From jeans at church to shorts at the opera, Seattle is a town of extreme dressing down. So thank God for citizens like Cyndee Freilinger, who take leisurewear to glorious heights. Unassumingly casual at first glance, Cyndee is in fact a stealth bomb of designer fashion, a walking collection of big-ticket sartorial art.
SEQUINED SWEATSHIRT by Lisa Kline, $300 at Lisa Kline Boutique (7207 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, 310-275-0729). That's no Bedazzler-enabled homemade joint, but an original piece from designer Lisa Kline's Melrose boutique, beloved by such "Hollywood girls-next-door" as Julia, Drew, and assorted Jennifers, as well as style-conscious Seattle dental assistants, such as Cyndee. RHINESTONE BELT by Kippy, $495 at Mercer (2623 NE University Village, 388-0329). That's no $95 knock-off, but a legitimate work of Kippy, the Harley Davidson of rhinestone-studded belts. Once ghettoized as the poor-woman's diamond, the rhinestone has since earned a place in designer fashion. During the domestic austerity imposed by World War II, glamour-seeking American women turned to rhinestones. "Cocktail party circles assumed that the exotically named rhinestone designers--Schiaparelli, Eisenberg, or De Mario--exported their dazzling wares from more romantic European shores," writes bead expert Jerry Smith. "Little did they know that almost all of them were fabricated in humble Providence, Rhode Island, by dozens of companies who employed hard-working, yet inexpensive, immigrants to churn out the glitz." WEATHERED JEANS by True Religion, $175 at Sway and Cake (1631 Sixth Ave, 624-2699). Like the rhinestone, denim has made the journey from the gutter to the stars. First used for work wear, denim later became popular as leisurewear and was eventually embraced by high-fashion designers. Weathering denim is its own drama: Before stonewashing went industrial, weathered-jean lovers employed homemade methods, such as leaving jeans in a running stream, held down by rocks, for one month. The first bleached denim arrived in 1969, when a hurricane flooded Greensboro, North Carolina's Cone Mills plants and warehouses. What seemed like a catastrophe became an inspiration, after a merchandiser came up with the idea to run "ruined" fabric through a bleach solution to remove the dye and give the denim a faded and mottled look. The world jumped on the new product, making what became known as Pinto Wash Denim an instant success. As for Cyndee's designer dungarees, their weathering is a bit more elaborate, employing what's known as placed or localized abrasion, which concentrates sanding to certain areas, such as that kicky spot on her outer right thigh. OVERSIZED OSTRICH TOTE BAG by Juicy, $350 at Nordstrom (500 Pine St, 628-2111). SHOES by Gucci, $400 at Nordstrom. With the addition of bag and shoes, Cyndee's outfit adds up to nearly a cool grand o' fashion. With a number of her garments recalling the styles of the early '80s, the question looms: What was Cyndee wearing in the actual '80s--say, 1982? "Well, I would have been in elementary school," says Cyndee. "Which means my favorite outfit was my red-and-white-striped Esprit pants with my Weejuns penny loafers."
Sullivan Richard, 21
Sullivan is a waitress at Beth's Cafe in Green Lake. The greasy-spoon diner has a relaxed dress code.
