I stopped folks from Chula Vista to Del Mar, at the malls and on the street, to ask them about their clothes. Questions ranged from sartorial specifics ("Why this outfit?") to cautionary tales ("Your biggest fashion mistake?"). And I asked what they hated to see on other San Diegans. It's just as you suspected: everyone is watching you...
Michelle Dalessandro, 25, Fashion Student, Golden Hill
This outfit was about $250 to $300. Leggings from American Apparel. Baby doll shirt with capped sleeves and string of gold pearls and plastic gold bangles from Studio 1220. The boots from Anthropologie are somewhere between 16th-century Elizabethan and Louis XIV. I always spend my money on accessories. I look for unusual fabrics -- those that cost less but look like they cost more. I pay attention to the way clothes are designed, the way they fit. If it doesn't fit well, I won't get it. Leggings are a staple for me; they're comfortable and I always wear them. I don't have a chest, so baby doll tops work great for me. The shoes are very me -- the girl in me: very feminine, lots of detail, and a little fur.
I wish I didn't have to hem my pants. I wish I could wear long, long pants and long dresses. If money were no object, I would buy Louis Vuitton, Max Mara, Betsey Johnson. I usually don't regret anything I've worn because everything is intentional when I get dressed. That said, I once wore sandals to a Scarlet Symphony concert and started a dancing pit -- a case of choosing the wrong outfit for the wrong occasion. I wish people would buy the right size, what looks good on them, not just what's in style.
As far as what women in San Diego wear, there's definitely a retro vibe in San Diego, and the women that do it, do it well. Otherwise, women seem to have a lack of imagination and confidence. And they need more color! More color, more confidence.
Barbara Dooley, 27, Personal Banker, Pacific Beach
I'm wearing one of my favorite dresses that is super cute and super comfy. I bought it at H&M for $35. I decided to pair it with some boots -- BCBG, $100. My sunglasses are Marc Jacobs, and the purse is Helen West. Both were about $100, so this outfit costs about $335. I like to add odd, unexpected colors with what I'm wearing, so that's where the necklace and tank top come in. I don't go by brand at all...just cuteness and style!
I chose this dress because I bought it at a store that we don't have in San Diego. That way I won't see myself walking down the street! I think this style dress is very flattering on all different body types. I like the wrap part because it accentuates the waist.
I'm very fortunate because I don't feel limited in what I can or can't wear. Some pant styles are really cute, but they aren't long enough for me. If I could afford whatever I wanted, I'd probably buy big-name designers.
I could always use a second opinion — or a third — before I leave the house, but I try not to make many mistakes or go to extremes with what I'm wearing. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with changing fashion seasons — new styles can get expensive. We've all had our own personal episodes of What Not to Wear! I don't think women should lie to themselves about what looks good on them. Just because it's in style doesn't mean it's right for them. On the other hand, I think that the way a woman dresses says a lot about her personality and how she views herself. -
Linda Cobo, 18, Student, Sales, Downtown
I'm wearing a yellow, gray, and black printed dress and a black knitted shrug. My mom made the whole outfit for me. She's been making dresses since she was 15; she learned it from her mom, who was also a dressmaker, my grandma. In Mexico, my mother made everything -- wedding dresses, you name it. I just give her a copy of the dress and she'll make it even better...she's very creative. I'm also wearing patent leather flats from Saks Off Fifth. The whole outfit probably cost me $70 -- $20 for two yards of material, $30 for the shrug's yarn, and $20 for the shoes.
I like wearing dresses; I'm a girlie girl and have been since I was five years old. But I'm too short to wear long dresses or long skirts. I wish I could afford BCBG and Marc Jacobs.
Before I choose an outfit, I run it past my mom. She always knows what's right because she makes clothes, and it helps me avoid fashion mistakes. Certain members of my family aren't as lucky: one of my cousins still wears short tops -- you know, styles that are over with already...something that was in a year or two ago, and she's still wearing it. I don't like baggy jeans on anyone.
Christine McLaughlin, 35, Retail Management, University Heights
This is a wool-blend suspender skirt from Cassette that I bought at Neighborhood Boutique. I got the yellow tie-dyed T-shirt there too. Everything except the vintage combat boots, which I bought at a thrift store in Chula Vista. The whole outfit was probably under $200. I chose this skirt because it's edgy and fashion forward, and suspenders are big again. I like to mix different eras -- the new skirt, the combat boots from the early '90s. I love Prada, Anna Sui, Moschino, Comme des Garçons -- the modern design element, it's genius -- but I can't afford it.
