BEIRUT: University students are flocking back to Hamra in preparation for another school year. Some are filling the bar-lined Alleyway, eager to make the most of their fading summer, while their peers at the American University of Beirut, already a week in, can be seen lugging portfolio cases and canvas Gucci totes along Bliss Street.
In the daytime, Hamra offers one of the most eclectic samples of Beirut street style.
Maxiskirts and sneakers, loose-fitting boyfriend jeans, bottle-cap (Harry Potter) glasses: No group better reflects contemporary trends than the youth traipsing around Hamra’s college campuses. These educated and jet-setting young people are often better at putting themselves together than the country’s sometimes perplexing and often vulgar cohort of celebrities and socialites.
This will all be true, at least, until the weight of midterms and the chill of winter set in, and the collegiate masses ditch their eye-lit shirt dresses for pajama pants.
A scan of College Fashionista, a street style website which employs an army of amateur fashion photographers to snap their peers from Texas A&M to St Andrews in Scotland, proves that the college youth of West Beirut are toe to toe with their international peers. That is, with a few ubiquitous style trends unique to the Lebanese.
Case in point: The Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers. The question isn’t do they own a pair; it’s how many pairs do they own. One 20-something loitering outside February 30 bar Sunday evening claimed upward of a dozen.
The most popular style is a pair of white, lace-less low tops: Guys wear them, girls wear them. They were worn to make summer dresses more casual or to keep a laid-back look paired with slouchy, ripped jeans.
While temperatures are still in the low 30s, the miniskirt is fluttering around in various interpretations. A vision of pure prep, one young woman had a plaid, pleated Holister skirt balanced with an oversized white tee and a pair of – surprise, surprise – red high-top Converse.
A classmate just across the street wore a white skirt with rigged geometric points also paired with Converse and a light blue sleeveless blouse.
Then there is the mullet skirt, long in the back and short in the front. The asymmetrical skirt has hung in stores for several seasons, but finally swept through as a summer staple this season. Bill Cunningham, street style guru and photographer for The New York Times, marveled in a summer post about the way the skirts float behind like the trailing scent of a woman’s perfume.
There was also a curious lack of plain blue jeans this back-to-school season. Of course, people are wearing them, but not nearly as often as they’re wearing jeans in bright colors, tie-dyes and tribal prints.
A pair of loose-fitting, tie-die jeans in shocking watermelon turns the T-shirt and sneakers duo into something worth looking at.
They were on parade in all shades: lemonade yellow, magenta and gray-scale florals. And while the average woman the world over stares at her pair of white jeans with caution, the masses of Hamra, men and women, are covered in bleach white jeans or their light-beige cousins.
The single most important accessory among the women returning to school seemed to be the giant designer purse, perfect for storing notebooks and laptops or just parading around, brand logo to the world.
A patent burgandy Armani Jeans tote, a translucent plastic chartreuse handbag, a canvas Gucci beach bag, brown and tan checkers of Louis Vuitton and Longchamp in every color: the fresh spoils of summer shopping.
And when the inevitable sets in and style loses out to comfort, a few young ladies demonstrated that they were already prepared with ankle-hugging, jersey pants in colorful florals.