GOGGLES, no label, $8 at Archie McPhee (2428 NW Market St, 297-0240). The use of goggles as a fashion statement refers back to Tank Girl, the beer-swilling, kangaroo-snogging heroine of the eco-disaster comic strip published in the late '80s and early '90s. The cult comic was made into a movie starring Lori Petty, who hasn't worked much since. Ms. Petty has taken advantage of her spare time to introduce a line of pseudo-yoga wear under the "Lawd Knows" label, available online at lawdknows.com. One of the items featured in her spring collection is a pastel hoodie with a "fun and unique removable super-cape!" CANVAS JACKET, no label, $10 from Urban Outfitters' sale rack (401 Broadway Ave E, 322-1800). Not content to accept this ready-to-wear piece as is, Sullivan immediately sewed a black leather skeleton key onto the back panel. COTTON PANTS, $1.50 at Goodwill (1400 S Lane St, 860-5711). The least expensive garment in a generally low-cost ensemble (Sullivan estimates she spends $10 per month on clothes), these pants were customized with new belt loops. STUDDED BELT, $6 at Crossroads Trading Company (325 Broadway Ave E, 328-5867). BONDAGE BELT, $11, purchased from a kid at Punk Rock Baseball, circa 2003 (Bobby Morris Playfield at Cal Anderson Park, 1635 11th Ave). The bondage belt was too jangly so two weeks ago Sullivan sold it for $20 (a $9 profit!) to some regular customers known as Table 23 at Beth's Cafe. TROOPER BOOTS by TUK, $99 at Vixensandangels.com. This elaborate footwear is made of real leather, but the material is covered by a thin layer of plastic that flakes off with heavy use. KISS MARK, free, acquired at Coffee Messiah (1554 E Olive Way). This lipstick trace is a result of a chance run-in with a couple of friends at a coffee shop. It was bestowed by a girl named Wendy, who's dating Sullivan's friend Victor. TATTOOS BY VICTOR, cost uncertain, Apocalypse Tattoo (1558 E. Olive Way. 320-8447). Sullivan is working on a long-term project to cover her entire left sleeve. The visual concept is a series of windows or vents looking through her skin to reveal clockwork, sprockets, gears, and all manner of early 20th-century industrial elements. Female cyborg chic--the notion of peeling back seemingly natural skin to reveal a mechanical inner being--owes much to the 1927 Fritz Lang film Metropolis. In this movie, the mad scientist Rotwang schemes to replace Maria (a beauty who inspires and soothes an underclass of oppressed workers) with False Maria (an evil, sexy doppelgänger who leads the workers astray). On the surface False Maria looks exactly like Maria--both characters are played by 18-year-old Brigitte Helm--but False Maria's guts are metal and her soul is perverse.
Janine Taylor, 33
How is it possible for a sophisticated city dweller to look street-casual and cocktail-formal at the same time? Janine, an aesthetician who divides her time between Seattle and the couture capital (New York City), will tell you that it all comes down to the pashmina--if you can get her on the phone.
PASHMINA, no label, price unknown at a boutique at Grand Central Station, New York City (East 42nd St and Vanderbilt Ave). Janine has pashminas in six different colors, including black, green, and pink. She describes the item as "bigger than a scarf but not quite a shawl. I love it. You can throw it on with slacks and you look great." Obviously. "We were taking a train somewhere and I had seen them on the street and I thought they were great so I ran in and got one," Janine recalls. She took the tag off "right away"--naturally--but she was willing to guess about where the item was manufactured. "Do you think in China?" she asked. "All the ones sold on the street in New York are made in China or Thailand. I would actually guess Thailand," she said, referring to a South Asian country whose population was recently traumatized by a natural sequence of events originating in the Indian Ocean. After this preliminary phone interview, Janine agreed to find out the name of the pashmina store and to attempt to recall how much she paid for it. In the ensuing week and a half, Janine did not return any of four follow-up phone calls or respond to any of several e-mails. GRAY SLACKS, unknown designer, fabric unknown, price unknown at BCBG (600 Pine St, 447-3400). Aesthetics--if that is even the right word--is a complicated, time-consuming line of work. An aesthetician's cell phone is clogged (like so many pores) with the phone numbers of fashionable people looking for facials, makeup work, or body treatments--and a cell phone's call log can be hard to navigate, especially with mud mask residue on your fingers. It's entirely possible that the phone number of an editor at a weekly newspaper, say, who simply intends to publish the aesthetician's picture and write about where the aesthetician's clothes came from, can get lost in the fashionable shuffle, and that the aesthetician, who initially professed to being excited about her inclusion in the issue, can forget to call said editor back, and then forget again the next time the editor calls, and then forget again the third time, and then forget again each subsequent time after that. An aesthetician may rightfully decline to reply to e-mail as well, since e-mail is kind of over. LEATHER PUMPS, by Nordstrom, size unknown, price unknown at Nordstrom (500 Pine St, 628-2111). "Nordstrom started as a shoe store in 1901 in Seattle," said Deniz Anders, a Nordstrom spokeswoman (who returned a phone call within 19 minutes). Several aestheticians--any one of whom might have been grateful to be included in The Stranger's inaugural Fashion Issue--work for Nordstrom in the flagship location's fifth-floor spa.
Michael Vermillion, 28
Michael's quintessential indie-rock look serves him well in his duties as bass player in local rock heroes Vendetta Red. Though his ensemble is classic '80s vintage, it's marked by a clean, sophisticated graphic sensibility and a hint of girlish exhibitionism (the bared midriff peeking out above the waistband of his jeans). Michael says he wears the same outfit every single day. Can you blame him?
