Though Tyler is far from the fashion capitals of the world like New York or Paris, you don’t have to look hard to find evidence of thriving fashion creatives making their mark in the city. Name brands, flashy jewelry, triple-digit price tags and vintage and thrift finds hold prominence in Tyler, despite a long-standing love for casual apparel (Racquet and Jog tee paired with leggings, anyone?).
With social media’s inspiration at the fingertips, anyone can be a fashion influencer, regardless of their style’s popularity or budget. Trends are widespread and offer a variety of looks, even where there is no precedent. Rather than being a means of simply getting dressed, Tyler’s fashion has evolved to include more expressive and even extravagant styles.
To get a scope of Tyler’s fashion scene over time, we spoke with four Tyler residents engaged in the sartorial world. Despite differing opinions on the state of fashion in Tyler, all four agreed: Tyler has room for improvement.
Shelby Mallard, 24, is a fashion influencer living in Tyler. Mallard has trail-blazed Tyler’s fashion scene through her brand, Cowgirl Barbie.
Mallard began marketing Cowgirl Barbie in 2020 by opening an online retail business under the name. Though the business is out of commission, the Cowgirl Barbie aesthetic has become Mallard’s personal look.
Mallard spent a year in Dallas after college before moving back to Tyler. When comparing style in both cities, she noted Tyler’s lack of sartorial expression. In a region where t-shirts and gym shorts are standard errand-running fare, Mallard said living in a larger city gave her more fashion freedom.
“I definitely felt more comfortable wearing what I wanted in Dallas,” she said. “You don’t see people wearing fur coats to grocery shop here.”
Mallard feels the aesthetics, resources and environment of bigger cities allow fashion to flourish. While Tyler has seen fashion growth in recent years, she said as a content creator, the area can be limiting.
“Living in a small town can definitely hurt you, but luckily, I’ve had some amazing opportunities,” she said. “It’s all about who you know.”
In college, Mallard modeled for a local vintage store, Alex & Afton. Though the store has since relocated to Dallas, Mallard was able to meet future colleagues she’d later work with at Velvet, a Tyler vintage shop off the square that opened in 2020. Through connections at Velvet, Mallard attended Austin fashion week.
In Mallard’s eyes, Tyler fashion is driven by local retail and vintage shops. Mallard finds that Tyler’s local shops have a drawback.
“Boutiques can’t keep up with fast trends in the way corporate stores can,” she said.
Despite this, Tyler’s fashion enthusiasts have been able to use local shops to their advantage, making cool statements from standalone pieces.
Sara Goforth, 24, shared a similar sentiment. Goforth, another fashion influencer in Tyler, traveled to New York in 2016. Ever since, she has noticed the gap closing between Tyler and New York’s fashion scenes.
Goforth feels Tyler’s fashion scene was once dominated by preppy, designer and put-together looks. The mismatched style she observed in New York, free of conspicuous name brands, inspired her. She said thrifting culture in Tyler has helped shift the scene significantly, so that achieving a chic aura is accessible.
“We’re getting to a point where we don’t have to wear our pearl earrings with everything, we don’t have to match everything perfectly,” she said. “We’re wearing things because we think they look cool, not because they’re designer,” Goforth said
Like Mallard, Goforth spent a year in Dallas before moving back to her hometown. She said success was easier to find in Tyler. Goforth has secured numerous brand deals through her Instagram, @sarasgoforth and regularly appears in TikTok ads for Revolve, a retail company.
Living in Tyler has only created difficulty for Goforth in terms of accessibility to certain pieces. When asked to promote a specific product for which Tyler has no vendor, she resorts to purchasing online. However, living in a small town may ultimately be an advantage for those looking to make a name in the fashion world.
As Judy VanDeventer, 24, put it, “It’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond.”
VanDeventer hails from Tyler but lived in some of the biggest fashion capitals, including New York, London and Los Angeles. She’s no stranger to the fashion industry, gaining experience while interning for Hardly Ever Worn It, a fashion consignment boutique based in London. The company resells vintage items online and in-store.
VanDeventer saw her fair share of styles, influencers and price tags while trekking across the world. Now back home, she feels her hometown has been able to keep up with ongoing trends despite lacking the store options its larger neighbors enjoy.
“We definitely don’t have the same resources as metropolises or the comfort of being able to wear exactly what we want,” she said, “but you’re able to find what’s trending on at least somebody or a few people in this town.”
VanDeventer said the conservative nature of Tyler has been the greatest challenge for her style. According to her, the freedom to express herself through fashion is limited by what is socially acceptable.
Goforth shared similar feelings, saying the area makes her consciously wonder if her outfits might be too showy or too much. Bright colors, sparkles and mid-driffs feature heavily in the majority of Goforth’s favorite pieces. While she may feel comfortable wearing a crop top, pairing it with sparkly pumps makes her feel out of place in her fashion-reserved hometown.
