If you are an admirer of ladies’ necks, then Seattle is not a great place for you because for 9 months of the year, all of the women – and I’m talking, 9 out of ten of the women you see on the streets downtown – bundle their lovely necks in scarves of all hues, materials, and textures.
If, however, you’re a leg man, then this is your town. The overwhelming majority of women in Seattle wear skirts and dresses almost constantly. Granted, the skirts and dresses usually have tights or leggings beneath for much of the year – hey boys, it’s chilly and wet here! – but many people think that nice hosiery really only enhances good legs. This is a city where people walk a lot – both downtown during the work day, and out in the woods, mountains, and beaches on the weekends – so there is an abundance of strong and shapely legs. The calves are frequently encased in the softest leather, because boots are another common denominator on the Seattle fashion scene. And I mean, boots of every description: Cowboy, Ugg, ankle, motorcycle, wedge, hiking, and go-go; high-heeled and short; knee-high boots that pull on and knee-high boots that lace; big bulky snow boots with pom-poms dangling from them and bedecked with fleece or fur; boots made of sweater material, boots of leather, nylon boots. And rubber boots galore, in every shade of the rainbow and every height and style imaginable. I have seen more thigh-high boots in the month I’ve been here than I’ve seen IRL in the entire rest of my adult life.
Women here dress in a way that would be considered in the Midwest to be quirky, verging on unsuitable for the professional environment. Just this morning I saw a woman wearing a houndstooth-patterned wool pencil skirt with a plain black tshirt and what can only be described as flip flops with a pretension to formality. But she also had on flawless makeup, appropriate jewelry, and was carrying a very tasteful high-end leather messenger bag, so the whole thing came off as stylish & attractive. You’d never get away with wearing that outfit to work at, say, a law firm in St. Louis, and that’s just really too bad. Cowboy boots paired with full, knee-length skirts and an obviously-expensive denim jacket is another favorite. Maybe I’m just not noticing the schlubs but the people I see on the streets here – the ones who look like they have jobs, anyway – are all very pulled-together-looking. Men, too, but I notice the women more because they tend to be more unique. The men look nice but usually all of them look nice in one of only three or four different ways – the hipster nice, the metro nice, the former frat-boy nice, and the Serious Businessman nice.
My fashion sense is a whole lot more Portland than Seattle so I’m definitely on the lower rung of fashion here, although I certainly don’t stand out with my Converse-and-slacks approach to work like I did in St. Louis. My friend who visited this week put it perfectly when he remarked “I have this conception of Seattle as being a lot more granola; I had forgotten how urbane it is.” This is an international powerhouse of a city, and it shows in the way people dress. In Portland I could have gotten away with hiking sandals, casual pants with zip-off legs, and a plain t shirt to work at the Justice Department, and not just because I was a clerk – the lawyers dressed that way too. (They all kept a suit or two hanging in their office in case they needed to go to court or meet with a client.) Here I can’t be quite so blatant, especially since the other women in my department seem to put a higher-than-average (for the County) emphasis on their appearance. Alas that I’m not a man, as one of our two wears jeans, a nicely starched button-up (in some shade of blue), and work boots every single day. I’d love to get away with that as my uniform. (The other wears suit pants, polished loafers and a button-up, but he’s (A) gay, and (B) still trying to recover from having lived & practiced law in St. Louis for ten years before fleeing to the coast.)
There’s a switch that has been flipped in my head since I’ve moved, and it tells me that this is it – I’m not going anywhere else. This is, finally, my Real Actual Life. That impulse is leading me to make thoughtful but expensive purchases – a bed set, some classic wardrobe pieces, dishes. Things I’ve never wanted to mess with before because in the back of my head there has always been this voice telling me not to get too much stuff, not to get too comfortable because I’m just going to be moving on again soon. (That impulse is leading me down some other paths, too, but that’s another post.) I tried so hard to squelch that voice in St. Louis – I really did. I wanted to put down roots. I wanted to make a life where I could be happy. I still wonder a little if I could have been content if I’d just lived a little closer in – South Grand, or Shaw maybe.
Turns out I couldn’t be happy anywhere but here, not even in my precious Portland. Here I don’t feel the constant annoying prog-smug peer pressure from people who have (1) too much money they didn’t earn to spend on their “green” or “environmentalist” lifestyle choices and (2) not enough sense – or maturity? or life experience? – to know that it’s okay for people to not walk in lockstep; that you really can be friends with people who think for themselves, and you might even learn something. Clearly my experience in Portland was colored by the environment I was in – an elite private law school – but I feel more comfortable a month after arriving here than I did after three years there. Maybe Portland was the training wheels I needed to get to where I am now.
Here I also don’t feel the constant annoying sense of mingled longing/disbelief that characterized my life in Missouri: I wanted to be back in the Northwest, but doubted it would be as good as I daydreamed. No, that question has finally been answered: It really IS that good. I was right all along. That feels good to me but not nearly as good as the constant sense that I’ve finally done everything I can do to set myself up for a life of happiness, comfort, security, and adventure and now all I have to do is live it, day by day.