Regional Fashion
December 12, 2003 8:50 AM   Subscribe

What are unwritten rules of dress in different parts of the country? Is the Pacific Northwest really more lax than other regions? Why do the differences exist? [more inside]

I've lived all my life just outside Portland, Oregon. Around here, there's no real dress code for public outings (such as dining in restaurants, going to a football game, attending a concert). Sure, for some events, one might want to wear a button-down shirt, but that's about it.

I know one woman who has lived most of her life on the east coast. She's appalled by the casual dress in the Pacific Northwest. She dress up to go out to fast food. Another friend went to college in Texas. She says that there it was normal to wear fine clothes to a football game. A football game?

I've even heard it said that in some parts of the country, people dress well to go to the grocery store. I wouldn't think twice about buying produce in sweats!
posted by jdroth to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oops. My post is rather U.S.-centric. I'd love to hear about dress customs in other parts of the world, too.
posted by jdroth at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2003

Well, I live in Oregon too (buys a jdroth cookie-cutter) but down here in Klamath Falls there isn't a dress code either. Unless you're a farmer, in which case you have to wear jeans/flannel most every day. The one place I really notice a dress code per se is at bars - most guys wear big clunky work boots or nice cowboy boots. There's a few Happydaz-in-sneaker types running about the place but that's pretty much because we don't know any better/or have already drunk ourselves so far under the pool table we're oblivious. Dress code for women @ most bars isn't specific, just a general less-clothing-is-better maxim. Where are all the other women, you ask? Already married and home with the kids. Welcome to the rural Northwest.
posted by Happydaz at 9:02 AM on December 12, 2003

Oh, another fun Northwest thing (expands beyond the Klamath Falls horizon for a minute) is the way our area embraces fashion trends. We're generally 1 to 3 years behind the culture curve when it comes to new clothes. It's like this part of the country is one big middle school, picking up on the leather jacket trend three years late and envying our big high-school-age east coast brethren, all gussied up in denim.
posted by Happydaz at 9:05 AM on December 12, 2003

I'm from Kansas City and lived in Chicago, and the physician dress code in the Bay Area is a little more relaxed. Ties aren't absolutely required or expected (even if many doctors still wear them). Slacks and a dress shirt is usually fine.
posted by gramcracker at 9:06 AM on December 12, 2003

In Austin, it's hot. Damn hot. Plus, there is a high concentration of geeky people who are not, shall we say, fashion conscious (myself included).
You pretty much can wear shorts anywhere, anytime. I've gone to nice, nice restaurants in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and no one's blinked twice. I've seen people at the symphony in jeans, standing next to someone in a tux. No one cares.
posted by j at 9:16 AM on December 12, 2003

Montana: Casual.

posted by davidmsc at 9:21 AM on December 12, 2003

I suspect part of the reason some of these unwritten rules are unwritten is because people in a given region aren't consciously aware of them. To someone who thinks they should wear their finest to a football game or look their best at the grocery store, doing so is completely normal and it might be surprising for them to find that things are different elsewhere. At the same time doing these things might seem unusual to someone from an area with different customs.

Your best bet for finding out about regional customs is to travel and observe, rather than asking locals.
posted by majick at 9:42 AM on December 12, 2003

I was just commenting to a friend how nice it is that there isn't a restaraunt in Seattle that I know of (maybe the Canlis? But I'm not sure...) that requires a suit and tie or jacket or whatever. I've eaten at the Metropolitan Steak House, Space Needle, Daniel's broiler, Axis, etc. in jeans, shorts and baseball caps, and I'm not the only one.
posted by vito90 at 9:45 AM on December 12, 2003

I went to an adult movie theatre only once in my life, and I wore a midnight blue suit, white shirt, tie, patent leather English shoes, white pocket handkerchief
posted by matteo at 10:13 AM on December 12, 2003

Chicago's a little more casual than New York, but generally falls along East Coast dress trends.

I would definitely say there's a difference, but I couldn't tell you where the switch from more formal to more casual occurs.
posted by me3dia at 10:15 AM on December 12, 2003

I actually like putting on a coat and a tie and going to eat in a nice restaurant, and here in New York there are plenty of places to do exactly that.