I can't wear high-waisted, wide-leg pants, which are really in right now. I could wear heels, but those pants just look better on tall people. I've made mistakes in the past wearing things that were just wrong for my body type. I'm curvy, so I need to keep that in mind. Something right now that's big is the '60s trapeze dress. When you have a chest, like I do, it just makes you look bigger. You kind of have to be flat, so I don't wear dresses like that, but usually I'll wear anything.
As for what I don't like: for some reason, San Diego women think that tight means sexy. It doesn't always. Loosen it up!
Lindsay Trowbridge, 29, Nonprofit Management, South Mission Hills
I'm wearing a white tank from H&M with black-on-white pinstripe pants and a gray sweatshirt-hoodie. I'm crazy about this jacket because it adds style to everything. I can wear it with jeans, even a dress, and still be casual. The silver sandals, which I picked up at Ross for 20 bucks, add some flair. I bought the jacket and the pants at Studio 1220 -- probably $120, total. Boutiques are much better for me; I don't have the patience to shop the malls, plus I enjoy the personal attention I get. If I could, I'd only buy in boutiques.
I can't wear heels with a lot of pants, because pants usually aren't long enough for me -- I'm 5'11" -- so finding a long hemline is a challenge. My biggest fashion faux pas was wearing gauchos to work every day two years ago because I just didn't have the energy to think about being fashionable. I finally tossed them. Actually, I think I may have burned them! A fashion mistake a friend recently made was wearing a worn-out pair of shoes with a fancy cocktail dress. She said the shoes were still "functional." I said, "Sweetheart, I don't care if they can carry you from San Diego to New York, get rid of them!"
A big fashion no-no in my book: panty lines. All women need to have a few pairs of nude G-string underwear. Full-coverage underwear is comfortable, but it is not flattering under a pair of fitted white pants.
Randy Bryan, 40, Salesman, Mission Hills
This is a casual look for me, and it really fits my personality: casual but also shows off my upper body -- because I work out and I work hard to be healthy! I bought most of it at Nordstrom; the rest I got on sale from Macy's. I probably paid a total of $170. I like the cut of the jeans; they really fit my waist. I chose the brown tank because I have every other color. The rust suede loafers -- I love them! -- they reminded me of my brother, who passed away when I was young. It's his style: classic. They're Cole Haan.
I really learned how to dress from my brother when I was a kid. He was really into fashion. He taught me what matches, what goes together, what's in season, what's out of season. I haven't found anything that I can't wear, but if I could, I'd buy more Versace.
As for fashion mistakes, people need to realize not to wear too much of one print, like plaid; not everyone can wear checkered material. I'd say men in San Diego don't know how to match, to coordinate. A lot of women here make the mistake of confusing summer white with winter white. I'm from New York; we have seasons.
Dara Carkner, 25, Sales, Hillcrest
This is a work outfit. I bought the purple dress online -- www.shopbop.com, which has about 100 different labels. The brown suede short boots are Steve Madden. This is a signature stripe Coach large tote, Coach sunglasses -- I used to work for them. The dress was $200, the shoes $100, the sunglasses $200, and the bag $400, so total, about $1000. Purple is good on me, and the flow-y dress is great for fat days -- let's just say it's forgiving after a long weekend. I got the boots last year, before they got so popular. I thought it was going to be colder today, so I just threw the boots on. I like color; I have a lot of plummy, purple clothes.
I haven't tried skinny jeans yet, but I don't think I'll be able to wear them. If I could afford it, I'd buy Chanel. My biggest fashion mistake of the past was Ugg boots with skirts. As for other people's fashion mistakes, I don't like huge logos on tops or jackets. I'm from New York, so I think there's a lot of nonstyle here in San Diego. A lot of girls wear the same look; whatever that style is, they all wear the same thing. I rarely see anything where I think, "Wow, I love that outfit."
