I moved to Charleston, South Carolina before the James Beard awards and the Travel Magazines had grabbed ahold of it. When I moved here, it was still a small town with a big history and only enough people to feel bustling, but never busy. This was 2010 and I had just made the biggest decision of my life. I had stood in the Milan airport, willing myself to muster up the courage to skip my flight home to the U.S. and stay in Italy without a plan nor a place to live. The fears of an unknown future got me on the plane that day, and thirteen hours later I found myself a new resident of South Carolina.
This world was more foreign to me than Italy had been. I had grown accustom to the rythym and fashions of Italian life and had never spent any real time in the American South. The heat, the humidity, the long southern drawls and the slow meandering gate of its people was strange and out of place with my fast walking busy NY self. I had to learn to slow it all down. I had to re-learn how to be polite (you wave at your neighbors when they drive by) and how to dress (for hot weather most of the year).
The charm of this place is easy to see. The blue herons that stalk the marshlands in the mornings, fighting over the small fish that get caught in the tide pools. The sun washed beaches that provide the background for an entire nine months of fun. The cascading spanish moss that trickles down from ancient crooked oaks, that unceremoniously line the busy throughways of my daily commutes. Charleston definitely won me over, and taking a little longer in the grocery store to stop and chat with the checkout lady is a fine trade off.
The style of this city is defined as well by the ease and joy of its people. When I first moved here from New York I declared loudly, and arrogantly that this city “has no swagger”. This came from a childish and pretty unfashionable twenty-three year old, who hadn’t yet seen that the style of the city was a reflection of its past and its values. The style here is clean-cut, conservative, colorful to the point of garish, and very very preppy. If you look behind the traditional southern aesthetic you will see that you can tell a lot about a city by how its native peoples dress. When I first moved here I would note the older gentlemen walking to their offices downtown in three-piece suits, wiping their brows with handkerchiefs before returning their straw brimmed hats to their sweltering heads. The average temperature here is near 80 on most spring and summer days and yet, style won out over function. After ten years living here I can actually say that I hope this does not change. With so many newcomers to the area we are flooded with “Yankees” and with that comes a homogenization of style and fashion. The old mixing with the new until you can’t quite tell if a person is a native southerner or just a transplant. So although I can’t really look at Lily Pulitzer with any affection, I can certainly hope she does not go missing from the crowd any time soon. What a weird place Charleston would be without its colorful ladies and dapper gentlemen.