Also, in the winter here (NYC) men tend towards long wool overcoats, whereas in Boston they seem to prefer shorter black wool jacket-style outerwear.
posted by bshort at 10:21 AM on December 12, 2003

Dallas is supposed to be high fashion, but I don't really go to the places or hang out with those that fall into that line. I suppose there are places where dress codes are strictly enforced, but I haven't been to one and I'm pretty unlikely to. It doesn't seem any worse than other places I've been, but I'm pretty oblivious to fashion anyways.

I have travelled to Honduras though, which has some surprisingly strict codes, especially considering it's not the most financially stable country. Movie theaters and bars will refuse you entrance if you show up in shorts. Yeah, movie theaters. Some even require collared shirts for guys. The only place that I was told it was socially acceptable to wear shorts was on a golf course. I guess shorts never really took off in Latin America and are seen as a social anathema. Which is a shame because it's fucking hot and humid there, and I love my shorts.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:22 AM on December 12, 2003

When I lived in Sarasota, a lot of the snowbirds from New York and New Jersey were dressed casually but would comment what a relief it was to be in relaxed dress. Apparently things are a little more buttoned-up.

Here in NC we aren't too fancy. At least in Fayetteville.

As to dressing up at football games, at least back in the late seventies students dressed up for football games. I wore dresses when my usual uniform was jeans. Don't know if it is still that way.

And my husband tells me that the locals in Colorado wear suits when they are buried and that's about it. His stepdad didn't even wear a tie to our wedding.
posted by konolia at 10:25 AM on December 12, 2003

Oh, and when I was in Thailand, I noticed the locals never wore shorts (except for kids) . They believe in dressing neatly and nicely and don't appreciate farangs dressed like slobs. Don't wear sleeveless shirts there either. And it is hot as Hades too.
posted by konolia at 10:29 AM on December 12, 2003

In Atlanta we dress up for everything just because we like it.
posted by oh posey at 10:38 AM on December 12, 2003

Dress compfortable you will never loose, even out of dress code. Myself find it works as it makes those around me feel comfortable.
Dallas is supposed to be high fashion
Fashion, just extra large "Barbie & Ken" clothing.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:46 AM on December 12, 2003

reading the comments made me remember more.
Not sure if it's still holds true. In California you call tell the truck drivers form the working cowboys by their shoes: truck drivers wear the cowboy boots.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:49 AM on December 12, 2003

What do the cowboys wear? (just curious)
posted by Utilitaritron at 10:59 AM on December 12, 2003

When I was at the University of Oregon, there was a small cadre of east-coasters, and we tended to stand out like sore thumbs. A couple of my friends who'd gone to la-de-da prep schools often went all out. I remember watching my buddy cross the street (on the way to some semi-formal function) in a PGA-Masters-green Brooks Brothers jacket, patchwork plaid madras pants, and white bucks. He literally stopped traffic.

A bunch of us drove out to The Dalles one time for a friends' wedding. We were standing in a large group outside the church before the wedding started, resplendent in our dark suits and tasteful ties, noticing pretty much everyone staring at us. One woman approached and asked if we were part of some traveling athletic team.

We were the only people at the wedding with ties, never mind suits. The reception was in a log cabin. Sometimes I miss Oregon. Sometimes I don't.
posted by jalexei at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2003

As a native Seattleite, I can report that the primary fashion of the region is layers. This goes from business dress (it is perfectly acceptable for men to substitute a nice raincoat for a suit jacket), mainstream casual (polarfleece vest over a light sweater), as well as hipster gear (t-shirts over longsleeves, skirts over pants, etc). Remember that the Northwest was the birthplace of that quintessential grunge look: a flannel tied around the waste of cut-off army pants, worn over long-johns. Layers, my friends, layers. I'm guilty of wearing a dress over jeans, with a hooded sweatshirt on top and an apron tied around my waste. And yes: casual as hell.

