One of the reasons visitors from around the globe continue to visit this little coastal city is, naturally, the people – Galway is as well-known for its easygoing residents as it is for its temperamental weather. But an integral visual ingredient to our hospitality is our acceptance and assimilation of just about any clothing, style, or trend.
While walking down Shop Street or sitting out on the Spanish Arch, you are just as likely to see weekend tourists with their Marc Jacobs crossbody bags and Ray Bans, as you are gaggles of teens straight out of a 2000’s punk music video covered with safety pins and anarchy patches.
You could point to the obvious reasons for the eagerness to display this contrasting trendiness and diversity when out on the town: Galway has a long, honorable history intertwined with a sense of pride in having its best-shod foot forward.
For example, Ladies Day at the Galway Races is waited for in anticipation by journalists, bloggers, and spectators alike, eager to see the ‘crème de la crème’ of Irish chicness, beauty, and ingenuity from across the country.
As well as producing local designers, from world-renowned milliner Philip Treacy to up-and-coming shoe designer Barbara Bennet, the City of The Tribes also has an eclectic look that is irrevocably its own. Take the Aran jumpers of every size and colour that keep out the bitter Atlantic wind, or the vintage stores like Public Romance and Planet Retro populated with a never-ending stream of young adults. The locals migh call these young adults “blow-ins,” seeking education or new opportunities, eager for stylistic change and experimentation in a city full of strangers; these are the fundamentals of the Galway look. Just don’t forget the umbrella – every resident’s staple piece.
The vibrancy and laissez-faire attitude of the city is a marker of its fashion as well. Wear a Baja hoodie anywhere else in the country and jokes about either Galway or Electric Picnic are inevitable. But our “come as you are” approach is the crucial ingredient to this city’s boundless self-expression and individuality, especially when it comes to the clothing we are comfortable wearing in public.
As someone who has worn a full Edwardian lingerie dress and a turn-of-the-century picture hat out and about (no it wasn’t cosplay, why do you ask?) I can tell you the difference first-hand. On Grafton Street, I got sideways “is she for real?” smirks and sideways glances, meanwhile on Quay Street, my outfit was met with either compliments or utter indifference. There is a sort of unspoken understanding in Galway that we respect originality rather than mock it, even if it isn’t to our personal taste.
In this writer’s opinion, it is in large part thanks to the youth of the city, who constantly provide us with new ideas and trends while praising their peers for doing the same, viewing fashion as a unique and powerful form of individual expression rather than a childish competition – who’s best dressed? Who cares! Not us. And when you’re a “blow-in”, that kind of acceptance can be magical.