That funny prickly smell in the air isn't Christmas trees, it's mass anxiety. What with the coming war, the Giants' loss in the World Series, and the crappy economy, it's shaping up to be a rather unpleasant holiday season for your run-of-the-mill San Franciscan. The only consolation is that it's not just you. Even those expensively dressed people living in Pacific Heights, the Marina, and Russian Hill are blue. Last month's issue of GQ magazine said San Francisco was one of the worst cities in the world in which to girl-watch.
That questionable conclusion drew an angry reaction from members of The A-List, a weekly e-mail newsletter for the young high-society set that bills itself as "a selective guide to the Bay Area's best parties, special events, and most intriguing personalities." Recent highlights included "Ship Week for Women," a $1,600-a-head charity event on board the schooner Denis Sullivan, and a cigar party at the "very posh" Alfred Dunhill Ltd. But topping the list of events two weeks ago was the offending passage from GQ, prefaced by the huffy headline "Scandalous Accusations."
"The country's most beautiful city, in fact, has precious little scenery -- at least the living breathing kind. Blame it on Jerry Garcia, the abundance of Polarfleece, or the crappy, cloudy-all-year weather. Come for Pac Bell Park, the burritos or the Golden Gate -- just don't come for the women."
"Where were they hanging out?" Valerie Britt, the statuesque brunette with perfectly arched eyebrows who founded The A-List, asked her subscribers rhetorically. "Obviously they haven't met my friends."
"I guarantee you that my friends fall under the "hot' category!" rejoined one irate A-Lister. "The girls I know have tiny bodies, big breasts, long flowing hair, sexy clothes, and yes Jimmy Choo Shoes, even though the men here wouldn't know the difference!"
"Clearly you're not invited to any of the SF class events," wrote another, who cc'd GQ. "You must be slumming it. SF's women are... in a word... fabulous. Have you even looked at our legs from walking up all those hills? Or strolled down Union or Chestnut Streets? Or been to any of our gyms or yoga studios? Great bodies, great clothes, great class."
These were questions that begged to be answered. A call to GQ's New York headquarters revealed that the snarky lines were penned by Senior Editor Adam Rapoport. Moments later, we had Rapoport on the line.
His "research," he admitted, consisted of little more than going to college at Berkeley and occasionally visiting San Francisco, where he found no good-looking girls. The GQ editor graduated college in 1992 -- the height of grunge -- but assured us that he'd visited San Francisco since, and remained unimpressed. This year, for instance, Rapoport enjoyed a burrito in the Mission en route to a wedding in Napa, and didn't spy any attractive women.
The problem, according to Rapoport, isn't that S.F. women's abs aren't flat or their skin isn't clear, but that they can't put together an outfit to save their lives.
"San Franciscans think fashion is just for dumb rich people," he opined. "There's this political correctness thing where, if you're lookin' too smart, you get attitude for it."
Had Rapoport hung out in the Marina with the fashionable A-Listers? Perhaps sensing a gap in his research, Rapoport cranked the viciousness up a notch.
"I'm not talking about the kind of women who, just because they saw a picture in a magazine, are going to run out and buy it," he clarified. "I'm picturing those areas to be like the Upper West Side thing, like, 'Yeah, I went to Cornell or some other lame college, and I've got an Armani suit on, but I'm not cool or interesting.'"
Our head was reeling trying to keep up with Rapoport's complicated, highly specific criteria for judging feminine beauty. But what we gleaned was this: San Francisco's smarter-than-Madison Avenue attitude was keeping its ladies from being world-class lookers.
"In New York, you can go from some art opening at the Guggenheim in a Marc Jacobs suit, and go to a bar in the Lower East Side, and nobody will look twice," said Rapoport. If somebody wore something like that to, say, a San Francisco dive bar like the 500 Club, he added, they would immediately be deemed cheesy. "I would like," he said, "to go into the 500 Club with a Paul Smith suit on and have nobody care."