Story: I raised eyes when I was in NYC attending Columbia's publishing course with blue dreadlocks. During a resume workshop, I tried to explain that my untraditional appearance had actually helped me get jobs (former employers had commented that it helped me stand out during the interview process). The instructor sniffed, "West Coast. Next question?"
posted by arielmeadow at 11:28 AM on December 12, 2003

In more travel-related shorts news, no self-respecting full-grown Indian man (and no woman of any age ever) would wear shorts in public. Shorts are for little boys. Wear 'em in public in India, and you will be snickered at. Also, outside of cosmopolitan cities like Delhi and Bombay, a woman with bare shoulders - in a tank top, say - is to local eyes half-naked.
posted by gompa at 11:34 AM on December 12, 2003

I was really lucky to live in Seattle when the grunge thing got big because I dress like that all the time. This made me look scrubby in Massachusetts but I fit right in in Seattle. In Seattle you can wear pajamas to the supermarket no problem. You *can* do this in Vermont too but you'll get some attitude. Here in rural Vermont the dress code is pretty relaxed and has an odd Pac NW feel to it. Layers, natural fibers, people look like they dress form the REI catalog and the Salvation Army. In all but the toniest restaurants, you can wear clean-looking jeans and my boyfriend just now got his first tie and hasn't been really adrift without it.

When I interviewed for my library job here one of the things they said to me was "You say that you can clean up nicely but you're dressed pretty casual for this interview... care to comment?" I said that I would buy better clothes if I had a job to be able to afford them, but I hadn't nbeeded them until now. The librarians I work with dress like librarians by and large and I dress like I normally do for work: wide-wale cords, clean sweaters, jewelry so you can tell I'm "dressed-up" the occasional linen tunic, just a hair above jeans and t-shirts, nice shoes, etc. I also have dreadlocks to my waist and no one seems to mind as long as they're pulled back neatly.
posted by jessamyn at 11:49 AM on December 12, 2003

Another Seattleite here. It's true, thank Dog: Nobody gives a shit what you wear here. I work in an office setting, and nobody blinks when I show up (as today) with five days worth of unshavedness and a J&B t-shirt (won at a bar contest) that features the mystifying corporate mascot "Bladdy the Bladder." (Motto: "Hey, go easy on me!")
posted by Skot at 11:59 AM on December 12, 2003 [1 favorite]

I'm guilty of wearing a dress over jeans

You're ahead of the trend: in a more upscale way, it's just now catching fire in NYC, although it has been here for at least 18 months. In Paris in July, a dress over slacks was everywhere. Usually a dark dress over dark slacks. Some do the skirt over slacks, but that makes the top problematic, because it's hard to know which layer to tuck it into or drape it over.

I like the look: there's something appealing about it. I'm not sure what it is, but for me, I think it is that the dress conforms to a woman's shape, but the pants let her wear comfortable shoes and casual accessories. So she's more at ease, but still feels feminine and acts accordingly.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:14 PM on December 12, 2003

I've lived on the East Coast and Portland. In the last ten years, US fashion and dress habits have become more casual generally, but I would definitely say people in the PNW don't make a lot of distinctions in their wardrobe. They wear the same clothes to dinner as they would to wash their car. People on the east coast have different sweaters for each activity.
posted by rschram at 12:24 PM on December 12, 2003

Milwaukee, in my experience, is a bit weird. Liberal politics, conservative social patterns, and largely unconcerned with dress codes. There are restaurants and clubs where you want to wear nice shoes and a tie, but you could easily spend your life in jeans, sandals, sweatshirts, etc. and never run out of places to go.
posted by Tubes at 1:17 PM on December 12, 2003

Great discussion - when I first moved to Chicago there was a definite difference in style from where I was moving from (S. Indiana near Louisville, Kentucky). I wasn't ever able to really itemize it - definitely an effect of diversity in peoples and styles - but whenever I visit back home it's glaring to me - especially in hairstyles. I don't think big hair will ever go out of style in the real midwest. Sometimes it seems people dress like they're always on the verge... of something. A workout, a party, clubbing, a job interview... like they're prepared for something.
posted by ao4047 at 1:20 PM on December 12, 2003

Mo, the dress/skirt over pants thing has been rocking Seattle for three years...could we be fashion-forward for once? Perhaps its the NW's hippie influence...the hippie mamas I know have been wearing the look since the mid-'90s. And to answer your question: when wearing a skirt over pants, I wear the shirt untucked. I agree with you that the look feels great. Lets you wear pretty thin skirts and dresses all year long ... AND WITH SNEAKERS!

