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Where the fashionistas drink

Blame the soft, forgiving lighting or an ever-present house soundtrack that can make the shortest stroll feel like a sashay down the catwalk, but XYZ, in Third Street's tony W Hotel, seems a fine place to express your inner fashion whore. On a Friday, dozens have donned their finest and come to work it. Kiran (fuchsia bikini top, rimless sunglasses, chunky brown boots) chats with Karim (white shirt, pinstripe pants, soul patch). He's checking out boys -- "Not that I'm gay" -- to determine the latest styles.

In this crowd, a man could get away with an oxford shirt and khakis, or ascend Mount Chic via spiky hair, tight pants, or a ribbed V-neck sweater. For women, the hot look often involves denim jackets and/or patterned skirts (Penelope's denim jacket with bell-bottoms and pointy boots; Melinda's denim jacket and patterned dress). Tonight's king fashionista would have to be Jacob (striped shirt, Prada pants, immaculate, Elvis-style coiffure), who recently broke up with his boyfriend (Gucci model, "asshole") and also claims to be wearing $200 underwear.

Elsewhere at XYZ, Natasha (black halter top, Russian accent) is stylishly unimpressed with the whole scene. "There is no nightlife, and there is no fashion in the city," she sniffs.

"We can't figure out what the fashion is yet," adds her friend Katya, who has a point: There's no true San Francisco look, but rather a mosaic of cliques, crowds, posses, and the like. One of the more colorful tribes migrates to Barneveld Avenue's Space 550on the second Friday of the month, where "Thump Radio" brings 33,000 watts of psychedelic trance to citizens of the Day-Glo Nation.

If there's any news here, it's that the big-pants craze is finally dead. Baggy skirts, floppy hats, furry backpacks, and fashion anarchy (a sailor suit, a guy who looks just like Andy Warhol) remain in vogue. Maria (tattoos, pierced septum, glowing dreadlocks, neon yellow dots on her face) reveals the practical side of looking unique: "I'm easy to spot in a crowd." Found waiting for a massage near the chill-out room, John sports a glowing visor, glowing pants, and a blindingly bright demeanor.

"It's allllllll about the good vibes," he grins, his teeth burning white under the black lights.

Granted, such affirmative hedonism can seem passé in the age of terrorism and corporate scandal. Hence the current punk/ new wave/rock revival, which makes the long-running "Bondage A Go-Go" (Wednesdays at Folsom Street's Cat Club) seem both retro and cutting-edge. Survive the dress code requirement (black is a sure bet) and the first sight you see may be a red thong wedged between bare female buttocks. The latter take on a pinkish hue as a man spanks to the beat of dark, grinding industrial tunes.

"I've actually played with him, and he knows what he's doing," explains Evil Pony Girl (suspender-style lingerie that barely covers her breasts) as the owner of the aforementioned buttocks emits genuine squeals of pain.

Though you'll catch the occasional whiff of leather, latex is the fabric of choice here. Fred has opted for a dress-length, latex samurai skirt -- "It appears to be a feminine article, but in fact it's very masculine" -- while others have donned latex hot pants or latex bowling shirts. Boots, collars, fishnet stockings, and even suits (talk about kinky) also make for appropriate fetishwear. Standing near the bar, a grandfatherly regular named Tom (nondescript blue shirt, black pants) admits that he's "barely under the fashion radar." Still, he donned the right attitude.

"I'm a freak," Tom enthuses, scanning the crowd. "I love it!"

 
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