Why Naming Anchorage the Worst-Dressed City in America is Stupid, and Also Wrong (Because It's Obviously Fairbanks)

memday seward 08.jpg
Photos by Christina Uticone
White shoes allowed, but impractical, for this 2008 Memorial Day beach vacay in Seward, AK.
Last Friday I was bombarded with the link to this Yahoo! story about Anchorage being voted the Worst Dressed city in America by Travel & Leisure magazine readers. Having lived in Alaska for three years before moving to Houston, I'm used to people sending me Alaska-related news items. (August 29, 2008, was one of the most annoying days of my life -- I was trying to move from Anchorage to Fairbanks that day, and everyone I knew in the Lower 48 was calling to ask me who the hell my governor was, anyway.)

I am usually pretty patient, and happy to answer questions because I get the fascination -- Alaska is fairly exotic to most people, and sparks the imagination of those who have never been. But after the eleventy billionth time the "Anchorage is the Worst Dressed City in America" story was e-mailed, IMed and Tweeted to me, I started to get pretty pissed off. I only lived in Anchorage for one summer -- I lived in Fairbanks the rest of the time I was in Alaska -- and this poll's conclusion really started to irk me. Who the eff do these people think they are, voting Anchorage the worst-dressed city in America?

It's obviously Fairbanks, dammit! Also, this:

If you are in Alaska looking at people's clothes, you are doing it wrong. And by "it" I mean "Alaska." If you are noticing what people are wearing, it's quite possible you just missed a moose. Or a mountain. Or a bear. Not to mention that Alaskans are very "honey badger" (as in, they don't give a shit) about what you (read: Outsiders) think of them. So, let's talk about Alaskan fashion.

Instead of looking cute, Alaskans are focused on one thing for more than half the year: not freezing to death. Weather varies widely throughout the state, but generally speaking winter lasts from October to April. (Native Texans might even say August to June -- depends on your threshold, I guess.)

It's incredibly difficult to be stylish when the weather is minus-50 degrees for weeks on end. Trust me, I tried. At those temperatures, even when you're inside you're cold, so pardon the ladies for not busting out their cutest skirts. And even in the summer -- when the sun shines all day and all night -- temperatures drop quickly.

AK Tgiving.jpg
My single most stylish day in Alaska: Thanksgiving 2008.
In Alaska we bundle up, and we stay bundled up for six or more months: long underwear, jeans or Carhartts, long-sleeved tees under short-sleeve tees, all under sweatshirts and sweaters, and usually with a scarf and a hat, too -- even inside.

We ski and sled and snowshoe when it's warm enough, and we stay inside and drink when it's not. We huddle around roaring bonfires at minus-30 degrees and drink cans of PBR and flasks full of scotch, held between hands sheathed in mittens and gloves.

We trudge from building to car, car to building, and back again. The cold, and the dirt, and the stones that are thrown down to give us traction when we drive (road salt doesn't work at 50-below) worry the bottoms of our pants to shreds. So pardon us if we skip buying the latest cut of jeans -- we would rather just bang up last year's crappy pair of jeans that we bought at Value Village, anyway. We wear our flair as outerwear -- hats, gloves, scarves, mittens, and balaclavas are more important and more stylish than our footwear.

Do Alaskans always look like shit? No, of course not. But the rough climate and the active, outdoor lifestyle combine to create an extremely laid-back atmosphere. I've attended business meetings with a bandana on my head because I didn't have enough time to wash and dry my greasy hair before walking outside, and I was never the only one with a bandana on at any of those meetings. (Have you ever had wet hair freeze and break off? I have, it sucks--bandanas are better.)

In Alaska, you can wear hideously ugly bunny boots anywhere you like, because no one is going to give you the side-eye for not wanting to lose your toes to frostbite. Even the nicest restaurants don't have dress codes, because it would eliminate pretty much any local from becoming a customer.

