Noe Valley Voice May 1999

Is There a Noe Valley Look? If So, It's Relaxed and Casual

By Anne Sengès

We all know that to be a proper Noe Valleon, you have to carry the right accessories: the baby stroller, the Jack Russell terrier, and the cell phone hidden discreetly in your pocket (it's only for emergencies). But is there such a thing as a Noe Valley look?

In the eyes of several people the Voice questioned on 24th Street last month, the answer is no. We're free spirits here. We wear what we want. We each have our own unique fashion.

One man we talked to said, "I always thought we were just slobs." A woman entering Gladrags admitted, "There probably is a Noe Valley look, but I don't know what it is."

But Douglass Street resident Virginie Drocourt, 27, who works in the clothing industry, thinks she has Noe Valley pegged. "A look in Noe Valley? Of course there's one. Just check out the stores on 24th Street. I call it 'hippie chic.' Women in Noe Valley want to look relaxed and casual. For instance, they love hemp -- it looks cool. They always wear casual clothes, but they are impeccably cut. They dress more sophisticated than people might think."

Voice illustrator Karol Barske, who's lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, also has observed a thread running through our clothes. "Women here wear earth tones, ethnic jewelry, and natural fibers, but nothing tight or brightly colored -- definitely not turquoise. The men all wear Dockers or jeans -- that classic L.L. Bean garb."

Our local fashion experts, at clothing stores along 24th Street, mentioned "comfortable" more than once.

"The Noe Valley look is casual. It is a comfortable look," said Gale Trent of Designers' Club at 24th and Sanchez. "In Noe Valley you see people wearing jeans, you see a lot of long skirts and dresses, even though the younger clientele likes short skirts and very tight pants. And I would also add that the most popular accessories among Noe Valley women are dogs and strollers," she said.

Mary Cote at nearby Joshua Simon (3915 24th St.) noted that summer fog and wind can make a difference, too. "People in Noe Valley look just for comfort. There are a lot of moms and a lot of babies. People are always wearing comfortable clothes and layers because the weather is changing constantly."

But Susan Mitchell, also from Joshua Simon, hesitated to pin down a Noe Valley style. "People might be offended by that. They like to have their individuality. We want to offer people the opportunity to create their own look," she said.

According to Liz Klein, owner of the store, Noe Valleons are more daring and original than, say, Union Street shoppers, who often stick to designer labels.

Carla Weinberger, manager of Gladrags (3985 24th St.), agreed that local women are more relaxed about their wardrobe. "What our customers want is comfort and style," she said, pointing out that black remains the store's number-one-selling color.

The men dress casual too, but don brighter hues on occasion. Said Nicole Roche of Workwear, the new men's store on 24th Street, "They love comfortable clothes like polar fleece, and they also like bright colors, at least on their T-shirts."

Marilyn Sitkoff, of Ocean Front Walkers (4069 24th St.), said she always buys her shirts, socks, and shorts with neighborhood tastes in mind. She recently attended the Magic Show in Las Vegas to scout out new lines for the store.

"I discovered a line of backpacks that you would wear on your shoulder but which mold to your hips. When I saw that, the first thing I thought was: This is so Noe Valley! People in the neighborhood are whimsical and fun," she said.

But we insist on staying clear of Madison Avenue. "If there is a look in Noe Valley, I would probably say that it is more loose than tight, even though the tight look is more fashionable right now," said Kai Lamming of Cotton Basics at 1301 Castro St. "Gray was the hot color this past year," she added, "but I did not see as much gray in Noe Valley as elsewhere."

Barbara Boissevain, a young woman shopping at Mary's Exchange on Castro Street (dressed stylishly in a black velvet jacket, black pants, and a royal blue shirt), agreed that Noe Valleons are less likely to be slaves to fashion than residents of the Marina or North Beach. "The look in Noe Valley is not as trendy as in other parts of the city," Boissevain said.

Another shopper, Nancy, who recently moved from Noe Valley to the Sunset, went even further, saying that "women in Noe Valley only wear loose pants. They don't really pay attention to their looks."

So what if we'd be out of place on a Paris runway? Maybe our casual attitude toward clothes is part of the neighborhood's charm.