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.
When moved to Seattle from the East Coast at 21, I was thankful that I didn’t have to “care” about what I wore here, because no one else seemed to care, either. Matson seems to be saying that our style is a result of some kind of subliminal anti-style.
Do I buy it? Hmmm – overall, I agree with leaving those question marks in the article title.
Inasmuch as there has been any “anti-fashion” here, it wasn’t subliminal at all, it was a very clearly broadcast Seattle image trait for generations, back when enough Seattleites were actually from here that it made sense for us to have distinctive traits. But that meant “dress up”, which … I’m not sure what “fashion” means, but I think it’s more than “dress up.”
In high school in the early ’70s, a young man who would hang out with the football team would wear tight fitting blue levis jeans, a white T-shirt and a dark blue zippered poplin jacket. This wasn’t inside Seattle city limits and there may have been some limits to apparel availability, but we had more options than that. Fashion? No. It wasn’t fashion, because it was too easy. Anyone who wants it, can have it – no great expense, no discomfort, no sophistication required.
You won’t find a society where no one cares what you wear, and the Pacific NW is no exception, but fashion is an entirely different matter, a real game where there can be winners and losers, and I think it’s true that in Seattle, too few people wanted to play, to make it a good game. For a while I was seeing young men around who did apparently come here to play that game, with their big beards, carefully styled hair, too small pants and expensive shoes, but that apparently wasn’t a Seattle thing so much. The leaders of fashion in NYC can pick up the things we wear and declare them to be fashionable, but they can’t make us play.
Ah yes. I am a relic of another time and enjoy my clothes. If I am even slightly turned out my friends and neighbors will say, in a suspicious tone, “You going somewhere?”
As a Seattle-based contributor to Women’s Wear Daily in the 1980s and 1990s, I covered Seattle’s moment as the young men’s sportswear capital of the U.S. with companies such as Unionbay and Generra. Seattle-based Tommy Bahama is the product of former executives from those two companies. Re: grunge: My favorite quote of that era came from the fashion director of Bloomingdale’s who said, “I prefer grunge only when it’s done elegantly.”
Thanks for sharing that quote, Robert. Just thinking about you over the weekend, while having Brunch with relatives who brought Frangos made in the Midwest and asked my opinion of how they differ from the Seattle standard (F&N, BONmarche, Macy’s). All I know about Frangos’ origins I learned from your book and from jazz guitarist Joe Vinikow, whose ancestor by that name was the original candymaker.
I always love to disabuse Chicagoans of their mistaken belief of the origin of Frangos. I wrote that book in 1993. Yikes!
Pedestrian safety is (it is claimed) a big deal in Seattle and do It would be nice if Seattle designers and manufacturers would integrate high viz elements into ordinary everyday outerwear.
I don’t notice any local clothing designer/manufacturer group(s) in your article or Esquire’s. And I’d surely like to find one, as I intend to write to search folks urging them to integrate hi-viz fabrics and details into ordinary, every day streetwear. Do you know of a local trade group as I’d Ike to contact those folks.
There is some amazing fabrics, being produced by the big manufacturers (3M in particular to my knowledge), which don’t look like hi-vis, but do under nighttime conditions.
The important point is that we can have hi-vis clothing that does NOT look like construction-wear, which is one of the criticisms I receive whenever I start advocating his clothing.
If there was a way to send a photo to include in a comment here , I’d show you a picture of a jacket which I had modified, which I believe is both effective hi-vis and subtle. (I am sure that professionals would be able to do a whole lot better than my amateur effort.)