And you know what? It's an incredibly fucking freeing experience, not worrying about what you look like all the time. I go back to Alaska at least twice a year, and you know what I pack? Underwear, tee-shirts, a sweatshirt, sneakers, hiking boots, two bandanas, waterproof coat/pants, jeans, socks, and a scarf; in my toiletry kit I pack a toothbrush, face wipes, moisturizer, Q-tips, and deodorant.

No mascara. No bras. No lipstick. No slips, or tights, or non-practical footwear of any kind. I don't get a manicure. I don't buy a cute new swimsuit. I don't wear jewelry other than my wedding ring. The bottom line is that, more than in most places, Alaskans dress with utility and survival in mind; add that to the lack of shopping options -- at my fingertips in Fairbanks were a Sears, a Fred Meyer, an Old Navy, and several REI-style sporting goods stores--and you don't get a recipe for a high-fashion population.

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Canoe trip on the Chatanika River, June 2009. Forgot: Current issue of Vogue. Remembered: Beer, scotch, & bear spray.
Oh, and as a former-and-always Fairbanksan, I REALLY take exception to the idea that Los Anchorage--the slick, "big city" part of Alaska, where there is a Gap and a Nordstrom and a Banana Republic; the city where, if you stand in just the right place you might even be able to see the "real" Alaska? -- is the worst dressed city in Alaska.

I posit that Fairbanks, that city at the end of the road, is far worse dressed than its well-heeled sister to the south. And happily so. We'll take our endless days of summer and seize the opportunity, not to look yanked from a fashion magazine, but to spend every minute enjoying the 24 hours of sunlight on trails, mountaintops, and canoeing down rivers full of fish that we'll catch and eat for dinner. Who needs Louboutins for that?


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18 comments
fgschneider
fgschneider

That's moose poop. It's cold there. Whoopdeedoo. It gets cold in a lot of places. That's not an excuse to wear rags. Yep, you have "active lifestyles." It must take a lot of energy to run from your house to your car and your car to the supermarket.  Freezing hair? I'm sure they have hair-dryers in Alaska, just wake up 10 minutes early. Want to know what will help protect your skin from getting wind-chapped? A layer of make up. My wife and I have the same "winter clothes" whether we are in Florida or the freakin' Ukraine. We don't let -20 temperatures become an excuse to rip holes in our clothes and roll around in mud. There are many places throughout the world wear the men choose to shave and and bathe and the women choose to wear mini skirts and heels (gasp! Even though it's "cold.) Being an unkempt slob isn't an Alaskan thing, it's an American thing.

joltzi
joltzi

Why would anyone even consider anywhere in Alaska, there are so many cities in the states where people have the option to wear what ever they want, and they still dress like slobs. (Not that ppl in Alaska are dressed like slobs mind you but you get the point.) Don't even get me started on how much of the U.S is not wearing clothes that fit! You should not be bulging out of anything anywhere!

Charlene Ray
Charlene Ray

love the transfer stations, better stuff than value village, its free, the return policy is awesome - the mosquito's suck in the summer and the winters make for quick shopping spree's :) but its always fun!

Charlene Ray
Charlene Ray

i am always telling people that after winter is almost over that 10 above zero is tshirt weather - and that anything over 75 is way to damn hot but the river is so damn cold - lmao

Rickmoss02
Rickmoss02

I was born and raised in Fairbanks. There is NO dresscode. In Denver now. Hate it. Cookiecutter BS. Cannot wait to get back To Fbks, Go to Thrifty Liquor, Slam a quart, then head to Rejections. When they close, grab my fishing pole and head to the gravel pits  behind the Alaska club to nail some big ass pike. Oh ya, smoke some kick ass bud too!

Stephen Gale
Stephen Gale

Well written and right to the point. I lived in a small town in the Wasatch mountians and have experienced -40, although it was only for two to four weeks. Those that were fashion driven were freezing.

