Monday, July 21, 2008

Dressing Like a Native

The other day I attended a College Board leadership meeting in downtown Seattle. The men (save me) were in pinstriped suits and the women (save another Seattleite) were bejeweled and in knit suits. This was despite the fact that it was 79 degrees and all the natives were panting. I noted that while they all looked very natty that locals would immediately identify them all as visitors.

Despite the fact that Seattle is the home of Nordstrom, this is an aggressively informal city. It took me years after moving from the East Coast to lose the jacket and tie in the summer. While those working in the Washington Mutual and Columbia Towers would blend in well in Manhattan (albeit, with tasteful West Coast style) overall the people of Seattle are rigidly informal in dress. When you attend the Symphony, or even the Opera, people refuse to change out of jeans (factoid: Seattle is one of the few cities in the nation where Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung is regularly performed at the Opera, and it’s sold out long in advance.)

Now this doesn’t mean that Seattleites don’t give thought to their appearance; au contraire. The denizens of Capitol Hill, decked in Value Village duds, are conspicuously informal in their attire; actually it is evident that they really work at it. And, those who live in Belltown are consistently monochromatic in various chic/hip variants of black couture. Young professionals from the Eastside make pilgrimages to Abercrombie and Fitch, the Gap, or Banana Republic immediately after working out and showering. And those in Ravenna and the U District religiously incorporate native dress from Latin America, Africa, and Asia into their daily attire. Mind you, however, it’s all casual dress.

Overall, this is a Dockers, tattersall shirt, polar fleece vest sort of town (remember we are also the home of Eddie Bauer and REI.) Though you might never set foot in a forest or a park, but some form of Timberline hiking boots is essential when you aren’t wearing your pair of New Balance (sorry, Birkenstocks, while stereotype, are passé) if you live here. Jungle mocs are still common.

So when packing for the NACAC conference, leave the jacket, ties, and ladies -- the frosting – at home. Seattle is all about comfort. Think smart casual. We don’t care if it’s wrinkled; with the likely weather the wrinkles will eventually fall out.

Michael K. McKeon
Dean of Admissions
Seattle University

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