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Letters to the Editor 

Week of December 24, 2002

Trashin' Fashion

Let's face it: S.F. chicks lack style: GQ magazine's Adam Rapoport was wrong when he labeled San Francisco's young women unattractive ["Turning Heads," Dog Bites, Dec. 11]. But what is "attractive," and can it be bought at the Marc Jacobs boutique? Britney Spears could wear Marc Jacobs haute couture head to toe and I still wouldn't find her attractive. On the other hand, if Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn wore Sears, Roebuck career separates, they would look attractive to me and, I suspect, to many others.

Like most fashion designers today, Marc Jacobs is little more than a mass-market stylist for the above-the-Gap demographic, and hardly worthy of being mentioned alongside the truly great designers of the past such as Charles James or Cristobal Balenciaga. The trouble is that standards have been lowered so far that journalists, with straight faces, have compared Mark Wahlberg to Cary Grant and Drew Barrymore to Marilyn Monroe. Like most things (fashion, cars, art, architecture), standards of attractiveness have declined precipitously since about 1965.

If anything is wrong with San Francisco's young women today, it is their lack of style -- something so many local women had through at least the mid-'60s. Look at photos or newsreels from any time before then and you'll see graceful, feminine-looking women in sweater sets, Dior coats, fitted dresses, matching hats, gloves, handbags, and shoes. There are still hundreds of women in San Francisco who won't leave home without being perfectly turned-out, but sadly, few of them are under 60.

Are there any young women left in San Francisco who dress attractively? A few, such as my wife. Most others are in subcultures such as the mods or swing kids. These young women can look fabulous while spending very little, because they buy vintage clothes. That's anathema to Marc Jacobs and his ilk; they'd rather women spend $3,000 on their outfits "inspired" by Emilio Pucci or Yves St. Laurent than spend a fraction of that on the original goods from a vintage clothing store or on eBay.

While most young men probably couldn't recognize a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, surely I can't be the only straight man under 40 who can recognize vintage Ferragamos or identify a court heel. There used to be plenty of stylish, attractive straight men in this town, though few remain. Most young men today seem content to wear the impotent symbols of rebellion (denim, leather, baseball caps) or ride the MTV trendwagon.

What happened? The high-tech boom of the past 25 years, which brought thousands of styleless cubicle drones to the city. Another factor is the still-prevalent notion that dressing well is "sissy," thus somehow "gay." While there probably are more stylish gay men than straights per capita in San Francisco, there are still some straight young men who make an effort (again, mostly in those same subcultures).

Just as some women do, I can put together a great vintage outfit for about $200 (say, a velvet jacket, cashmere turtleneck, Sta-Prest pants, and zip-side boots) and look better-turned-out and more distinctive than a guy who drops $2,000 on an Armani outfit. The difference is in the personal style and imagination to step beyond the bounds of what today's designers want to sell. Self-confidence, creativity, and sensible spending -- now that's attractive!

Robert Haines

I was doomed but now I'm saved: Loved the anti-Rapoport column. I feel especially vindicated because I am a San Francisco native, transported to the Upper West Side after college at Cornell. I guess I was doomed, until Lessley Anderson's piece proved otherwise!

Andrea Forker
New York, N.Y.

S.F. women hurt my eyes!: Dog Bites tried to argue against GQ's description of S.F. women as ugly. I am a European that has lived in the Bay Area for three years now. Being all over the USA, it seems clear that S.F. women are spectacularly ugly and dressed down compared to most other American and European women.

Many are so overweight that they take up two seats at the BART or dress like they have escaped from a mental hospital. I have visitors from Europe several times a year, and every one of them has spontaneously remarked on the lack of good-looking women in this area.

Sorry, but S.F. can't brag about the women. Just as they said in GQ: Come over and watch the Golden Gate Bridge, wine country, eat wonderful food -- but don't come here for checking out women.

Roger Karlsson

City of amateurs: I laughed my ass off when I saw what GQ said cuz it was so dead-on. Rapoport was so right it was refreshing. Anderson's response was so poor and off the mark it was disappointing. She really missed his point.

