The other night I had dinner at a Castro restaurant that Yelp calls “trendy, intimate, romantic, casual.” What Yelp didn’t mention is that San Franciscans will always pull out the tees and sneakers, “casual” restaurant or no. After a year in San Francisco I should be used to it by now, but I was still surprised to see folks in that little Castro restaurant whom even my native Ohio counterparts would consider “underdressed”.
The pragmatic approach to fashion in San Francisco makes some sense, of course. In an area that’s well-known for being both laid back and fit, and where “proving yourself” means having great, even world-changing, ideas, why would you want to dress on-trend? Levis are practical, comfortable, and multi-purpose; Patagonia shorts mean I can go hiking at a moment’s notice. Even fashion-focused Missionites prefer making fashion their own – such as repurposing thrift items – to touting big-name labels.
It seems that there’s almost an intention behind the backlash against “trendy” fashion in San Francisco. As it turns out, San Franciscans already knew what everyone else is starting to realize – dressing slightly “off” from what is traditionally expected can actually gain you more respect. Harvard Business School recently came out with a piece of research that showed that people who intentionally wear something a bit different are seen as independent, purposeful and unique.
Through extensive immersive observation and comparison (aka moving to SF after living in Manhattan), I’ve begun to identify subcategories of San Francisco’s independent fashion-rebels, including:
- The Extreme Basics – “I’ll let my ideas, and not my clothes, do the talking” (note: You may have heard of the “normcore” in SF; I like to call these folk “The Extreme Extreme Basics”)
- The Function-Forwards – “I want to be ready to hike the trails at a moment’s notice”
- The Retro Recyclers – “I love rediscovering and repurposing vintage pieces to show my own unique style”
For apparel brands and retailers looking to innovate, this can have many applications. It’s about focusing on the attributes that can emphasize the values of these fashion-rebels – whether that be emphasizing the practical usability of apparel, focusing on the functionality, or playing up the boutique, “unique” qualities.
It turns out at the end of the day, as an Ohio kid by the way of Manhattan, I am an SF kid at heart (at least, when it comes to fashion). I love the fact that here, I can always pair my respectful skirts with a tee and some all-purpose Converse.