Shannon Nosenzo, 33, Marriage and Family Therapist, Lemon Grove
The weather was going to be warm, and I like to be comfortable, so I wore fall colors, even though I wanted to pretend it was still summer. This is a Hurley T-shirt, probably $10. I'm wearing it over a black tank. I bought the paneled brown skirt at the Viejas outlet, $40. The wedgies are Seychelles, $45; I got them at shoes.com. Black-and-white Chanel knock-off bag, maybe $25. Jackie O glasses, $10. This outfit fits my personality. Easy, fun, simple.
I really like the new puffy dresses — bubble skirts, the tent dresses — but it totally buries me. If I could afford it, I'd shop at Nordstrom all the time. Past mistakes, probably jeans that were too low and too tight. I can wear them, but I still get the little squish, and when someone comes up and grabs you — it's a little embarrassing if they can feel it.
I don't like when friends wear pants that are too baggy and too long and cover the shoe. I know it sounds weird, but it really bugs me. Show a little toe! In my opinion, San Diego women are beautiful, but they just wear too little!
Carolyn Nigh, 40, Biomedical Research, Coronado
I had a lot of meetings today, and this seemed like a cool option for a hot day. Black pleated skirt, Preview from Nordstrom, $40. Giraffe-print chiffon blouse, $25 on sale, and Ann Klein patent Mary Janes, $59, both bought at Macy's — on sale! I'm carrying a clear Baby Phat animal-print bag, $70. It's actually a beach bag, but I take public transportation, so I take it everywhere. I have to look professional, but I don't wear hose and I try to keep the fun element. If I could, I'd wear sundresses and flip-flops every day, but with work, I can't. I would love to buy Versace, but it's too dressy for the office. And Chanel. As for fashion mistakes, wearing longer skirts. I'm too short for them. When they were in fashion, I bought a lot of them and thought later, never again.
I'm not a fan of clothing that's too tight. The biggest fashion mistakes come from not looking at yourself in the mirror before you leave the house. That's what I tell my children! Bra straps showing are a huge pet peeve of mine. I don't care how young or old they are. It's inappropriate in my opinion.
Laz Smith, 30, Barista, Talmadge
I'm wearing brown Dickies — work pants — and a western shirt I picked up at Salvation Army for three bucks. I like the western shirt, the colors — kind of fallish, orange piping on the pockets, fits in with the coffeehouse work environment. The black-and-white glasses are from Lenscrafters — I'm kind of an emo guy...I dunno, a little indie.
I'm a designer-phobe; I don't like wearing anything with a label. As for what I can't wear? I think I'm so good-looking, I can wear whatever! My biggest fashion mistake was late-'80s/early-'90s denim shorts. I hate fake ripped jeans. Drives me nuts. San Diego men and women should never wear anything you'd see in an MTV video.
Candace Ridley, 20, Full-Time Student, Researcher, Downtown
I'm going out with friends after work and I wanted to look classy, so I put this black-and-white retro outfit together. I got the top at Ross for $13, the skirt from Act II was $9, the ankle-strap sandals were $8, drop earrings were $5, and the headband was $1. So, for the whole outfit, under $50. Everything has to match for me. I'll go out of my way to find it. I can get a shirt in La Jolla and drive all the way to El Cajon for the skirt.
I'm so into Dolce & Gabanna, and I'm a Britney Spears fanatic. If I could, I'd wear stilettos, but they kill me. And I love dresses, but I don't always have the body for them.
Fashion mistakes: sweats and a headscarf. Whenever I wear sweats and a headscarf, that's when the hottest guys come up to me. When I dress up, I never meet hot guys. It's crazy! I hate the dickie thing that people wear under shirts -- the sweater/turtleneck thing, that's like a half shirt? I think it's so ugly. Too '60s. People shouldn't wear clothes that are too tight or too small. Women try to squeeze themselves into something that doesn't fit. Just be you!
Steve Brunolli, 20, Tutor, North Park
I go for a rock 'n' roll mod look. I like to be flashy and be seen and be noticed -- I like people to remember me. These pants are Gloria Vanderbilt; they're women's jeans. I sewed 'em up so they'd fit. Paid $3 at some thrift store. Gold belt with studs, about $15. Italian Beatle boots from Flashbacks -- can't remember what I paid for them. Velvet jacket, $5. Striped boatneck T-shirt, $10. Medallion from Claire's, $3. And the Who button, a few bucks.