Rapoport's theories seemed highly suspect, so we decided to test them. With the help of the folks over at the Marc Jacobs boutique on Maiden Lane, we borrowed a pair of slouchy, cranberry-colored cropped pants ($500), an indigo brocade tank top with a little velvet tie at the neck ($1,100), and a cream-colored double-breasted jacket with military-style brass buttons ($1,500). The overall look could be described as Little Lord Fauntleroy rides a Vespa.
We decided to take our Marc Jacobs on a spin through hipster territory on the night before Thanksgiving. We would find out, once and for all, if San Francisco women were being cruelly imprisoned by dour, Amish-like community fashion standards. We quaked in our black leather riding boots -- would Dog Bites' expensive adornments be pointed at with sneering ridicule?
We hadn't been expecting to don the outfit until that night, but on the way home from the gym, Dog Bites got cold, and had to dip into the Marc Jacobs bag for the jacket. The response was immediate. Two guys on the J Church Muni, who appeared to be passing a bottle of cologne back and forth, turned to stare.
"Nice jacket!" said one. "Different! Unique!" He then returned to supplying his pal with tips on how to bilk his wife out of child support.
Hmmm. This was definitely not mockery.
A few hours later, we walked from the Lower Haight to the Inner Mission. Eyes glanced, heads turned, conversations suddenly halted as we passed. Already Rapoport's premises were breaking down. Dog Bites was getting some play, if you know what we mean.
We arrived at the 500 Club on 16th and Guerrero at around 9:30 p.m. The down-at-the-heels neighborhood bar was packed with people who showed all the signs of having been drinking heavily since 5. The popcorn machine was empty, its contents smashed into the red industrial carpet. If there was any place where our swanky duds would be rejected, it was the 500 Club -- the kind of place where the bathroom disinfectant is so strong it leaves your oral membranes feeling as if they've been napalmed.
Big shocker -- nobody was paying any attention to Dog Bites! Taking a seat at the bar and ordering a beer, we didn't get so much as a peek in our direction. Was it, could it be, possibly, just maybe, that nobody cared? Or maybe they were scorning us in secret. Time to find out.
"What do you think of my outfit?" we asked the guy next to us, who was dressed in a style that could only be described as "Budweiser" -- flannel shirt, mesh-and-foam baseball cap.
"It leaves a little bit to the imagination," he said flirtatiously. "It's sexy."
"Do you think it's a little bit cheesy?" we asked.
"No, I don't," he replied.
"I think it's fabulous," chimed in the bartender, who was wearing a zippered green shirt that said "Camp Tajaho" on the chest. Camp Tajaho, he informed Dog Bites, is a kids' surfing camp in Maine.
"It's sorta like the newer old-fashioned," observed a guy in a track suit. ""Sixties style. Like you should be walking around in an Eichler home."
If only Adam Rapoport had been there to witness it: Far from making Dog Bites the butt of jokes, high fashion was scoring us free drinks. We became increasingly nervous, however, that one of the beverages was going to land on our borrowed $3,100 outfit. The bar had become packed to sweaty capacity with holiday revelers, and "Love Roller Coaster" by the Ohio Players was coming on the jukebox at the rate of about one in three songs.
"I want to pee on you," said another guy who took a stool next to us and bore an uncanny resemblance to Eminem. "If I could just pee on you, it would be so hot."
We took this as our cue to leave.
But rather than making us feel victorious, our research left us feeling distinctly unsettled. So San Francisco isn't some humorless place where a girl can't dress up and go to a dive bar. Dressing up for a dive bar is, apparently, very much appreciated -- especially if you're wearing Marc Jacobs. The depressing part, of course, is that Dog Bites cannot afford Marc Jacobs. Dog Bites cannot even afford the cheaper Marc Jacobs spin-off line, "Marc." And now we are confronted with the knowledge that (unless we fail to return the borrowed Marc Jacobs outfit, which is not an option because they made an imprint of our credit card) we will never again walk down the street and make every head turn.
Thanks, Rapoport. It is your crappy research that helped open our eyes to this grim reality. We were much happier not knowing. We were much happier before, when we thought fashion was for dumb rich people.