Good dress isn't about what someone's legs look like. Or what a ton of money can buy. It's about putting together an outfit. Well. Sometimes by yourself. Out of whatever. (Gap, Ann Taylor, and other everything-goes-with-everything clothes do not really count for well-dressed.) It's about taking something from wherever and making it work well. Or even just work.

But I guess it's what people consider "works" in this town that's so bad. Throwing on a pair of red boots from Wasteland (granted, there hasn't been jack-shit at Wasteland in a long time) and wearing them with other pseudo-hip stuff doesn't make you funky. Sorry. And some tiny club of "hot" chicks is not what GQ meant. They are exclusive, and GQ was talking about the entire city of S.F. You miss that? (I'll bet they can't dress, either. They probably look like each other in overpriced clothing.) What passes for classy in this town is cheap, and what passes for funky is just laughable.

By the way, you do not have to go to Marc Cole or wherever and blow a ton of money to be well-dressed. This is what GQ was talking about. Case and point.

But that's part of the residue of the dot-com thing. Everyone who knew how to dress, who had actual style, took off, and the newbies never picked it up. A city of amateurs. Glorified suburbanites. Shame. Truth hurts. Thank you again, GQ -- you are so right.

Marc Culiner

I wore red, and they hated me!: Lessley, m'dear, it's true: S.F. women do not know how to dress. I do not in the least consider myself to be a fashion diva -- not even a trainee -- but I'm frequently appalled at the widespread acceptance of black jeans and a leather jacket as being "dressed up" by men and women in San Francisco.

I lived in New Orleans for four years, where it was quite easy to discern the locals from the tourists: The locals were always the well-dressed-looking folk, and the tourists (plus the Tulane/Loyola/East Coast-originating undergrads) were always the people in ridiculous Teva sandals, shorts, T-shirts, and Hawaiian shirts year-round.

Here, it's a little more difficult to discern the jeans-Polarfleece locals from the shorts-Polarfleece tourists -- except that the locals usually wear leather jackets and the tourists are wearing Polarfleece emblazoned with "SF" or icons of the Bay Bridge.

I was shocked and disappointed when I went to Gary Danko shortly after it opened on Valentine's Day in 2000 to discover that a) I was the only person wearing red in the entire restaurant; b) my boyfriend was the only person who was wearing a tie; and c) people were wearing shorts, Polarfleece, and sandals in this very chic, elegant, and ridiculously overpriced dining establishment. I felt ostracized for being overdressed. That's the thing -- in any other major metropolitan city, one cannot be "overdressed," except in San Francisco.

I like to dress up, sometimes. Why is it that if I wear black slacks and a cashmere sweater, people look at me funny, unless I go to the Eagle, where they don't look at me at all unless I am spanking someone? S.F. fashion SUCKS!!!

Jennifer R. Accettola

Double Standard

Why aren't Palestinians held to the same moral standards as Israelis and Americans?: I encountered Barbara Lubin at a protest in Berkeley two years ago ["A Smuggler's Tale," Bay View, Dec. 11]. I was standing in solidarity with Israel, while Lubin was denouncing Israel's most recent anti-terrorist operation. I remember her words to me clearly as she paraphrased Gandhi: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

However, as is clear from Peter Byrne's profile of Lubin, this lesson only applies to America and Israel. Whether it's Iraqis or Palestinians, Lubin is quick to justify violent hatred of the U.S. and Israel. It illustrates a troubling phenomenon: Like so many other like-minded activists, Lubin fails to apply to the Arab world the same standards of decency that she applies to America and the Israelis.

In typical "Yes, but ..." fashion, Lubin condemns the death wrought by suicide bombers while pointing to Palestinian gripes as a supposed justification. She similarly excuses al Qaeda's attacks of Sept. 11: "What took them so long?" she asks. "It looked like Baghdad after the U.S. bombing."

Lubin's double standard towards the Arab world is extremely patronizing. While she purports to uphold the rights and dignity of these people, she is not the least bit critical when their behavior turns violent. It's as if she expects no more of these people on whose behalf she supposedly works.

True peace will come to the Middle East, Ms. Lubin, when we demand of the Arabs what we have demanded so long of the Israelis and of ourselves: respect for human rights and a readiness to embrace our former enemies in pursuit of a peaceful future. To expect less of them is pure condescension.

Benjamin Klafter
San Francisco


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