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Has the casual Bay Area vibe turned us into fashion ‘don’ts?’

By Angela Hill
Oakland Tribune

Posted:   02/18/2012 04:44:06 PM PST

When the world finally collapses, it may be under a massive pile of ripped jeans from Abercrombie & Fitch.

When archeologists from space sift through our ashes on this cold dead rock, they will not find remains of the days of yore: the French cuffs, the sterling-silver tie bars, the sleek pencil skirts and silk blouses of the mid 20th century. No, those were replaced long ago with mutilated denim and logo T-shirts adopted for any occasion, devolving further into the rumpled, faded, polka-dot pajama bottoms tucked into black socks on a 42-year-old man at the Nob Hill in Alameda.

“I guess it is kinda bad, huh,” he said last week, hanging his head in mock shame and chuckling at his public display of apathy — not daring to reveal his identity for fear of his wife’s mortification. “Well, isn’t the world supposed to end this year? Then who cares, right? I might as well be comfortable when it happens.”

Somewhere along the line, especially here in the highly informal, tech-friendly Bay Area, Casual Fridays have become Casual Every Day with spiffy outfits relegated to the likes of attorneys, wait staff and TV news anchors. Fashion forward sometimes goes fashion sideways, careening over the embankment of good taste and down the slippery slope to sloppy.

“It looks likes people just don’t care anymore. People are very sloppy,” said Armando Osorio, 35, of Berkeley, who likened most Bay Area style to the “before” looks on a makeover show.

He says he dresses down — but neatly — for his job at a lumber company. But when he steps out on the weekends, it’s J. Crew for casual and a suit or sport coat for special events. “Yeah, it takes a little effort to look nice. And that’s the problem,” he said. “We have become way, way, way too lazy.”To be sure, clothing choice depends on the occasion or line of work. You’d look loony wearing a suit to a beach party or repairing a car. And casual wear isn’t inherently bad. It’s less stuffy, there’s room for more creativity and individuality than in decades past, and it’s hands-down much more comfortable at the office.

But those still nursing a small flame at the shrine of style say it’s disappointing to see more and more holey jeans at the symphony and chic restaurants.

“I find it sad to see people in jeans at the theater,” said Michael Pagan, general manager for Harry Denton’s Starlight Room atop the Sir Francis Drake hotel in San Francisco, a place where it was once expected for guests to dress up for a night out. But now?

“Someone in a suit certainly wouldn’t be out of place here, but you’d be surprised at what people wear,” Pagan said. “Tourists you can understand. They’ve been on a long flight, so they come in wearing shorts and stuff. But even people out for the night — club girls dress up in the Kim Kardashian kind of little dresses, but at the same time you’ll get the soccer mom type, almost to the point of wearing sweats, carrying backpacks, bad hair. The trend has gone way down for style.”

Pagan equated today’s fashions with texting. “These days, you have people who will always think ‘laugh out loud’ is spelled ‘lol,’ ” he said. “Extrapolate that out to the way people present themselves — abbreviated style, doing what’s fast and easy — and look what you get. Usually the only people in tuxedos and gowns here are us (the staff).”

Order in the court

One venue where common-sense fashion should surely rule the day is in a court of law. But on some doors at Wiley Manuel courthouse in Oakland, there are signs reading: “NO shorts; NO tank tops or tube tops; NO pajama pants/sweats; NO exposed stomachs.”

If Perry Mason were alive — and real — this would probably kill him.

“Defendants don’t care anymore. For some, it’s no different than going to McDonald’s,” said Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman, who has presided over criminal cases for 29 years. He prefers a casual look himself, opting for golf shirts and khakis under his robes to put jurors at ease, he said. But there’s casual, and then there’s his pet peeve: people in saggy pants. “I told a guy the other day, ‘You’re already on probation and you come in my courtroom like that? I don’t need to see your underwear.’ ”

Etiquette and public speaking coach Holly Rauser of Morgan Hill (www.ConsiderEtiquette.com) says inappropriate dressing is a sign of a breakdown in respect, for oneself and others.

“The ‘Me’ Generation has become the Age of Rudeness,” she said. “We have overdone the self-esteem movement and forgotten to teach that other people have worth, too. We need to treat others with the respect that we ourselves demand.”

All dressed up

In some cases, people feel embarrassed for looking good. Sue Fox, an etiquette expert in Pleasanton (www.EtiquetteSurvival.com) and author of “Etiquette for Dummies,” recently had a woman shop clerk actually apologize for being too dressed up because she’d just come from a funeral. “When did dressing nicely become something you have to apologize for?” Fox asked.

Indeed, the rules governing fashion decorum have become increasingly less stringent over the decades, particularly in the Bay Area and most notably in menswear, said style maven Dyanna Dawson, who blogs about San Francisco and New York street fashion (www.TheSFStyle.com). “A lot of men will wear jeans and casual shoes to their 9-to-5,” and that’s great, she said. But some of her male friends here say they feel “odd-man out” if they ever dare wear a suit to work.

