We dress to un-impress, making style our own
We finally have a moment in the life of our city that reflects the essence of our fashion sense: stubbornly practical yet wildly indulgent.
Pacific NW staff writer
SEATTLE NEVER does anything nice and easy.
There’s no better example of our all-or-nothing nature than the insane number of transportation projects going on around town to, we hope against hope, make it easier to get around.
The citizens of any other port city might be content with drilling a massive tunnel beneath their sodden waterfront and building a bypass in it, or focusing attention on completing the engineering feat of yet another bridge that floats on water, or finally connecting the north and south ends of town with a long-awaited, forever-debated light-rail line that courses through hills and soars over valleys. Heck, the construction of a streetcar line connecting Capitol Hill and the International District is the sort of project that would make a city proud all by itself.
But that is not how we do things in Seattle. We are the kind of people who’d rather brave a rainstorm in a hoodie than don an umbrella, wait at a deserted intersection rather than risk being seen jaywalking.
And no matter how many times King County Metro threatens to raise bus fares or cut routes, we will sidle up in the back rows next to total strangers, pull that hoodie tight over our heads and push on.
We won’t be unhinged by ubiquitous traffic detours or potholes the size of soccer balls.
If anything, the disruption of simultaneous Alaskan Way tunnel, Highway 520 bridge, light-rail and streetcar projects has only emboldened us.
After years of bickering over every detail of these projects as if the fate of the world depended on their scuttling, we have gamely launched into all of them at the same time. The uninitiated might see this as indecisiveness. We just like keeping our options open.
It could all be so simple. But we’d rather make it hard.
We’ll take a ferry and a bike to work, and still make time to stop at Starbucks because, hey, the daily grind is even better with a latte.
We’ll choose a four-hour train ride for the 150-mile journey to Vancouver, B.C., just for the chance to send ourselves off in King Street Station’s newly restored movie set of a lobby and admire the scenery along the way.
The good thing is we finally have a moment in the life of our city that reflects the essence of our fashion sense: stubbornly practical yet wildly indulgent.
We, in this urban oasis set in an evergreen wonderland, could run a clinic in the dual arts of looking precious in rugged settings and looking rugged in precious settings, of finding a subtle way to wear a blaze of color and making a palette of grays pop.
Our version of hand-me-down retro looks fashion-forward. Our avant-garde looks classic.
Proud Bertha’s big wheel is boring a hole through the city’s soul, but we shall not be moved, if for no other reason than the tunnel that gargantuan drill is digging isn’t expected to relieve traffic congestion through downtown one bit. It certainly won’t change how we operate any more than our increasingly sophisticated taste in clothes can totally suppress an inclination to choose practical over posh.
Every attempt to remake our city, to give ourselves some big-city polish, reveals something enduring in our collective character.
Longtime customers mourned the closure of the visionary Ballard-neighborhood men’s store Blackbird this summer. For a decade, this world-renowned boutique succeeded at the difficult task of selling throwback workwear and lavishly drapey knits to a city of men who spend their days in front of laptops and evenings at the climbing wall, and who previously were not inclined to drop $50 on the sort of T-shirts Macklemore famously pokes fun at in his hit song “Thrift Shop.”
There was something touching in the curatorial rigor of the store’s approach to fashion and commitment to drawing from the heritage of its historic fishing-port neighborhood for its own line of jeans, tops and accessories. The store sold us a cleverly globalized yet hyperlocal version of ourselves, with fine Japanese fabrics and handmade construction in the workshops of Ballard.
Blackbird saw a future in the ways of the past, a little bit of luxury in workman’s denim, virtue in laborious tailoring in a world of fast fashion.
In an equally rarefied category is Barneys New York, which unveiled a renovated, two-story store at Pacific Place just as Blackbird launched its storewide closing sale. There, on-trend, brightly colored handbags and a diverse-but-thoughtful brand offering on the clothes racks makes for an oddly winning formula in a city that tends to favor messenger bags as much as purses and laid-back as much as luxe.
