An oxymoron, you say? Those Capilene-clad jam-band groupies wouldn’t know style if it bit ‘em in their Birkenstocks.
Having lived all over the Pacific Northwest for the last 14 years and being very proud of that fact, I should take umbrage with this preconception.
But you’re dead fuckin’ on.
It’s as if someone decreed Portland, Seattle the “why bother” fashion capital of the world.
Huge rubber toed shoes that look clownish and uncomfortable – a Northwest staple. Hair that hasn’t been washed in far too long and exists in places it shouldn’t – right next to me, right now at the coffee shop.
For the most part, I’m ok with this. I’m no Pierre Cardin myself, and I appreciate the lack of pressure in that regard.
But there are a couple things going on out here that just aren’t right. They are desperate attempts at creating a style that’s not stylish. They are completely isolated to their city of origin, failing even to catch on in the other major cities of the Northwest. And they irritate me so much, I’ve had to cut ties as a result.
Today we’ll start with Seattle and the utilikilt.
A heavily pleated, durable fabric skirt with pockets, the utilikilt is worn primarily by men – I have spotted women wearing these atrocities, but that is not what we’re talking about. The men who wear utilikilts are not exclusively gay – I have spotted gay men in them, too but they’re only part of what I’m talking about.
The real demographic of note is the burly, usually quite stocky, and always thickly bearded, straight Seattle man who wears them as some kind of Northwest badge of honor.
This is not some miniscule segment of Seattle society. This shit is rampant. You see them all over town, but more frequently performing manual labor like when there’s heavy lifting to do or sawing wood. They can be worn to go out on the town, but this is not their common habitat. They’re most often accompanied by a sturdy pair of work boots. And they’re not cheap. They start at about $150 and go up to the mid-$600 range, if you're one of those dudes who likes your pleated skirts to come in leather. And they are so popular in Seattle that they necessitate not one, but two retail outlets (please click this link for the user-generated Utilikilt mock-umercials - they are fantastic) devoted exclusively to the waist-to-knee eyesore. After your third or fourth sighting, you start to get desensitized.
In 2004, we moved to the Fremont neighborhood, a veritable bastion of dreadlocks and patchouli - seemingly a very different subculture than the utilikilt lover but you still see 'em everywhere. The former owner of our house was putting some finishing touches on the place. In his utilikilt. And let me just say, this guy could totally kick my ass.
Despite this introduction to Fremont and the neighbors with their chicken coops, I loved living there. There was a park two blocks away where I walked my dog daily and chatted it up with neighbors who did the same - a few of us hung out pretty much every night shooting the shit while our dogs took some laps.
One guy was particularly nice, a middle school teacher who rented a room in a house across the street from the park and often invited me to sit on his front porch for beers. We talked about all kinds of things in life and I probably told him more about my day-to-day issues than most members of my family. My wife and I went out with him a few times socially and for a while, felt like he was one of our better friends in town. He had a big bushy beard.
And then the weather warmed up. I show up to the park one fine May evening for my regular session only to find this dude all skirted up. I was duped. He wasn’t the type and he never let on that he wore that shit. He could have told me months earlier that he was a skirt wearer and it never would have gotten this far. After that, it got awkward. He was somebody else in that pleated skirt and I couldn’t shake it.
I didn’t write the guy off completely. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just experimenting. Not turning totally skirt or anything. Just taking this $150 garment out for a spin. But the nice weather got nicer, the skirt got more play and I got more uncomfortable. It totally ruined the whole nightly hang for me and I had to start taking my dog to other parks. Eventually he moved and we never saw or heard from his skirt again.
Postscript: Apparently, there are utilikilts now residing outside of Seattle. This guy from San Francisco loves 'em. But I've never had a sighting beyond the 2-0-6. Please let me know if you see one so I can issue a retraction of my Seattle-centric critique. The city does have two big stores, though.