Ms Marilyn Lewis
Ms Marilyn Lewis

Still judging about clothes? Let's fire the fashion police and dress comfortably for who we are and what we do. 

Barb in AK
Barb in AK

There wasn't Sears and Old Navy when I lived in Fbks.  Just good ol' Freddies and Big Ray's!  Now imagine how many of the citizens had the exact same outfit ;-)

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

I'm glad you enjoyed it--and boy would I love to see that photo! Many of my favorite items of clothing (and housewares) have come from Value Village, but I never found an LBD! In that photo of me from Thanksgiving I changed into knee-high, high-heeled boots after we got to the party but abandoned them after an hour since we were going back and forth, inside & outside, anyway! And every time I drive by Lathrop I yell GO MUTES! because I saw that on a sign once and it just tickled me silly. You guys have my favorite high school mascot in FBX!

WaxingFairbanksPoetic
WaxingFairbanksPoetic

Christina, your article was a lot of fun.  As a current Houstonian who grew up in FBKS, it brought back a lot of great memories.  My parents moved to "the City" (Anchorage) when I was a senior in High School.  I stayed in FBKS to finish school, working at the old National Bank of Alaska as a bank teller.  My boss at the bank was a beautiful ex-Californian that wore gorgeous heels to work every day (well, she wore boots in the car and changed at work) that's how we rolled.  I remember one winter day when heater went out in my 66 ford mustang, I drove to work in my mini-skirt and heels with a blanket on my lap scraping ice off my front window as I barreled down the Johanson Expressway!  And one my favorite high school fbks fashion moments was finding the PERFECT little black dress for $12 at Value Village!  Let me know if you want to see pics of that :)  We knew how to stay alive, and we knew how to be fashionable when it mattered, no matter what the temperature. - signed, lathrop h.s. class of 96 (hockey cheer leader and gold panning instructor - no lie)

Haystack girl
Haystack girl

Thank you for setting the lower 48 straight! Fairbanks is an awesome place, and I am grateful that I was able to live there for 8 years. I miss dressing for survival, and I especially miss Fred Meyers and the Prospector!!

Elvismaster
Elvismaster

Wait--u get more shopping than Fred Meyers or costco?? Cause that's all we get in Juneau... :) In the SE AK its not so much about staying warm as it is about being waterproof ... I agree with ur basic premise tho'--functionality trumps cute/ fashionable. Long live us hearty Alaskans!!

Conni
Conni

I love it!!! I was thinking the same thing! Anchorage??? FAIRBANKS!!!!

Pdottens
Pdottens

Don't forget the ultimate sensible footwear. The Juneau sneaker ( a kneehigh gum boot ) is good against rain, slish, and even cold if lined.

Danielle
Danielle

Giant cyber high-five coming right at you from a Fairbanksan of 11 years who grew up in Anchorage.  Yes to everything you just said.

conebaby
conebaby topcommenter

@fgschneider So interesting that I happened to check back in on this article--I'm packing for my Christmas trip to Fairbanks.

Dude, it was a fun article to write. Get a hold of yourself. Tongue planted firmly in cheek. But to address a few of your specific points:

1. It takes a lot of energy to ski, snowshoe, drive/hike out to hot springs (some of which you have to dig out yourself), hunt, and any number of outdoor activities Alaskans engage in throughout the winter. Just because you can't hang at cold temperatures doesn't mean everyone hides indoors til Breakup. (That's spring, to you Outsiders.)

2. Sometimes my meetings weren't in the morning--gasp!--but the afternoon, right after my lunchtime ski. I'd ski at another time, but the sun was only up for a couple of hours so it was kind of ideal. Sometimes you gotta ski when you can and skip the shower. No one in Alaska ever minded. But boy, do you seem to!

3. A layer of Aquaphor works just as well as makeup, and doesn't cost nearly as much.

4. Rip holes in our clothes? Roll around in mud (that doesn't exist at -20)? What article are you reading?

Get a sense of humor, man. Seriously.

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