At a recent event to celebrate the renovation, the brand’s creative ambassador-at-large, Simon Doonan, praised the city’s “groovy style, bohemian sensibility and practicality,” which the Seattle store reflects in the designers it carries. There are New York-based Maria Cornejo’s artsy silken prints, which look like smudged black-and-white images from her photographer husband’s portfolio, a major source of inspiration. Then there are British Columbia-based Raif Adelberg’s one-of-a-kind coats pieced together from repurposed, vintage fabrics, and his super-soft cashmere sweaters in rich, tie-dyed color patterns that wouldn’t look out of place at an off-the-grid barter fair.
Barneys has tapped into the trend toward heritage and do-gooder fashion, too. This fall, the store will launch a line of watches by Detroit-based Shinola (a reincarnation of the old shoe-polish brand), which celebrates “the beauty of industry” and the “glory of manufacturing.” The timepieces are handmade by employees from the beleaguered Motor City, with Swiss components and leather straps from Chicago that are stitched in Florida.
Because this fall is a celebration of beautiful impracticality, stylish utility, mixed messaging and “discreet chic,” as Vogue magazine West Coast Fashion Editor Lawren Howell put it at a recent Nordstrom fall-preview show, we deserve a self-congratulatory pat on the back for being ahead of the curve, for resisting the urge to do things the way most people do them, for seeing the elegance in rough edges and adapting even the loftiest objects to suit the way we live at street level.
“This is who we are,” says Derieontay Sparks, store manager of Macy’s Southcenter. “We like our fashion not just to be casual — we also like showstopper outfits.”
We, of all people, know that dressing well on a nice day means considering that it suddenly might turn into a dreadful one, that a cool pair of boots, another big trend this year, will look great no matter what the weather . . . or where we have to go.
“In an urban environment, in the elements, you want to feel protected,” says Gregg Andrews, fashion creative director at Nordstrom. “You don’t want to feel that you can’t walk on broken concrete. There’s this fashion utility to a boot that makes it very appealing.”
Plus, he says, “boots are sorta like sunglasses — they give you instant attitude . . . A woman could own an entire closet of boots that really would change the look of everything that’s in her wardrobe.”
We will mix and match so many shirts, sweaters, jackets and pants that they couldn’t possibly add up to a cohesive outfit, yet make it look fresh and “seasonless,” to borrow a term used to describe the direction in menswear for the coming year.
We will pair soft fabrics with the leather that will be everywhere this fall, wear white after Labor Day and shamelessly pile on two or three shades of the season’s go-to colors: green, blue and red. We will make tie-dye look bougie and make ombre’ look hippie.
“There are not the quote, unquote rules that used to be in fashion — it really is about personal style,” Andrews says. “Having that freedom . . . That’s what Seattle is so brilliant at, expressing a unique attitude on fashion, on culture, on food, all of that.”
Maybe that’s why we seem so unfazed by the weather. Downtown boutique The Finerie carries an umbrella that withstands winds up to 80 miles an hour. But as owner Tanya Friberg notes, it’s more “Seattle” to invest in a statement-making, and functional, piece of outerwear.
This fall The Finerie will stroke all of our chords. Lots of coats and sweaters, eco-friendly fabrics, architectural silhouettes, glam-rock pieces and the bold prints and colors the store is known for.
“There’s so many influences right now that there’s a little bit of everything — different fabrics, mixed textures, edgy, classic,” Friberg says.
“There’s certainly a group that follows trends, but there’re many more groups that really speak to their own person, whether a little diva-doll, retro-chic or a little hipster or ’60s-influence — what works for them.”
In the end, the designer Adelberg says in an interview posted on Barneys’ blog, The Window, “It’s really how you put it all together.”
Our fashion is all over the map, our choices hard to figure at times, but there’s something to be said for arming yourself with tons of disparate choices.
That’s what makes fashion interesting and urban living fun.
And it’s in our nature.
Tyrone Beason is a Pacific NW magazine staff writer. Bettina Hansen is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Information in this article, originally published Aug. 23, 2013, was corrected Aug. 28, 2013. A previous version of this story misspelled Gregg Andrews’ name.