BLACK LEATHER JACKET, no label, $35 at Red Light (4560 University Way NE, 545-4044). Michael says it was difficult to locate a stylish leather jacket small enough for his narrow frame. But Red Light came through with this beat-up item, featuring cracked leather and a synthetic lining in various shades of purple and sun-bleached claret. The triangular lapels are a nice touch. ASPHALT ñCALIFORNIA ZIP" HOODIE, a gift, hoodie available at American Apparel (4345 University Way NE, 547-0399). This is Michael's second Vaux hoodie. The old one wore out, so his friends in Asphalt, a Denver, Colorado hard rock band, sent him another. Made of cotton in Los Angeles by American Apparel, the hoodie is dark gray with neon swords radiating from the heart, in support of the band's Plague Music LP. The imagery verges on tragic self-pity, but the vivid color and radial design also bring to mind a stylized depiction of the sun. It's emo, but with a cheeky twist. Vaux used to be called Eiffel, but wearing a hoodie with the word "Eiffel" on it would have been rather Parisian-effete. (Actually, the band didn't change their name to help out Michael's wardrobe; there were apparently legal troubles.) The new name is a shortened take on the Morrissey record Vauxhall and I, which may in turn refer to the South London tube stop, or perhaps the British automobile manufacturer. Either way, the word can be traced back to a ruthless 12th-century mercenary in the service of King John. Fulk le Breant owned property south of the Thames and gave his name to Fulk's Hall. This estate title was steadily corrupted by the Anglo-Saxon ear to Fawkes Hall and then to Foxhall and finally to Vauxhall. The area became famous in the 17th and 18th centuries as the site of the Vauxhall Gardens, a sprawling, immensely popular attraction where people of all social classes could stroll down stately avenues lined with elm trees, enjoy concerts at dusk, and solicit prostitutes. BELT WITH KESSLER WHISKEY BUCKLE, traded at a show in Athens, Georgia. Some guy at a Vendetta Red show wanted to demonstrate his appreciation for the band, so he gave Michael this brown leather belt. Michael, in turn, gave the man his ratty old Hot Topic-type grommet model. Kessler is a down-market blended American whiskey, and the company manufactured these buckles as promotional items in the '90s. Michael's says, "The Spirit of Wisconsin: Smooth as Silk Since 1888," but Kessler made versions for a number of different states. 518 GIRLS' JEANS, $30 at the Levi's Original Store (1500 Sixth Ave, 467-5152). Michael wears girls' jeans because they're tight and they've got stretch. CHUCK TAYLORS BY CONVERSE, $40 at Sneaker City (110 Pike St, 621-7923). The classic canvas sneaker in indigo blue. Michael also has a pair of pink Converse, but sadly, they're a size too small.
Tony Buff, 34
We caught up with Tony Buff, fitness manager at Gold's Gym on Broadway, at the Cuff, a gay leather bar on Capitol Hill. Tony was attending the Washington State Mr./Ms. Leather Contest. Asked if his all-black, all-leather ensemble was a fashion statement or a sex-life statement, Tony said it was neither. "It's a lifestyle statement," Tony said. "But I was going to be onstage, so obviously there's a little bit of a fashion statement as well."