The casual look “has allowed for more freedom of self expression in the ways people choose to dress,” Dawson said. “But the flip side is people who feel like they’d be ostracized in some way for dressing too well.”

Fox says research shows people behave better when they’re dressed up. “And it doesn’t have to be expensive clothes,” she said. “Just a clean ironed shirt for a dinner party or a job interview, tucked into nice slacks. How you dress, groom yourself and handle yourself in public are all part of your ‘packaging.’ Yes, you should wear what you like, but just because you love wearing shorts and sports sandals doesn’t mean that you should wear them to the opera in the city.”

Banning the pants

While it’s been trendy the past few years for high school kids to wear pajama pants to class, some schools around the country have banned the trend. And in Shreveport, La., Commissioner Michael Williams received national attention in January for proposing an ordinance outlawing the wearing of pajamas in public, for students or adults.

“The moral fiber in America is dwindling away,” Williams was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal. “It’s pajamas today; what is it going to be tomorrow? Walking around in your underwear?”

Perhaps all is not lost. Even some high-school kids shun the “too cool to care” look amid the PJ trend. “It can be a signal of carelessness … and it doesn’t put me in the right educational or social mindset,” said Shalaka Gole, 16, a student at California High School in San Ramon. “I normally don’t pass judgment on others who wear pajamas to school — to each their own, right? But however much my friends try to get me to wear sweats in public, to ‘put down my attire guard’ for one day, I never will.”

Presenting Yourself

Many people try to avoid passing judgment too quickly, but at first meetings, they inevitably assess other people by how they look. Ask yourself these questions:
Does your work wardrobe help you present a confident, well-groomed image?
Are the clothes suitable for the type of work you do (or want to do)?
Do you have clothes that can take you from work to a social engagement?
And remember, first impressions are lasting impressions. So dress the part.

Source: Sue Fox, author of “Etiquette for Dummies.”

Breaking Bread for Better Business

The business lunch is not about the food. It’s about building relationships to boost your bottom line.

By: Holly K. Rauser | 1/22/2008

Going out to lunch can actually make you money. “More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject,” management expert Peter Drucker says. As a women entrepreneur, you need to know the ins and outs of this most basic and profitable way to grow your business.

Breaking bread with your client is not about the food. A business lunch provides a relaxed atmosphere for getting to know your client, allowing you to find out what is important to him or her. In the words of super salesman Zig Ziglar, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Treat the business lunch as you would a job interview, although without the pressure. You would never go to a job interview without researching the company first. Research your client’s business successes and failures.

Have a couple of no intrusive questions to ask your client to get conversation rolling. Arm yourself with engaging, neutral conversational topics that have nothing to do with your potential joint venture. The point is to get to know your client and build a relationship.

Take special care selecting the restaurant for your business lunch. It is vital that you know your client’s potential food preferences or restrictions. For example, your client may be a vegetarian or have food allergies. Seek recommendations on restaurants from several sources. Whenever possible, preview a new restaurant before bringing a client. If the restaurant is too noisy or even too quiet, it can make conversation difficult. When making reservations, ask which credit cards are accepted and request a private table with an experienced server.

Take time to review proper table manners. Yes, they matter. Gross violations of etiquette will lower your client’s opinion of you and quite possibly kill the deal. There is more to dining etiquette than keeping your elbows off the table and chewing with your mouth closed. For many of us, dining etiquette has become a lost art. Many have grown up eating in front of a TV set instead of at the dinner table. An etiquette consultant can refine your dining skills and make you more confident in any social situation.

A day or two before your lunch, call the restaurant to confirm your reservations, table and experienced server. Be sure to call your client to let him or her know you are looking forward to the event, confirming the time and place.

If you’re like me, you may want to stash an extra blouse at your office for the occasional drip and splat. Have a snack prepared in case you do more talking than eating: Remember, it’s not about the food.

It is always a good idea to have grooming essentials at the ready in a small bag. Include a hairbrush and hairspray, toothbrush, hand wipes and makeup. Important: Touchups should never be done in public view.

The day of the lunch, arrive early. Check the position of your table, decide where you and your client will be seated and speak to your server. Let the server know this is a business lunch and advise him or her not to approach if papers are on the table. Give the server your credit card before your client arrives and tell the server to include a 20 percent tip to ensure great service. When you see your client arrive, turn off your cell phone and complete the following checklist:

Important note: When dealing with clients of the opposite sex, make sure to keep your roles clearly defined. There should be no misunderstanding that the business lunch is a date. When the client is of the opposite sex and you want to prevent rumors, you may opt to bring an associate relevant to your business. Before bringing a spouse or significant other, consider carefully whether there is a legitimate business reason for that person to attend. Be sure to inform your client of any additional guests.

Finally, relax and enjoy the conversation and company. If something goes wrong, as it often does, handle it with grace and humor. Do not dwell on the incident. Even etiquette consultants commit an occasional faux pas. How you recover says more about you than the unfortunate incident. Be sure to reap the benefits of breaking bread with your client.

Holly K. Rauser, founder of Consider Etiquette, is a speaker and etiquette consultant who considers etiquette an essential part of life’s relationships.