I spent the last year in LA, and the look there was still casual, but all about those heinous velour sweatsuits that ride 6" below women's hips. *shiver* I hear that in NYC, waistlines are inching back up towards retro-1980's levels, and I can only hope that LA catches up soon. LA pants are so low rise that they're starting to look more like chaps.
posted by arielmeadow at 1:35 PM on December 12, 2003

Damn I hate to give up my age but we used to wear pants under our dresses and skirts to rebel against school dress codes twenty-five years ago.
posted by oh posey at 2:06 PM on December 12, 2003

My girlfriend had the hardest time moving away from her Austin-braless-slacker wear when we moved to my hometown, Beaumont Tx. It's very southern and traditional - and her extremely casual attitude toward being dressed really got her a lot of looks. Two years later, she's so into it that she gets irritated with *me* if I go to the grocery store in jeans. I think she's pushing to be the first hipster lesbian admitted to the Beaumont Junior League.
posted by pomegranate at 2:53 PM on December 12, 2003

What do the cowboys wear? (just curious)
Not seeing them on the ranch; tennis shoes.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:18 PM on December 12, 2003

Knew a Swede whom mostly wore a tie while out on dates; started wearing one myself when double dating, damn charmer. Anyway he did not consider himself "dressed up" unless he wore a "white" dress shirt.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:23 PM on December 12, 2003

When I was still working for what-passes-for-corporate-America-in-Portland-Maine it was always amusing when partners/investors/vendors from out of state came to visit. They'd sit down in meetings in their navy suits and white shirts (often, even the women), looking puzzled at us natives who were 'dressed up for work' in khaki pants (or a cord or denim skirt for women), a button down shirt or T-neck and a sweater. It was sometimes hard to tell if they were confused by our clothes or just heartrendingly envious.
posted by anastasiav at 4:14 PM on December 12, 2003

In Utah you must wear shorts that reach nearly to the knee. This covers the Mormons' garments, for those who are Mormon, and for everyone elese it conceals the fact that we're not wearing garments.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:16 PM on December 12, 2003

Here in Wilmington, North Carolina, even the nicest restaurants are full of people in t-shirts/jeans (in fact, the hostess at one of the nicest restaurants once asked me what the special occassion was when I showed up in a suit and tie. When I started my job (for the local historical society, in its archives) I dressed exclusively in black, generally in jeans, combat boots, and sweaters, and nobody said a thing, though I was asked to wear my long hair up. Nowadays I wear a shirt and tie to work (by choice) and never leave the house in shorts, short sleeves, or jeans, but I'm considered fairly odd and possibly un-American as a result.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 4:30 PM on December 12, 2003

vito90, Canlis does have a dress code. But they are sort of notorious for it. I can't think of any other Seattle restaurants with one.
posted by litlnemo at 6:55 PM on December 12, 2003

In Germany they are doing the dress over pants thing too. (old east Germany, haven't hit the west yet, but am passing through berlin on the way to scotland for xmas so maybe i'll see something else there)

I assumed it was because it is frikin cold here and it lets people wear dresses all year long when otherwise they couldn't. I would have fell out if someone had done that in Austin TX in the summer.

Also a big thing here is hair color. I have seen women from ages 12 to 65 with shockingly pink hair. After 65 it turns into blue, pink or purple rinses. Men don't seem to do this as much unless they are punk. It just seems to be normal to have either pink hair, calico hair (spoltches of three colors) or skunk hair (black with white over). Also, women are entitled to much shorter hair here. It makes the dyke population look much larger than it actually is. Colored dreds are also ok. A big head of pink dreds on a white german girl is a sight to behold.

Crazy jeans are also in fashion. Jeans that are faded just on the leg, half cords half jeans, yellow splotches, anything seems to go. And men wear them too. In general, men dress much better in Germany than in the states. But then, there are no NASCAR t-shirts here.
posted by jopreacher at 4:51 AM on December 15, 2003

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