If I could spend whatever, I'd get my clothes custom-made in London by the same guy who designed for Mark Bolan, from T. Rex, and all the mod guys. I like a lot of girls' coats, but they have the boob darts. I gotta figure out a way to get rid of that.
My biggest fashion mistake? I had a sparkly purple silk coat that I used to wear all the time. It was so ugly. I look back on it now and wonder, "What the hell was I thinking?" I have a friend that wears short little leather jackets that are cut off, and he has a really long torso, so it doesn't look good on him at all. I don't like the headband look on women, and I hate cargo shorts on men. The Ugg boots with short skirts? I never understood it.
Laura Rottman, 39, Real Estate Development, Mission Hills
I wore this outfit because it's comfortable and cool. It's a little bit warmer today, so I was trying to find something easy that I could put together quickly. It's professional, clean-cut, neutral. It won't offend anybody — I work in a semiconservative environment -- also, I'm running around a job site, so I try to get things that will hide dirt. I'm wearing a silver-blue silk top from Banana Republic, probably $50. Gray pants are Ann Taylor Loft — love them, I just bought them — they were $69. Black leather pumps, around $50. I have a change of shoes in the car because I don't wear heels on the job site.
I'm not really good with designers, but I'm sure I'd have a lot of fun in Nordstrom and Macy's going into the higher-end stuff that really fits your body. I pretty much can wear anything I want, though I'm limited in the workplace. But I don't wear Talbots, for example, because it's too conservative.
Big fashion mistake of the past: Can I just say "the '80s"? As for others' mistakes, people make choices I would prefer not to make. Variety is really lacking in our city in terms of fashion for all ages. Everything's about what's totally "in." You really have to seek out unusual stuff to find variety. I wish San Diego would showcase a little more versatility.
Victoria Abbou, 38, Cosmetology Student, Stylist, La Jolla
I had an interview this morning, and it was a little chilly, so I wanted to dress warm and look professional but stylish. I like the fall colors and a little bit of flash. My skirt and shirt are from United Colors of Benetton. The shirt was $39, the skirt $75. My sweater — that's chiffon piping and camel fur -- I purchased from the La Jolla Farmers Market for $75. I have on camel fishnets from Nordstrom and Jessica Simpson brown suede boots with bows that cost $99. The brown Ellen Tracy leather bag was probably $200. I'm wearing earrings that my mother gave me. I took them apart and remade them — they're 18-carat gold with glass beads.
I'm a Valentino girl; he's my favorite designer. And I love Fendi shoes and bags. I'd wish I could wear Betsey Johnson — especially her evening wear — but I have to be very selective since I'm very hourglass. I'm not comfortable in bright colors; once I tried to wear bright green, and it just didn't look good on me.
I don't like it when girls wear the lowrider jeans with thongs, whether it's on purpose or not. Maybe it's not intentional, but if jeans are too tight for you, don't wear them; go with your size. A lot of women are in denial about what size they really are. Each designer fits every body differently. I noticed that when San Diego women go out in the evening, they don't really dress. They have no style of their own. It's the spaghetti-strap top, jeans, and stiletto sandals or pumps. When you go downtown, that's all you see girls wearing.
Troy Munsey, 22, Stylist, Normal Heights
It was cold this morning, but the sun was out. The weather's been pretty schizophrenic, so I figured warm and cool clothing. This outfit shows how insane my brain is. Comfort and a little outspoken. So I'm wearing a long, white thermal T-shirt — inherited from a friend -- under a graphic T-shirt from the Blue Room in Fashion Valley -- 20 bucks. Plaid Hurley shorts, $50. Tredair U.K. black-and-white shoes, $18 at Buffalo Exchange.
If money were no object, I'd wear a lot of tailored suits; I like Prada a lot. What I can't wear is layered collars -- like sweater vests with collars underneath; they just don't look good on me. Maybe I haven't found the collar that flatters my face. I read in Details magazine that there are other kinds of collars, so I need to investigate.
I've learned that whatever you wear, there are never fashion mistakes, only fashion discoveries -- you find out what doesn't work. When I was young, I wore a lot of neon colors, but that was in at the time. The spaghetti-strap phase -- I hope that's passed. A lot of girls were wearing them that shouldn't have been. What do I hate that San Diego women wear? For me, it's all about the hair! I hate overly highlighted long hair with no strengths.
