I missed the memo about style.

I live in L.A., but in a rustic suburb where clothing choices tend to be more function and less form. In my neck of the woods,  I see a lot of boots–hiking boots, cowboy boots (worn by unironic people who actually ride horses), etc.  When I venture into the tonier corners of La La Land, I do see people who are fabulously dressed, but there’s usually something very deliberate and vaguely plastic about these folks.  As style icons, they leave me cold.

But when I go to San Francisco, I always notice that the people of the Bay Area have style.  Dressing with style seems like it’s simultaneously purposeful and effortless, bold yet casual.  If I were stylish enough to be wearing a hat, I’d tip it to these people who just go about their lives looking…interesting (and I mean that in a good way). 

During my most recent visit to San Francisco, I observed some pretty outstanding ensembles.  Most notably:

  • Unapologetically acid-washed skin-tight jeans, worn with over-the-knee, high-heeled boots.  By pairing this with a simple black top, the young woman in this outfit managed to not look like a hooker.  It was amazing.
  • A gauzy floral mini-dress, worn with both flip-flops and several cozy scarves. It was spring time on her torso, the dead of winter from the neck up, and the dog days of summer from the knees down.  Somehow, this outfit looked adorable.
  • Black dress pants, worn ironically short with gym socks, a gray T-shirt (pajamas? me thinks yes) and an impeccably tailored silver sport coat.  The jacket was what really pulled this outfit together–it was like this guy just rolled out of bed, but he just rolled out of bed with style.

From these and many other people I ogled on BART, I observed a few key principles of personal style:

  1. Matching is for amateurs.  Mixing patterns, colors, and textures adds a lot of visual interest.  You might end up looking like a hobo, but you’ll look like an interesting hobo.
  2. Accessories, accessories, accessories.  Hats, scarves, and necklaces, especially.  More is more.  Bonus points for unusual shoes. 
  3. Attitude is everything.   Remember how the woman in the tight jeans and the boots didn’t look like a hooker? That’s ’cause she wasn’t acting like a hooker.  She was young, and had a cute figure, so she was showing off a little, but she wasn’t for sale, that was obvious. 

People who have style aren’t afraid to be noticed, and I really admire that.  They put on something that teeters on the border between funky and freaky and just go out into the world. Perhaps red fishnets are less remarkable in San Francisco than they are in other parts of the world, but I still think it takes balls to wear them (and I’m pretty sure the person I saw wearing them had both the literal and figurative kind of balls…)

Being noticed can be kind of scary.  If people notice you, they might…notice you.  Taking notice of another human being can be pretty fraught…when I notice someone, I’m making a million superficial calculations about who they are, I’m sizing them up, and trying to figure them out.  Why would I want to invite this kind of  attention?  Aren’t I better off in my anonymous black trousers and tasteful twinset?  I’m not sure I’ve got this figured out yet, but maybe I’ll wear the funky shoes next time…and a scarf.  Memo received.

3 thoughts on “Style

  1. sheila clapkin May 30, 2011 / 5:50 pm

    You must know this, my family is from San Francisco and my father was sent early in his life to set up business in Los Angeles. Whenever I would visit my San Francisco family I felt improperly dressed. I felt that way because I was…living in L.A. you dress for the sunny balmy weather. It is so cold in S. F. proper. My grandmother would take me to a department store immediately and buy undershirts and a warm jacket. I looked good all dressed up in layers. Still do.

    When my grandfather would take the train every month to check on the business in SUNNY Southern California, we would have to dress for dinner. It was hot and sticky; we were happy in our tanks; we groaned upon having to suit up. . He insisted that we all were covered from head to toe. The difference in dress between Northern California and Southern California is a chasm. Our weather is much different and so I assume weather is the denominator for dress codes. Maybe? Maybe not, but I do know I would have a completely different wardrobe if I were living in a cooler climate. It would suit me by the way. The cooler the better for my health and my wardrobe. How about you?

  2. Jamie Walker Ball May 30, 2011 / 7:06 pm

    My fair, freckly skin longs for a cooler climate, too! When I was living in Virginia, my sweater collection was vast! I dread the summer, but I’ve embraced linen as a way of keeping cool while staying covered up.

  3. Jeff Hall June 1, 2011 / 3:21 pm

    I had a scarf once. And gym socks. I was 5.

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