Batten down the hatches, gang. Seattle is back in style for the first time in decades and stylish elites are about to steal our right to ignore fashion trends and decide for ourselves what’s worth wearing.
The first clue I had about Seattle’s fate as a fashion leader came with discovery of an article in the Sept. 22 edition of Esquire magazine (thank you Stranger writer Charles Mudede). Under the Esquire headline, “Seattle’s a Fashion Capital Again,” writer Andrew Matson, unashamedly declared: “It’s time to admit Seattle is a style capital.”
While New York City typically sets fashion trends, Matson argues that Seattle is now having a moment. He writes: “That rainy mountain town in the top left hand corner of the map has laid the groundwork for the current menswear zeitgeist of grunge and gorp going back to the 1990s.” He defines contemporary grunge style as dressing like the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana: ’50s cardigans, flannels, and granny glasses. It’s essentially outdoor gear that’s been adopted for its comfort and functionality.
Matson makes a good case for “that mountain town” as a style leader. He stresses the three G’s that constitute the Seattle look: grunge, gorp (good old raisins and peanuts; also known as trail mix), and grafitti (unsanctioned street art).
He says he’s seen Seattle grunge fashion on rich NBA players and trendy TikTok kids alike. According to him, “It’s the kind of stuff your high school science teacher might have worn and, if you grew up in Seattle, you never thought it would be in.” He credits the influence of rapper Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) who broadcasts Seattle style with songs like “Thrift Shop” and with Bogey Boys, the golf-inspired sportswear that he designs. Matson refers to Macklemore as an apostle for “feeling good and living with what you’re wearing, not dressing for Instagram but for real life.”
When discussing gorp or “gorpcore,” Matson cites brands like Filson, Eddie Bauer, Jansport, and K2. The gorp-y look features such outdoorwear as puffy jackets, ponchos, and hiking boots. Matson quotes Jian DeLeon, men’s fashion and editorial director at Seattle-based Nordstrom, who says local style means wearing Gor-Tex “because you’re going to bike and it could be raining.” He points out Seattle is a port city shaped by a global mind set. One can find influences of Asian-American hip-hop with its connection to Chinatown.
Graffiti, the third G of the Seattle style, is reflected in designers adopting images found on Seattle streets. Those styles are now being shown on international runways. Taken as a whole, the Seattle look has aspects of native style, accents of pioneerism, and Seattle punk street culture. Matson claims: “Fashion is literally pulling art off Seattle streets.”
The adoption of Seattle style led Matson to ask the obvious question: Why Seattle? In his Esquire piece, he ventures an answer: “Likely because the Pacific Northwest is exotic and far away from most of the country, almost like a place that doesn’t really exist.” He contends that, because Seattle is steeped in anti-fashion, the city’s contrarian attitude has become trendy. He adds, “Authenticity is popular, and the Seattle angle is appealing.”
Freelancer Matson has written for Rolling Stone, Genius, Yahoo, NPR, and SPIN as well as the Seattle Times, Seattle Met, The Stranger, and Seattle Weekly. It would be fair to assume that Morton, a native of the area, just might have an inbred bias for Seattle styles.