nonie

Maresa Patterson, this month’s Style Counsel subject. On-trend, organic, and locally made. This is what Seattle looks like. Sometimes. Other times, it doesn’t look like this at all.

Dear Visitor,

Thank you for your kind note regarding the dress code of our city. Your inquiry shows a kind of humble respect that I sometimes fear American travelers have abandoned. You know, the kinds of travelers who venture to seaside South American cities without learning simple phrases like, “Me gustaría pagar con tarjeta de crédito.” So kudos to you, Visitor, for asking.

People around here do like to question the nature of Seattle style. I suppose every city has its version of this topic. Maybe. But maybe not. Do they, in New York, trouble over the essential nature of their civic wardrobe? I guess I kinda think not. But then, that’s one of the luxuries of being a New Yorker. A cool nonchalance comes with the area codes.

The simple fact is that, for seven or eight months out of the year, rain and drizzle come with our area code, and that pervasive dampness does, in fact, color our collective look. And — and I appreciate this — our out-of-the-way station allows us freedom from playing the sartorial hero. What I mean is: As a rule, Seattleites don’t twist their ankles stepping around mud puddles in high suede heels or delicate calfskin oxfords in January. We wear solid but beautiful European-made boots and classic Red Wings. We pretty much live in boots, all made for walking. (If you think San Fran is hilly, call me after you’ve given us a try.)

And the thing is this, Visitor: They wear the sensible look in Italy, too. The whole heritage brand thing? Tough-to-impossible to pull off without a key piece or two from Filson, the timeless gear and clothing company of pioneering Seattle hipstsers since 1850.

So, you know, did we take it from them or did they take it from us? I mean, really. People around here get annoyed when you invoke the G word too often, so I will, for the most part, leave that topic where it last leapt up and demanded to be noticed, but let’s just say that we’ve already been co-opted at least once.

Still, what you’ve heard about fleece, Gortex, and Birkenstocks is true. Socks and sandals. Guilty. I mean—not personally, but it happens. Boy does it happen. Even at this time of year. On a recent sunny but sharp, bitter-cold post-holiday afternoon, I saw a mailman in short pants, socks (the kind they make those monkeys out of), and Teva sandals. Not a proud moment. Or one I could wrap my head around.

Sometimes bad things — or at least really … different things happen to good people. Even in Seattle. And sometimes, as Adam Katz Sinding of Le 21eme Arrondissement is fond of documenting, Seattleites do show up in studded stilleto boots, cuffed, cropped pants, and directional trenches.

It’s important that you know that we don’t walk around in yellow slickers underneath umbrellas all the time. In fact, it’s almost as if the degree to which we really feel we’re O.G. Seattle, we wear layers and layers of knits and biker jackets instead of Outdoor Research rain gear. Cashmere, wool, and cotton knits work for four-seasons in Seattle, so you’ll see a lot of them.

Then again, the archetypes don’t exist for nothing. Seattle-based sportswear company Eddie Bauer calls their guy the casual sportsman and you will see him and his female equivalent all over town.

It’s not for nothing that Bauer and other sportswear companies are based here in the Northwest, But neither do high-end, locally owned department stores like Butch Blum and Mario’s as well as smart, innovative, globally bookmarked online boutiques exist in some vacuum without us locals.

I suppose the question isn’t very easy to answer. Or so it would seem by this long-winded, back and forth reply. We are very much a city of contradictions. In a good way.

Geographically isolated, yes, to some degree, but our population is anything but homogeneous. We love that certain elements of our culture - our approach to food, wine, and dining for one, our cutting edge technology for another - give us Big City cred all over the world, but we cherish the small-town vibe of our neighborhoods and we fight to protect the integrity of the greenbelts and waterways that surround us.

Yes. Contradictions. Imports working on the casual software campuses in our suburbs wear Marni, and when our indie rock exports appear on late night television variety shows, they wear whatever they’ve been wearing for the last eleven days. We hold fast to ripped denim, old cowboy shirts, and eclecticism even as global luxury brands come to town and set up shop. We do sometimes wear jeans to the ballet, but only sometimes.

I like how Maresa Patterson, a local dress designer and style-maker featured in our February issue, puts it.

“There’s a willingness in Seattle to be casual and to combine things in quirky ways,” she told me. “I respond to that.”

I do, too, and I hope, Visitor, that you will also.

Sincerely,

Laura