Despite the bandeau's prevalence amongst off-duty celebrities and the tiny-sunglass-ed blogger set, it wasn't either group that inspired beauty and lifestyle creator Leah Allyannah to make bra tops a style signature — it was actually a photo of her mother from the '90s, taken shortly after she'd arrived in America from Guyana.
"My mom and I have similar styles, like how I dress now is how she used to dress when she was younger," says the 21-year-old native New Yorker. "When I look at pictures, she’s wearing the high-waisted pants with crop tops, the knee-high socks, and chunky sneakers. I think since I have that style, she remembers that she dressed how she wanted when she came here, so she wants me to do the same."
Fashion moves in a cyclical pattern — with the late 20th century hovering at the top of the wheel for seasons now — but regardless of trends, strong, uniquely American style does seem to run in the Allyannah family. Take Leah's looks here, all from H&M's celebratory 4th of July collection, which demonstrate the fearless dressing she attributes to her mom and dad becoming Americans in their late teens. As immigrants, they readily adopted the clothes of their new home as a form of assimilation; then, as parents, they handed down this openness, inspiring Leah to develop her own sense of sartorial freedom.
"Since they came here as young adults, they’re more lenient with my style, like wearing crop tops and accentuating my body. I feel like in my culture, I was one of the first to start dressing like this on YouTube and [online]. I was the first Guyanese girl just being myself and standing out, in a way. My parents encourage me to dress and look however I want."
Her love of color, torso-hugging denim, space buns, and exposed midriffs might not seem all that shocking today, but growing up in a relatively conservative culture in which "you can be judged for how you dress, if you’re showing your stomach too much or just being a woman," Allyannah says that she was frequently on the receiving end of stares. (There's no lingering resentment, though — she chalks it up to "Guyanese people always [having] something to say. They’re not hating, they’re just giving their input.") But as time passed, Allyannah says she found more confidence — and acceptance from her peers. "It was kind of uncomfortable, like, Dang, this is what I want to wear. But now, I’m just like whatever. It’s a new generation, and everybody wants to dress differently. Now, people aren’t as judgmental."
In Allyannah's career, too, she says she's enjoyed a degree of independence. Her parents, both of whom are market data analysts, have embraced her work in the arts, a path that had been unavailable to them in Guyana. In fact, while her mom and dad passed down their own interests in acting and photography, any pressure to consider a more traditional path came from Allyannah herself.
"Some of my friends’ parents want them to be doctors or nurses or pharmacists. I’m just glad my parents came here and saw that you should just keep moving forward. In the back of my head, [though], it always made me feel less-than, because [my friends are] studying [medicine], and obviously their schooling is harder than mine. I just kept comparing myself to them. But then I thought about how much goes into being a creative. You just can’t compare."
Leaving doubt — and memories of those critical stares — in the past, Allyannah says she's proud to come from a culture that places togetherness at its center.
"We’re just so into family," she says ahead of Independence Day, which she'll spend "having a barbecue, blasting music, and just having fun with my loved ones." "That’s really important to have. Guyanese people are so family-oriented, and they’re always looking for a reason to meet up. Parties are always big and wholesome. I love that I’m from a culture that loves one another."
Family also factors largely into the future Allyannah imagines for herself, a version of the "American dream" that's actually pretty old-fashioned: just her, her boyfriend (hopefully turned husband, she says), a house, and financial stability — a modest vision she says reflects the "take it easy" attitude of her generation versus the accomplishment-driven, "plan, plan, plan" mentality of her parents'.
"Sometimes I’m like, I wish I could spontaneously move, but I would be so jealous that the rest of my family’s together. My American dream is continuing what I have now but more open, and just...more. I’ve noticed that when my family’s okay, and when I’m with [them], I’m the most content."