Can Apple improve San Francisco’s abysmal fashion sense?

March 28, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Normcore! Such an ugly word. Such a dire trend. A scourge, dumb meme, a blight upon San Francisco.

Have you noticed? Despite all our world-class natural beauty, and food, architecture, education, progressive politics, et al, SF has long been considered a fashion embarrassment, a true style wasteland, a laughingstock of NY and Paris and even LA.

Truth is, San Francisco, almost more so than Seattle, still swarms with normcore the way the Pacific Garbage Patch swarms with bleached-out plastic. From San Jose to the Marina, it’s armies of limp, style-deprived bros (and females too) in lazy hoodies and too much plaid, white sneaks, saggy jeans, blue button-front shirts and “dress” pants from whatever was in Banana Republic’s dumpster back in 2004.

Friends don't let friends dress like tepid oatmeal

Friends don’t let friends dress like tepid oatmeal

For the normcore fatality, grooming is an afterthought; said bro will throw on whatever XL hoody, tech conference T-shirt, baseball hat and $29 slip-ons were on the floor when he rolled off the futon. And then go out to nice dinner, where he will proceed to spend more on artisan cocktails than he spent on his entire wardrobe for the year. What can be done?

But wait! Perhaps all is not lost. Perhaps a potential savior at hand. Possibly? You think? Let us hope.

Here’s the thing: Multiple tech pundits – not exactly a group known for their fashion sensibilities, but never mind that now – are declaring that Apple, with the advent of its Apple Watch, is turning from a technology brand into a luxury fashion brand.

They might be right. No matter what you think of the Watch (I’m not yet much of a fan, but anything’s possible), the company clearly put an astonishing amount of effort into its design, fit, finish, and also the Watch’s newly created position in the tech/fashion marketplace. It has a jewel-like appearance. The metals are perfect. The thought and craftsmanship that went into the bands alone is stunning.

Apple clearly spared no expense. They hired top talent from luxury watchmakers to help position the Watch accordingly. The new head of Apple Retail, Angela Ahrendts, is the former CEO of Burberry and is, according to Time, currently the highest paid executive at Apple (she also reportedly advised on the Watch’s fashion appeal).

It goes on: Reports are that many Apple Store employees – again, not exactly a group known for hip style, but whatever – have been trained to talk up not just the Watch’s feature set, but how well it complements certain looks, what “type” of modish buyer might be attracted to which model. In short, fashion advice.

From an elitist fashion standpoint, you can argue it’s all sort of laughable. It takes more than a shiny, relatively cheap “wrist computer” to understand style or well-curated chic. And while the Watch is indeed beautifully designed, there’s no getting around the fact it’s yet another gizmo churned out by the tens of millions in enormous factories in China. Jaeger LeCoultre it ain’t.

But who cares about all that? Times are changing. Fashion evolves. Companies, too. Apple has managed to transform multiple industries and, along with them, personal tastes and habits, from how we listen to music to what we expect a phone to do. And how curious that TAG Heuer, that venerable, 150-year-old, mid-level luxury watchmaker, just announced it’s teaming with Google to make an Apple Watch competitor. So they’re clearly on to, well, something.

The question for San Francisco, then, goes thusly: When your average, hoody-splotched bro finally dumps his Casio G-Shock and slaps on new Apple Watch, will the dour spell of normcoredom finally be broken? Will Apple’s gem of a device throw his other tepid fashion choices into stark, embarrassing relief, as he starts to pay attention to cut, to shape, posture, materials? Accessorize beyond Ray Bans and (shudder) Jansport backpack? Skip right by J. Crew and head to The Archive? Finally learn to take off his dorky baseball hat inside nice restaurants?

Apple Watch, cover of Vogue, China. Just the first of many, you can be assured

Apple Watch, cover of Vogue, China. Just the first of many, you can be assured

Could happen. After all, this is how it works, no? All it takes is for someone you admire, someone whose tastes, intelligence and/or track record are kind of impeccable, to show you the way, to turn you on to something of real quality, taste, craftsmanship – be it clothes, or wine, or gadgetry, or cars, or shoes, or sex toys or bourbon or meat or coffee or speakers or lighting or bedsheets – and boom, your whole world can shift. Doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, either – just thoughtfully chosen, delightfully placed, keenly enjoyed.

Shall we clear up one common normcore wail? Putting a little effort into grooming and style doesn’t mean you’re necessarily vain or shallow; beauty has value. Done right, style has substance. Dressing and grooming well can bring ease, deep pleasure, confidence, change the tone of the world.

Hey, it’s just the same old lesson, retold for a new age: Surround yourself with deeply intentional beauty and quality (gizmos, gods, books, food, people, whatever), and watch your life brighten, become more nourishing and vital. Surround your life with the slouchy, the bland, the intentionally sloppy, and watch the world turn to mush. Who wants that?

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Mark Morford

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