Jaya Fux, 38, Voiceover Specialist, Hispanic Market, Chula Vista
I'm wearing a turquoise layered skirt I bought from Costco, $10, and a black tunic with turquoise beading from New York & Company, probably $20, and a black tank, also from Costco — a three-pack for $9.99. The sandals are Clarks from Macy's, $25. I've got fake diamonds in my ears, but the turquoise silver bracelet from Mexico City is real! It cost more than all the clothes put together. But not as much as the Ralph Lauren sunglasses, which were $90. I'm on my way into the studio to do a commercial, and I wanted to dress comfortably but with color and some style. I like that this skirt has flair and movement; I can work in it, and I feel good in it.
If I could afford it, I would wear the clothes I see women wear in Mexico City. I go there often, and I see how beautifully those women are dressed. I wish I could wear lower-cut tops and backless dresses, but I don't have a big chest, so those clothes don't flatter my figure.
Red lipstick doesn't look good on me, nor does black eyeliner. The worst was the very big blouses that cover your figure, just long and shapeless, that we wore with leggings. That style didn't do anything for me. I have a friend who's quite chunky, and she tucks in her top and pulls it out so it's hanging. It's her way of hiding her weight, but it just makes it worse; it makes her look very round. Flip-flops are the worst. I hate seeing them on San Diego women.
Kenji Renka, 20, Accounting Associate, La Jolla
I'm wearing a full-length pinhead coat from Ipso Facto, an online punk-Goth store. It was about $100. Black silk shirt, probably thrift store — probably ten bucks. Guess? black cargo pants, I paid five or ten dollars for them, but they're easily $100 originally. The chain was about $20. The silver pendant was $15 from Spencer's. I choose what I'm wearing based on who I'm associating with. I used to just wear random clothes, without any thought to how they went together. People really interpret what you're wearing. This outfit tells you a lot about who I am, what I'm into.
I'd maintain the same style, even if I could afford whatever I wanted. It's not a question of money for me; it's a question of what looks good and what I feel good wearing. I really like how fishnet looks, but I'm not willing to wear it.
As far as others' fashion mistakes, I think people generally wear clothing that shows how they want to be viewed by others. Bad choices? To them, they're not mistakes. I don't like the whole new-age gangster clothing. It just perpetuates black stereotypes.
Megan Nicholson, 25, Nursing Student, Pacific Beach
I based everything around the boots today, figuring out how I could make them work. I put the skinny jeans on and tucked them in, because I wanted the boots to show. I love color, which is why I'm wearing three different tops! It starts with two tanks — green and pink, probably $4 each — under a long yellow sweater, about $20. I've got on Marlo skinny jeans, about $60, tucked into lace-up Steve Madden boots, around $120, which aren't vintage, but they're about seven years old. The fedora is from Christy's of London, around $50.
If I could, I'd dress edgier. I like what Prada does. I love the relaxed Bohemian style of clothing, but it doesn't really suit my personality. As for fashion missteps, the schoolgirl pleated skirts. Wouldn't do that again...
Depending on your attitude, you can pull things off and avoid any fashion mistake. Some girls want to copy a certain look, but they can't quite carry themselves into believing it. And I just don't like leggings. I think it's overplayed.
Andrea Evans, 31, Human Resource Director, Alpine
I have a history of devotion to the environment. I wear Bono jeans on his EDUN label and try to be mindful of the environment, so I got this outfit on Adams Avenue at Richard Frederick — it's the first boutique in San Diego that sells organic clothing and cruelty-free accessories -- no leather. I'm wearing a black-and-white striped "ecoganic" long tank with black lace detail and palazzo-style black pants. They're so soft and comfortable. The top was $48, the pants were $68. The shoes are Charmoné, made in Italy but designed in San Diego. I like them because they're unique, they're red, and I'd never walk into a party and see anyone else in them. They're a little expensive — $269 — but not really for shoes made in Italy. My Michele watch is $500, so it's all relative.
If I could, I'd buy everything at Harvey Nichols — a store in London — and a long list of others: Dior, Chloe, Chanel, Vivian Westwood, Miu Miu, Linda Loudermilk. Victoria Beckham has great style, but I could never get away with wearing her choices. J. Crew has cute clothes, but they're too conservative for me.
