In 2011, right around the time Facebook moved to Palo Alto, GQ magazine named San Francisco as one of the worst dressed cities in the nation. A year before that, the New York Times’ Guy Trebay mentioned in an article that San Francisco is "the land that style forgot." Silicon Valley is economically powerful, and Union Square is surrounded by the best names in fashion, but it seems like most people here don’t splurge on fashion and luxury goods.
In Paris, New York, Milan, and Shanghai, branded outfits and designer bags are being paraded on the street. On the flip side, in the Bay Area, it is very common to see people wearing leggings, and running shoes when you enter a fancy restaurant or a high-end bar. One could spend $398 for a meal at the three Michelin-starred restaurant, Saison, maybe wearing hoodies, and no one would mind. Tech companies and startup wealth may be transforming the city, but San Francisco’s clothing style will likely remain forever comfortable and practical. The style of San Francisco would best be described as: the slob at the top.
Instead of suits and ties, free T-shirts with tech company logos are the official local uniforms for many. Yoga pants are a new favorite and are indicative of the fact that many are embracing the active lifestyle. The weather is unpredictable, so wearing layers is a must. The city’s super steep streets are no mystery, and that's why most women give up on wearing high heels.
San Francisco’s fashion icon, Haute Living blogger, and the owner of Podium boutique, Sonya Molodetskaya, once said to Academy of Art students, “Don’t even talk about the tech guys. I think the only computer specialist that dresses nicely is the Yahoogirl, Marissa Mayer.” It’s hard not to agree, seeing how Mark Zuckerberg, whose net worth is 35.7 billion USD, always wears the same plain gray t-shirt under a North Facejacket. People here feel that it is cool not to care, and it gains them entry into an elitist clique in the youthful tech world. "It's not like New York, where everyone aims to dress for perfection," added Molodetskaya. Wearing a yellow coat, striped blouse, boxy white pants, and Christian Dior shoes, she clearly is one of the rare individuals in the city who dresses to the nines.
Despite all of the bad reviews of its fashion taste, San Francisco’s laid-back approach to apparel is actually a reflection of the normcore fashion trend. Normcore, which was boomed in 2014, is best described as a fashion style that is characterized by unpretentious normal-looking clothing. "Normcore says, 'I have soul and intelligence. I'm unique, and I don't need to shout about it,’" said designer Richard Nicoll, quoted recently in Vogue.
Think about San Francisco’s Gap Inc. retail brands, American Giant, and Levi Strauss & Co. In fact, Levi’s was responsible for the popularization of “casual Friday,” caused by their 80s Dockers® khaki pants ad campaign. The informal work attire culture had spread far beyond San Francisco. Only in Silicon Valley, casual Friday has transformed into casual every day.
Is it just that people are too lazy to dress-up or is there a different mentality?
Perhaps Silicon Valley culture is about what you can do and not about what you can wear.
Unlike other countries where wearing branded attire from head to toe is considered as the symbol of success, people in the Bay Area appear to prefer conspicuous leisure rather than conspicuous consumption. People care more about the good quality of life: buying organic foods, going to the gym, and spending time with friends. Most San Franciscans prefer a nice weekend getaway to buying new Louboutin shoes; they want to buy experience, and not trivial possessions. There is even the pride of not spending money on clothing and the strong culture of thrift shopping.
The liberation of being sloppy and not being judged is also definitely a plus. It is not about the money; it is about the freedom to wear whatever you want to wear. “The difference is just there is no rule that you have to wear a suit and tie. In Google we have ‘dapper Thursday’ when employees can suit up just for fun,” said Kemble Fletcher, senior enterprise architect at Google. Piotr Oleszkiewicz, chief executive of RevealoCorp. tech startup, also agreed, “I believe that people here can dress in more fancy ways, but they do it only from time to time. They don't do that on a daily basis just because it was a tradition to do so.”
San Francisco is the city where you are free to be whoever you want to be. If you like to dress up then good for you, if you don’t then you can stay proud to be a successful slob at the top. Many fashionistas may roll their eyes at San Francisco’s choice of fashion, but one thing is certain: it is a city more interested in investing in memories than handbags. And that’s a good thing.