Cars Meets Fashion: Nobody Walks in L.A.
The city’s love affair with automobiles and intersection with fashion
Let’s go back in time...
Location: Los Angeles
Time period: mid-1980’s
The bustle of rush hour traffic in Hollywood is at its peak. Cars are bumper to bumper making the commute home long and arduous. At the next stopping point a billboard above shows an all-American woman with big, blonde hair, doe eyes, and a Barbie pink outfit. She is laid out gracefully on top of a bright pink Corvette. She is living the dream and nothing sets the tone better for Hollywood in the 80’s than a gorgeous blonde and a bright pink Corvette.
The model on the billboard was likely singer, model, and 1980’s heartthrob Angelyne, the hailed billboard Queen of Hollywood. Angelyne’s image plastered on billboards throughout the city is one of many touchstones in a long and colorful history of how cars and fashion seem forever intertwined in Los Angeles. Cars coupled with star-studded actors and actresses is a long-standing marketing technique still seen today because, well, it works.
If you want to make it in Hollywood, you’ll need a car to get there. The more extravagant and fabulously designed, the better. Los Angeles is a car-obsessed city in a town so spread out and vast that many consider it impossible to navigate without a vehicle.
How did it come to be that way?
The History of Car Ownership in Los Angeles
In the mid-1800s, Los Angeles was not a car-centered town, but dominated by railroads. By the early 1900s, the city evolved to a streetcar town. However, as early as the 1910s, popular public opinion held that public transportation (streetcars) was unreliable and overcrowded. As a result, the early L.A. based populous began using early taxis (“jitneys”) or purchasing personal vehicles. This was the start of everyone and their mother owning a car.
By 1930, L.A. was home to more than 800,000 registered automobiles. At the same time, cities around L.A were rapidly building vertically, while L.A. grew outward making cars a necessity. The city would see and turn down many proposals for expanded public transit throughout the 20th century. Instead, residents and lawmakers continuously voted to invest taxes in highways. L.A. quickly became locked into its path as a car-centric city and it hasn’t slowed on the path.
Hollywood dreams in cherry red and sky blue
In the neighboring city of Hollywood, vintage and luxury car sightings are as frequent as star-studded run-ins thirty years ago and today. While shopping on Rodeo Drive, it is not uncommon to see a replica of James Bond’s Aston Martin or a look-a-like vintage Chevy from American Graffiti. Head over to Hollywood Boulevard and listen for an ear-splitting rev from a souped-up custom car straight out of The Fast & the Furious franchise.
In the early days of car ownership in Hollywood owning a car and having a career in showbusiness was about being seen and showcasing your best assets.
An Intersection of Cars and Fashion
Seeing the same grand and fabulous cars on a visual medium translates over to fashion where trends in Hollywood and L.A. quickly seep into the public eye, replicated by the visual spectator opening a gossip magazine.
Quickly, L.A. and Hollywood became synonymous with both high fashion and the luxury or vintage car experience. Tourist destinations from Mel’s Drive-In to the end of Route 66 became places to see and be seen. Beautifully designed cars and limousines drop off the most glamorous movie stars donning couture at a movie premier. It seems that one cannot exist without the other.
The car-obsessed culture doesn’t only extend to celebrities. The Los Angeles car culture exists among locals, too. One place the general public flock to is the Petersen Automotive Museum. On the exterior the museum is styled with sleek curves and bright red paint mimicking the timeless classic color of luxury and vintage vehicles. For luxury car fanatics, the Porche Experience Center is just outside of L.A and stands as a veritable playground for fans of the famous brand.
Much like its film and fashion, Los Angeles’ automotive culture constantly pushes forward - incorporating new trends, technologies, and aspirational styles. It is apparent that with such a rich history and current trend-setting L.A. will continue to be the city to watch for years to come.