“I try not to be too out there, because I do want to wear what I want, but I don’t want constant staring when I walk in a room,” Goforth said.
Despite these concerns, VanDeventer feels confident Tyler is slowly increasing its fashion lexicon. Stores have begun catering to trending subgenres of fashion, such as athleisure and alternative styles.
“We’re living in a time where there is no coherency or commonality in fashion,” VanDeventer said. “Trends are being combined with others to create what’s ‘in,’ and Tyler has done a good job at providing us with an array of these trends, even if it’s not a lot in terms of volume.”
VanDeventer noted her interest in a less explored facet of style in Tyler: queer fashion. While Tyler is home to many in the LGBTQ+ community, the blending of gender norms isn’t a concept widely adopted locally.
Yerman Martínez, 26, feels the scarcity of unisex apparel and expression is directly linked to the community’s lack of exposure. Martínez has lived in Tyler most of their life, taking a break to attend middle school in Mexico before returning.
As an emerging adult, Martínez experienced feelings of gender dysphoria and later came out as nonbinary in 2021. At the time, they were becoming more involved with fashion. According to them, fluidity in their outfits became a catalyst for self-discovery.
“I realized that I don’t care about gender, I’m just myself and want to express who I am through what I wear, makeup-wise, clothing-wise, all of it,” they said.
Martínez is no stranger to a bit of eyeliner and fishnets, but their shift into a new identity made expression a new ballpark, one that became trickier to navigate in Tyler’s conservative climate.
“People see something different and it’s life-changing for them,” they said. “It doesn’t make you feel as comfortable to wear what you want or express yourself.”
Safety and trust play a large role in Martínez’s daily life, both needing to be present in order to feel comfortable in their clothes.
“If you know you’re surrounded by good people and a good environment, you’ll feel more comfortable … going about your day, running errands in a more scandalous outfit,” they said. “A crop top and some high-waisted jeans will turn some heads here.”
While wearing that exact outfit, Martínez experienced ‘head turns’ to an extreme. While attending the East Texas State Fair with their family, they were slurred at by strangers in a vehicle for their androgynous appearance.
For Martínez, Tyler residences’ willful lack of exposure to LGBTQ+ influences in fashion has created the issue.
“People need to grow up and read a book, change the channel, read some new articles,” they said. “People have the necessities they need to be exposed to the community and fashion.”
In a city dominated by the ‘southern prep’ aesthetic, a term used by VanDeventer, Martínez hopes there will come a time when Tyler embraces queer fashion.
“There’s room for everyone,” they said. “It’s not the end of the world because a boy wears a crop top, it’s just a piece of fabric that goes on you.”
In addition to southern prep, Tyler’s strong suit has always long its prominence of western wear. In an area heavily involved in agriculture, cowboy boots, and denim have been a staple of Tyler fashion.
Outside of Tyler, western style has stayed consistently relevant in fashion over the years, with western flair appearing in designer runways such as 90’s Moschino and Chanel’s Texas-centric 2014 pre-fall collection.
Today, a more maximalist, bedazzled style replaces the classic cowboy/girl look. The ongoing trend has centered around an electric space cowgirl style, combining western looks with sparkles and bright colors. Pop culture has driven this shift, with popular musicians like Lil Nas X and East Texas’ own Kacey Musgraves donning fringe dresses, bell bottoms and neon cowboy hats. Even artists outside of country music have joined the fun, such as rapper Megan Thee Stallion sporting rhinestoned cowboy hats during shows.
For Mallard, the Cowgirl Barbie of Tyler, she couldn’t be more pleased with the western trend. East Texas had a leg up on fashion capitals from the start, already supplying locals with western wear through stores like Cavender’s and Boot Barn.
According to Mallard, the shift into pop-version western wear was easy since Tyler already had the blueprint.
“The women’s section of Cavender’s is now geared toward this aesthetic, adding sequins, tassels, metallic finishes and fun colors to their products,” she said. “You can tell the trends are coming, they’re affecting something that was already here and not available before.”
Growing up, Mallard adored western aesthetics and attire. However, she immediately noticed the lack of diversity in western culture as a Black woman. “Western fashion has a very eurocentric scope,” she said.
In 2022, Mallard began her styling business, where she offers a variety of services such as style consultations and closet organizations. She began the business due to the lack of diversity she witnessed growing up. With it, Mallard has allowed other women to feel comfortable in what they wear and upheld her fight for representation in the western world. You can find Mallard and her business through her Instagram, @shelbycomin_aroundthemountain.
Sydney Peloquin is a Tyler, Texas native. She received her associate’s degree from Tyler Junior College in 2020 and graduated from The University of Texas at Tyler in the fall of 2022 with a Bachelors of Science in mass communication. In her spare time, she enjoys creating art and reading.
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