Does Seattle have a fashion sense?

In a place where people show up at the opera in fleece, what should beauty look like?
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Boomerang fashion: stirrup pants

In a place where people show up at the opera in fleece, what should beauty look like?

By the mere fact of my chosen geographical location — Seattle — I'm no fashion-obsessed clothes horse. People here, as it's been well documented, don't give a pashmina about fashion. Seattleites are likely to show up at the opera in fleece, and they practically invented socks with sandals, as Pemco insurance has recently satirized. As a freelancer with a home office, I add working in one's pajamas to the list and am guilty as charged.

Even so, I've developed over the years certain opinions about what beauty should and shouldn't mean. These range from the mildest of peeves to passions so strongly held, I just might create a Facebook cause out of them.

For starters, I'm not a fan of guidelines that restrict creative expression so that the "right" look for the "right" face shape/body type/age are matched appropriately. I say, if a woman in her 60s looks good in a mini-skirt, by all means, let her show off some thigh. One of my favorite journalistic photos is one taken recently in Beijing of a girl, about 13 years old, in big round yellow sunglasses, her wide smile flashing above a pierced chin. The "experts" would tell her to lose the chin bling and go for sunglasses more "fitting" to her round-shaped face. But her awesome personality wouldn't shine through that makeover; she'd look like everyone else, which, fashion-wise, is about as boring as a Mao suit.

Where I do get restrictive is about fashion boomerangs, those trends that come back to haunt you again in later life. If my mother had gone around in her '60s bellbottoms when I was wearing them in college in the early '90s, it wouldn't have worked on her. Likewise, I'm steering clear of skinny jeans, stirrup pants, those ugly 80s eyeglasses the teens are picking up now at thrift stores, and leg warmers. My rule: If you wore it before you turned 30, you can't wear it again the next time it's cool. Yes, even if you're the woman in her 60s who looks good in a mini-skirt.

The leg warmers remind me of scary fashion, those trends that are so bad, no one should wear them. Leg warmers are saved by their origins as a fine solution for dancers looking for a way to warm their ankles in tights. But the tube top: As this music video by the Bert Fershners makes vividly clear, no one should wear it, least of all a bunch of male comedians:

Same goes for the close cousin to the tube top, the half shirt. Don't be confused by its alias, the "crop top." No matter what you call it, anything rising that far above the navel doesn't deserve to be called a shirt.

Fashion trends that I can get behind: men's fashion and eco-fashion. Two of the top five fashion blogs in Technorati's ranking fall under these categories, for good reason. Men have long been neglected by the industry, despite the fact that for much of human history, men's clothes were just as pretty as women's, the contemporary suit notwithstanding. As for togs for treehuggers, that's a trend long past due.

It's never fun to show up at work or a party wearing the same thing someone else has on, and as fashion has been nationalized and then globalized, it's common to find the same cute little dress on someone in London as appears on someone else in Lakewood. What's fun is returning to Seattle after being in the Midwest and recognizing a certain counterculture-meets-Zen practicality-meets DIY look that is uniquely Seattle. There's the scarf your girlfriend found on her trip to India, your own authentic Navy pea coat poached from a surplus store before it was popular, your coworker's classic Nordstrom-loyal fashion sense. Fashion should be regional, and that doesn't have to mean pith helmets in Nairobi.

A style consultant once complained to me about women in Seattle running around in yoga pants and clogs. But yoga is very popular here, so those women in yoga pants are probably headed to yoga class, and as for the clogs, that's just a result of Seattle being settled by large numbers of Scandinavians. Both are regionalisms to be embraced, not scorned.

Fashion should be functional as well, which means yoga pants if you're also carrying a rolled-up mat, and professional clothing for women to wear to work. I don't know why stores try to pass off tight, low-rise trousers, or camisoles visible under a jacket, or low-cut sweaters as office attire. They're not. No, not even for the young girl interns who seem to think cleavage is OK.

Which is not to say that fashion, even 9 to 5 wear, can't be more than just what you're wearing to keep from walking around naked. You should feel good in what you put on every morning, you should feel like your best self, you should feel, above all, competent and beautiful.


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