I’m Moving to a New City. Do I Have to Change the Way I Dress?

Every major city has its style stereotypes, sometimes many at the same time. New York is dark colors and conceptual shreds, banker suiting and Park Avenue bouclé. Seattle is fleece. (So is San Francisco.) Dallas is cowboy boots and diamonds. Los Angeles is leggings and Erewhon cups. Paris is blazers and perfectly draped scarves. And so on.

I’m not saying this is true, you understand. These are obvious clichés. But clichés exist because they have some critical mass in truth. And the truth is, whenever you get a concentrated number of people in a single place, as you do in an urban center, a fashion ethos will emerge. One with its own language and staples borne of the dominant industry of the place, its climate, its value system and the visual makeup of the city itself: its colors, building blocks and history.

You would dress differently in a warm place with low stucco buildings where you are often outside and can see an expanse of blue (sky) and green (grass) than you would in a place of concrete and stainless steel. Dress codes are also culture codes, and every place has its camouflage.

So the first thing to consider is how much you want to fit in. Or, conversely, to signal to those around you that you are a transplant. After all, if you are new to a place and not sure of the mores, or even the best spot to get coffee, it can be useful to let people know. And dress is a way to manage expectations.

I get the desire to be one with the crowd (we have all been through middle school) and to avoid the sticky prejudices that sometimes attach to coming from somewhere else — you are a snob, or pretentious, or a hick. But don’t discount the allure of being the new guy in town. Or of being an individual when it comes to style, which can suggest independent thinking and creativity.

To that end, it’s fine to stick with the wardrobe you have, especially if it makes you feel comfortable, at least in the beginning. Moving to a new city can be a shock and always requires a period of adjustment. There’s no need to upend the way you telegraph your identity — which is, after all, the point of fashion. Decisions (especially ones that involve money) should never be made in haste and without all necessary information. Like a sense of what everyone wears. And that happens only with firsthand experience.

In the meantime, small adjustments can often take you far. If your new place is more casual than your old, wear a suit jacket with jeans instead of matching pants, or a skirt with sneakers rather than heels. If it is less casual, add a bright scarf or simply tuck in your shirt.

To a certain extent, wardrobe adaptation happens by attrition. Pieces that may have seemed alien to you in your old home will, when seen often enough, seem like natural purchases in your new. A good friend who moved from Brooklyn to Seattle a few years ago told me that she knew she had finally settled in when she realized she could buy her work clothes at REI.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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