BLACK LEATHER OFFICER HAT, $69 at Mr. S in San Francisco (310 Seventh St, San Francisco, 415-863-7764, www.mr-s-leather.com). The hat was a gift Tony received in 2002 when he held the title of Washington State Mr. Leather. "We sell about 20 officer hats per month," said Richard Lester, a manager at Mr. S. in San Francisco. Critics of leather fetishism often complain that it invokes and trivializes fascist uniforms and imagery, particularly Nazi uniforms. "That's not necessarily true," said Lester. "People who have Nazi fantasies tend to collect actual Nazi gear or reproductions. It's a uniform hat, it exudes power. It references a lot of different kinds of uniforms, including ones that pre-date Nazism." BLACK LEATHER PANTS, by Direktor Leather, New York City (no retail outlets, no website). Tony's black leather pants were custom made for him during his title year by David of Direktor Leather. Attempts to reach David were fruitless--Direktor Leather has no retail outlets and no website. "They only do custom leather work inside the community," Tony says. Like the hat, Tony's pants were a gift. The pants would have set him back somewhere between $350-500, Tony estimates. If he turned around, you could see that Tony's pants include a detachable codpiece, obviating the need to remove his boots and pants in an intimate situation. Tony wouldn't be eager to remove the pants in any case. "It took me 25 minutes to get into those pants," he said. "I put on some muscle since the last time I wore them. Thank God leather stretches." BLACK LEATHER "SAM BROWNING" BELT, also by Direktor Leather. Like the belt? Win a leather title and maybe Direktor Leather will make one for you too. RED HANKIE, $2.99 at the Crypt Off Broadway (113 10th Ave, 325-3882). "It scares off the twinks," Tony says of the red hankie he's wearing in his left back pocket. According to Zach, a manager at the Crypt, the store sells roughly 30-40 bandannas per month. "The three most popular colors are red, indicating a preference for fistfucking; black, indicating a preference for heavy S&M; and yellow, indicating a preference for pissing." If the bandanna is worn in the left pocket, the wearer is a top; if it's worn in the right pocket, the wearer is a bottom. The twinks Tony scares off with his red bandanna are afraid he might want to fistfuck them, which Tony would neither confirm nor deny. When shown Tony's photo, two twinks at the Broadway Grill denied that the red hankie would scare them off. "I love getting fisted," said Twink #1, "that wouldn't scare me off!" Twink #2 said that he had never been fisted, but he would be willing to try it, "but only with a guy as hot as Tony."
Andy Thaemert, 33
The first question that comes to mind when you see this gorgeous James Dean look-alike is: Industrial day worker with an impossibly handsome face, or handsome boy-next-door with a just-rolled-out-of-bed edge? The brilliance of Andy's outfit is that he never has to answer. The look conveys confidence, worldliness, and a globally conscious masculinity. Andy is a metropolitan mash-up, a convergence of extreme casual (the T-shirt) and shiny sleek (the shoes), with a heroic dose of all-man sexuality front and center.
LEATHER SLIP-ON SHOES, by Taxto, gift, available at Edie's (319 E Pine St, 839-1111). Rubber sole, size 12.5. The strap is more decorative than functional. These were originally purchased at Edie's, which still stocks them. They were a gift, Andy recalls, from a girl. It's a long story and we lack the room here to tell it. The manufacturer's information has been rubbed away, but Edie's owner Erin Dolan confirms the brand is Taxto, owned by the larger shoe company Action Tosi, which is based in Corridonia, which is a city in Italy, which is a country formerly controlled by fascists and subsequently the site of extremist communist activity (the 1970s in Italy are sometimes referred to as "the years of lead," referring to lead bullets). Edie's is an independent shoe store founded by Dolan five years ago, named for a friend's dog. Ninety-five percent of the shoes Edie's sells are leather. The other five percent of the shoes Edie's sells are synthetic leather and canvas. COTTON PANTS, by Diesel, $40 at Zebra Club (1901 First Ave, 448-7452). Zebras are African mammals with a world population of approximately 2,500 (in the wild) and 600 (in zoos, etc.). A club of zebras is called a herd. COTTON T-SHIRT, by Altru, $24.99 at Ameripros Body Shop, an auto body repair center in Los Angeles (747 South La Brea Avenue, 323-933-9411). Andy got this shirt from his friend Jason, who worked at Ameripros Body Shop, although you can get it on the web (www.bwild.com/alabosht.html) in medium, large, or X-large. According to the website: "Our tagless T-shirts are made from ultra soft, 100 percent combed cotton in a slim tailored fit. After the shirts are garment dyed in vintage or washed-out colors, which gives them an even softer feel, the tags are removed and printed on the inside of the shirt. So there is no annoying tag scratching you. Modern technology, isn't it great!" The line drawing on the shirt appears to be a depiction of the rear of a postwar automobile, perhaps a Buick. RAW DENIM JACKET, by G-Star, $200 at Ian (401 E Pine St, 441-4055). This 100 percent cotton, XL ("Apparently I'm rather husky in G-Star standards," says Andy) jacket has many pockets, which carry many G-Star products. "Innovation is G-Star's main feature," according to G-Star's website. G-Star is based in Amsterdam, a city in the Netherlands, a country that's under sea level and where prostitution is legal.