After a few unexpected returns of the winter weather this season, Hamilton is finally starting to come out of hibernation. With increased foot traffic downtown and the Gore Park fountain no longer running dry, the city has been overcome with a sense of vitality.
Yet there’s something different about Hamilton beyond new additions to City Hall and the flourishing gardens. I would say that much of what makes the city what it is, what defines its character and uniqueness, can be found in its people.
And sometimes more specifically on its people.
I sat on a bench overlooking King Street West with a friend trying to define what the city’s style is. He was born and raised in Hamilton, wears mismatched socks and isn’t shy of the few wears and stains on his denim shorts.
On the other hand, I was raised in Mississauga where I have not so fond memories of feeling the social pressure to always dress my best, especially if it was for a trip to the mall. This is in stark contrast to what I often see at Jackson Square, where people unapologetically dress in any way they want.
There is diversity in people’s style, but there’s an underlying attitude that seems consistent across the board. Pardon me when I say this, but a lot of people simply don’t give a shit.
I was walking along James Street North when a guy in head to toe blue and orange flannel caught my eye. I got to know him as Sean Gratton, a filmmaker, actor and musician, who was strolling around that day in his ‘I don’t give a shit about society outfit’.
To gather more evidence to support the notion that Hamilton indeed doesn’t give a shit, I spoke with Becky Katz, artist, musician and Director of Outreach at Center3, who also happens to manage the Square Wear (@square_where) Instagram account.
Square Wear chronicles the unique fashions of Jackson Square and surrounding areas. It surfaced in 2016, years after Katz and her friend, Victoria, came up with the idea late one night while in university.
Katz has captured quite a few people that give Hamilton character. She often photographs a lady named Margaret, often recognizing her from her colourful attire and shopping cart decorated in ribbons and sunflowers. She met Alyshia and Ricki last spring as they carried their two pet birds and a guinea pig for a stroll to the Bayfront.
Eye-catching fur coats, outfits that push the limits of patterns and layering, eccentric pieces and repurposed pajamas often make up the Jackson Square fashion scene.
Katz paid homage to Hamilton’s attitude in Sweat Pant City, a screen printed series in collaboration with Matt McInnes that was included in the 2013 Waysgoose anthology.
“Hamilton’s [style] is wearing whatever the hell you want…there are certainly a lot of people who do try to be cool, but at Jackson Square you do see a lot of people who couldn’t care less. I love that so much, especially when their fashion sense shines through that and it’s just inherent in them,” explained Katz.
Kiera Boult is a regular on Square Wear, she pays no mind to the practicality or occasion, always dressing in what makes her feel like the boss she is.
“I dress like a crow built a nest. The shinier the better… If it is embellished and heavy with sequins or jewels I’m going to buy it, even if it doesn’t fit me,” explained Boult.
Her current favourite item is a seafoam green vinyl miniskirt, but that piece is almost retired. According to Boult, everything has its moment and if you want to look your best you can’t wear outfits competitively ever again.
Boult describes Hamilton as dressing like its 1987, a year notable for Black Monday, when stock markets around the world crashed and it was around the same time Hamilton settled into a recession as Dofasco and Stelco cut thousands of jobs.
“There’s a post-industrial feel [to the way people dress], it’s kind of gritty, vintage, second-hand, and worn,” explained Boult.
Boult has a point, but despite the city’s strange style, it’s deeply endearing. There are no rules or fashion faux pas to fear because there are no shits given in this city.