Sydney and Paris), we thought Pip, a treatment writer and creative consultant, who spends six months of the year in London and six months of the year in Cape Town (jealous? moi?) was the perfect person to ask. Here she talks us through the differences between British and South African attitudes to style, health and beauty. We’re betting the weather has a lot to answer for…
How long have you lived in Cape Town?
For the last two years I’ve been living between Cape Town and London, 6 months in each. I’m what they call a swallow! My boyfriend is from Cape Town. We met in London but he wanted to spend more time back home so we agreed on a 6 month/6 month basis. We live in an area called Llandudno, a small residential bay about 20 minutes out of town. And yes it was named after the seaside town in Wales, although the similarities are pretty scant!
How would you describe Cape Town style?
It’s colourful, relaxed, cool.
What differences have you noticed between the way women in Cape Town dress and the way British women dress?
It’s far more casual in Cape Town than in London. A far more relaxed style with far more tanned flesh on show.
Does style change from neighbourhood to neighbourhood as it does in London?
Yes it does. For example in Camps Bay you’ll see more of the Californian beach vibe. Whereas in Woodstock – which, if you compare to London, would be like the East End – has much more of a hipster and vintage feel. In the centre of Cape Town there’s no distinct style, it’s a real mix.
Do you think that South African women are led by trends or do they tend to just do their own thing?
Both. I can see that things that were fashionable in London catch on here – it’s basically a season behind in South Africa. So this summer I’ve really seen the 80s vibe, high waisted jeans and crop tops. And then of course the retro/vintage/hipster vibe is very present here, as I think it is in pretty much every city! However, I do often see people who have a really strong unique style – a style that seems to embrace the heritage and colour of South Africa rather than trying to mimic trends that have come from London, NY or Paris.
How has your style changed since living in Cape Town?
I’ve got used to wearing shorts! Seriously, I would never have worn shorts around London, but I’ve had to overcome that quickly. I maintain that British people are not great at summer dressing, we’re not used to putting our bodies on show, we don’t have a long enough summer to really master summer style. But here, I’ve had to create a wardrobe that copes with the heat, but still covers me enough that I’m comfortable. It has to be more practical and day-to-day than a holiday wardrobe. So loose, light pajama style trousers are great, as are loose shirts and light cover-ups.
Are there any big ‘no-no’s’ when it comes to style in Cape Town?
For me, heels are a no-no here. Cape Town is hilly. And you never know when someone will suggest hiking. I keep making the mistake of dragging my heels over here and never wearing them.
What do you think is lacking when it comes to style in Cape Town?
Shopping is a huge issue which is why so many people tell me how much they love shopping in London! There’s a definite lack of interesting high street stores here. Nothing like Cos, Whistles, & Other Stories or the boutique at Urban Outfitters. Cape Town has TopShop, Mango and Zara, and then higher end labels like Hugo Boss and Max Mara, but very little in between. The African labels are actually quite hard to find and often fairly expensive. There is also very little in the way of online shopping – I realize how much access we have in the UK to brands from all over the world. It’s much easier to shop directly from the US, Australia or Sweden, but most international brands don’t ship here.
Is there more or less pressure to look good in Cape Town than there is in London?
In Cape Town women are judged more on their looks than in London. But I think I’m looking at this on a deeper social level. For me, London judges you on your career and your ambition as much as your style or your looks. In Cape Town it’s more about how your look. I don’t often get asked what I do for a living, which surprised me as it’s always the first thing people ask in London. And let’s not forget that Cape Town is a hub for models during the summer season, so I think this puts an added pressure on local women.
When going out for dinner or drinks do women get more or less dressed up than they do in London?
Most bars and restaurants in Cape Town are casual. Even if you go to the smart vineyard restaurants there is no pressure to dress up. For an evening out I would probably wear my printed trousers or, as it gets a little cooler, jeans and a top. Having said that, if you rocked up to a bar straight from the beach, no-one would have an issue!
What would you wear on a relaxed Saturday?
At home I’m almost always in denim shorts and a t-shirt. Or if it’s really hot, I put on my bikini and stay close to the fridge.
Have you discovered any amazing South African brands/labels/boutiques since living in Cape Town?
After quite a bit of research and several failed shopping trips I have found a few gems. Merchants on Long have a very selective but incredible range of African designers. It’s high end prices (for Cape Town) but really stunning and unique pieces. They stock Lalesso (a Kenyan label that specialize in beautiful printed beach wear) and Jewel By Lisa (a gorgeous Nigerian label).
There is also the newly opened SAM (South African Market) on Bree Street which showcases South African designers. They stock fabulous and very reasonable leather bags. Kat Van Duinen in the Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, also have quite smart, sharp and African inspired clothing. There are also a few good vintage stores in and around town. Babette on Church Street does a mix of vintage and upcycled clothing – scarves that have been turned into kimonos and that sort of thing. Jewellery is actually fantastic here. Namely Pichulik whose designs are totally unique – very bold and modern.
Where do Cape Town women shop for basics?
You know, I’m not sure. I think most of them come to London! I tend to use Zara and Country Road (I didn’t go in there for months because of the terrible name, but actually they do have some good quality basics).
Where’s your favourite shopping area in Cape Town?
I would usually either go to the centre of town and go to Long Street and Bree Street, or head down to the Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. They have a few interior and fashion stores there that are open all week, and on a Saturday they have an incredible market. It gets very busy, but if you can face the crowds it’s a great capsule of South African design and food.
HEALTH & BEAUTY
Do South African women place more or less emphasis on beauty than British women?
I think it’s probably the same as in London, only with different concerns. Sun damage is obviously a worry here, whereas in London it’s more about the stresses of pollution and the lack of sun! A blow-dry is pointless here as Cape Town has what’s known as the Cape Doctor, a fairly brutal, hot, south easterly wind. So you’ll get an au naturel blow dry courtesy of that! Manicures and pedicures are popular here – particularly pedicures since your feet are on show far more than in London.
And what about make-up?
Generally speaking women here wear less make-up, as it slides off in the sun. It’s much more about natural, glowing skin, as heavy make-up looks odd in the sunshine. I actually find it trickier here – it’s easier in London to hide behide more, or stronger, make-up. Pulling off a glorious natural fresh-off-the-beach look is actually much harder!
What is the South African attitude to the body?
One of the first things I noticed here (and still notice) are the incredible bodies. Llandudno beach, with all it’s surfers, is particularly easy on the eye! Over a typical weekend you’ll see a lot of people walking, running, cycling, hiking, paragliding, surfing, swimming… It’s inspiring and depressing in equal measures. But it’s a really healthy attitude – it’s about being fit rather than thin.
What is the South African attitude to eating? Is it stricter or more relaxed than British women’s?
From what I’ve seen it’s more naturally healthy. The fruit and vegetables taste so different, I don’t think I realized how an avocado was meant to taste until I ate one here. Personally, I am certainly more healthy here in terms of my fruit, vegetable and water intake.
Images: Richard Johnson and Roger Neve