Why are Seattleites averse to stepping out in style?

Photo by Paul Williams/Flickr

By Monica Spain

Do most of the clothes in your closet range from hiking fleece to dress fleece, or some variations of plaid and jeans?

That’s probably what has fueled Seattle’s reputation as an unfashionable city.

Overdressing – something that’s just not possible in many American cities – can become a sort of phobia.

“I’ve gone to the opera and seen people in tie-dye and jeans. And it confuses me,” said Christine Chaney. “I’m very much into fashion and I’ve wondered why we struggle … with caring.”

You see she’s an up-and-coming local fashion designer … and, yes, we have fashion shows here. Apparently, though, our reputation for not caring for how we look is known far and wide.

“Hi Mark, you’re on the air.” 

This is a Boston caller to NPR’s On Point. He recounts his visit to Seattle after a business trip to Asia.

Caller: “I was heckled on the street.”  

Host: “Why?”

Caller:   “I was wearing just normal business clothing. I was wearing a tie, nice polished shoes.”

Host: “No flannel?” 


It’s not just that we’re unfashionable – we’re apparently judgmental as well.


We’re fashion (designer) rich

Pia Jacobsen, photo by Monica Spain

Here’s something that might surprise you: Seattle actually has the fourth-highest concentration of fashion designers in the country – behind fashion-forward New York, L.A. and San Francisco. 

And the designers here have their work cut out for them.

“You should only wear yoga pants – to yoga!” declared Pia Jacobsen, an author and personal stylist who definitely cares. 

Jacobsen grew up in the Seattle-area and worked at Nordstrom for 29 years where she managed the couture line, featuring ensembles from the likes of Valentino and Armani. 

She sums up Seattle style like this:

“It’s not memorable. That’s what’s sad about it. It’s just part of the gray, drab, long winters that we have and nobody shakes it up.”


Technology fail?

So why is Seattle such a fleece-loving place?

Jacobsen says way before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met investors in a hoodie, Microsoft executives were sporting casual Friday apparel on a daily basis. And the trend continues with companies like Amazon.

“The Internet companies set the trend. I think the amount of work that those young employees put in … I don’t think there’s no time to do laundry.  I really don’t,” Jacobsen said.


Hiking boots ethics

Derek Pappas, photo by Monica Spain

But ask people on the street about fashion-less Seattle, and they’ll point to our love of the outdoors and maybe even our ethic of acceptance.

Helen: “If you look here, you’ve got mountains and greenery and it doesn’t go with stilettos and Prada.”

Russ: “You know, I think that’s part of what Seattle is known for. Nobody really cares.”

Michelle: “It’s pioneer land.”

Maybe we are following in the footsteps of the pioneers who left their pearls behind for the muddy, wet lifestyle of the Northwest.

Of course weather’s a factor but there’s something else that keeps popping up – our hesitancy to stand out. 

Derek Pappas is a self-described “Dandy,” and he likes to stand out. But even he appreciates that not everyone wants to make a fashion statement.

“Here, you often see people that you know are quite well-to-do making due with things that are good and sturdy.”


True beauty

Designer Sonia McBride has some fashion advice that might make Seattle a more beautiful place, even if it means mixing a splash of leopard print or lime green with our earth-toned plaid.

 “… it really brightens my day when I see someone wearing a bunch of contrasting colors or they look like a tropical bird or flower, and I think if we all did that for each other, we’d be a lot happier.”

That might be advice to remember next time you’re trying to get up the guts to wear a turquoise dress with red patent peep toe pumps.