Danielle Steel (author, mogul, fashionista and former San Franciscan) says in today's (May 7-8, 2011) Wall Street Journal that "San Francisco is a great city to raise children, but I was very happy to leave it." In the article, by David Kaufman, she gets specific about an issue and pet peeve of mine - "There's no style, nobody dresses up - you can't be chic there. It's all shorts and hiking boots and Tevas - it's as if everyone is dressed to go on a camping trip. I don't think people really care how they look there; and I look like a mess when I'm there too." Honestly, I can now breathe a sigh of relief because finally someone has said, out loud, what has been swirling around in my mind since I moved back to this city last September. I don't want to belabor a point - but what happened? Where did the fashionistas and the chic denizens of Union Square, the funky retro girls of the Haight Ashbury, the couture-luxe glamour girl of the Upper Fillmore go? Have all the women 'round here collectively decided "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em?" By which I mean specifically - the casual, shorts and hiking boots set that Danielle speaks about. Did we, as women, give up on looking pretty and make a choice to be c.o.m.f.o.r.t.a.b.l.e.? Have circumstances changed so much that we have determined it no longer matters what we look like when we go out in the world?
Obviously something has happened as I see the effects of it every single day. My office is on Union Square and my clients are up and down this town and, as an image consultant and fashion writer, I am always scanning the crowd for trends and hot looks. I find myself disappointed that I no longer see women representing their beauty through their appearance. Every now and then I spot a woman who has fearlessly gone ahead and hit a high note with her styling, but the norm in San Francisco these days is that dreaded word - casual.
I think I know what's happened - technology. This city has been in a technology bubble, boom and bust (rinse, repeat) for well over ten years now. First came the young guns hell bent on getting their tech products ready for the venture capitalists with money to burn. In the fast pursuit of new money these (mostly male) kids stopped caring about what they wore because it didn't really matter. They were going to their cubicles, working their asses off, sleeping in their t-shirts and jeans and repeating this cycle until they hit their gold mine. Then they upgraded to a bigger cubicle and condo and along the way completely lost interest in looking fashionable. Why would they need to dress up to show up in a cubicle while peering into a world of computer science?
Well, the girls around them accepted them as they were - fashion failures but financial whizzes with fresh IPO's and money to burn. Wouldn't you if you were a young woman in San Francisco as the internet boom exploded around you? Many young women went to work for these new tech firms where the dress code was now - yep, you guessed it - shorts, hiking boots, Tevas (and jeans and sweatshirts when the fog rolled in). The new uniform, the must have look if you will, became "camping trip."
Sigh, what is an image consultant to do when faced with the irrelevance of what she does for a living? Is my profession doomed? Will I be relegated to giving seminars on the best way to achieve camping trip chic? Will I have to move to Paris, like Danielle, to find my tribe of extinct fashionistas? Sadly I haven't found the answer yet BUT I am plotting a way to convince these tech tribes to dress up a bit more and it starts with taking a page from a Danielle Steel novel and posing this question to them (for women) "Want to learn how to attract a wealthy mate?" and for the guys "Want to look hot to get the girls?" - 'cause you know, it always comes down to looking sexy. I think I might have a million dollar idea here AND a way to stay relevant as an image consultant in a camper world!!