My big fashion mistake was a horrible blue Jessica McClintock dress — it was more like Laura Ashleystyle, down to my ankles, with long sleeves -- that I wore for a wedding. Never again! My mom's a fashion mistake. She dresses like she's 80. Pants with elastic, you know.
I hate when San Diego women try to dress like L.A. ladies — too tight, too low, too what it's not. Stop trying to catch the L.A. vibe; it's San Diego, for God's sakes!
Gabriel Hagen, 20, Bank Teller, Normal Heights
I don't like the dull, drab, usual stuff; I love funky colors. I only have to wear shirt and tie for work, with khakis or black pants. I wore the jacket because it was raining. It's casual, yet it's business-appropriate. It's still fun and outgoing; it's a conversation starter. Khakis from JCPenney, around $20, and Ecco loafers from the Walking Company, around $150. Jacket from the Assembly, $70. Purple tie, $20. Turquoise shirt, about $20.
If money were no object, I'd buy Armani -- I love the colors, the styles -- and a lot of Gucci -- I fantasize at the Gucci store all the time. I love print shirts with patterns, but it doesn't work on me; it's not made for my face structure. I wish I could wear them.
When I was in high school I tried to follow trends, the cheap versions. I used to see all these ads for Hawaiian prints, so I tried wearing those. I grew up in Iowa; it just didn't work. Neither do muumuus, which people wear out in public. And those sweats. Okay, you're a mom, you're busy. You're going to the gym, it's everyday use, but you can still dress up. I hate the fact that San Diego women wear...very little clothes. You can make yourself stylish and still wear clothes. Cover yourself up!
LeeAnn Sardone, 21, Au Pair, Del Mar
I wore this because it's funky, it's unique. You gotta get out there and show 'em what you got. I bought this vintage-inspired Trina Turk black-and-white hounds' toothcheckered dress at Caroline's Designer Resale in Del Mar for $75. The black boots are Ferragamo's, $150. I've paired them with black thigh-highs that I've rolled down so they show over the boots. I threw on some colored bracelets to add a little flair. So total, maybe $300.
Oh, everything I wore up to 18 was a fashion mistake. I would never be caught dead in my pajamas outside anymore...flannel comfortable pants in public? No. No. No. My friends' mistakes: collared button-up shirts. Don't do it.
If I had the money, I'd buy Miu Miu -- it's Prada's line. I love mini-dresses, but I can't wear them. Well, maybe I can wear them...I don't like the quarter-length tights, the leggings, that girls wear under dresses or jackets. I just don't.
Tami Lorigan, 25, Bookkeeper, El Cajon
I wear a lot of vintage dresses — they're easy, comfortable, feminine, fun. I like my hair and makeup to match the era. My husband has a '49 Ford, and we go to the car shows, so dressing vintage is part of my everyday lifestyle. I'm wearing a late-'50s day dress, $44 from Girls from the Park in Ocean Beach. Wool beaded '50s sweater, around $30. The baby-blue flats are current — Seychelles, $25.
I'd buy a lot Diane von Furstenburg if I could; I love her stuff. I admire Calvin Klein — it's very modern, very clean — but I don't have that angular look. I'm curvy; that's why vintage clothes work on me.
In the past I wore too-comfortable clothing — it was a little boring. Those are the fashion mistakes I see my friends making — a lot of jeans, a lot of T-shirts, nothing unique. I really hate it when women wear platform foam flip-flops. I don't care if it is summer!
Andrea Duran, 21, Student, Sales Assistant, Chula Vista
I dressed in black, because that's usually what we wear at Bloomingdale's. But I'd wear this to go out to dinner downtown. As for the lacy, midriff top, I'm not showing anything on top, so it's okay to show a little bit on the bottom. You gotta go one way or the other. I bought the top at Forever 21 for $23. The crop pants are Frenchi from Nordstrom, about $38. The suede boots are Nine West, $60. The black hobo bag is Lulu, around $40.
I love BCBG, it fits really good; Bebe works well too. In jeans, I like Seven, Rockin' Republic, True Religion. The loose styles that are in right now? I get lost in them; I'm too small. My past mistakes include tops that were too short and jeans that were too tight. Same with my friends. Jeans that are too tight or too loose or too low, so that you bulge out on the side. What San Diego women need is to stop dressing too provocative and showing too much skin.