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San Francisco Dress – SF Bay’s home to cool West Coast Style

San Francisco is the grande dame to all that is West Coast fashion, and this site is devoted to those au courant Dress Boutiques located in and around the Bay Area. We first want to celebrate the foresight of Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis when they patented their riveted waist overalls, better known as Blue Jeans.

Levi Strauss moved to San Francisco in 1853 to open a wholesale dry goods business that supplied small shops in California and surrounding regions with bolts of cloth, in addition to clothing, handkerchiefs, and undergarments. Jacob Davis was a tailor in Reno who bought cloth from Levi and tailored men’s trousers as well as manufacturing horse blankets and tents.  Levi Strauss provided two types of material for the work pants: the first was a brown cotton duck, and the second was a double woven twill fabric dyed an indigo blue. When customers complained about the coarseness of the brown duck material, Levi stopped selling it and concentrated on perfecting his indigo blue twill fabric.

Around 1872, Jacob Davis contacted Levi to jointly apply for a patent of his riveted waist overalls, which had become extremely popular work pants because they didn’t rip. The rest, as they say, is history. Blue Jeans became the staple in every American wardrobe. I also believe that this is the first installment to West Coast fashion, which was born in San Francisco.

Another style icon not known by everyone but who has had an incredible influence in defining California’s cool, laid-back style is Thea Van Runkle. A California native, Thea was one of the last costume designers in Hollywood who could impact fashion. By the late sixties, Americans were becoming more and more influenced by fashion houses, as well as “street style” with the onset of the anti-war movement.

Thea Van Runkle debuted in 1967 as the costume designer for the movie “Bonnie and Clyde.” She designed Faye Dunaway’s period costumes, which included loose-fitting suits with unstructured soft lines, long belted cardigans, wide leg trousers, and -- who could forget? -- the maxi skirt.  Thea got it so right; she combined classic sophistication with modern comfort and style that was quickly adopted by the West Coast Woman. Thea’s next iconoclastic designs appeared a year later for Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset in the movie “Bullit.”  This movie defines the epitome of West Coast style, so how appropriate it is that it was shot around the Bay Area featuring some very recognizable landmarks, as well as staging the most famous car chase in film history. Steve McQueen, dubbed the “King of Cool,” was known for pairing turtlenecks and a sports coat, shawl collar cardigans with blue jeans, and chambray shirts with a pair of ray bans. He took his lead from the movie’s costume designer: Thea Van Runkle, the designer behind his look. John Varatos and Michael Bastian, as well as many other fashion designers, have payed tribute to Steve McQueen by incorporating his look into their current lines. Thea dressed Jacqueline Bisset in a leather jacket, turtleneck, and a maxi skirt. I would argue that Thea Van Runkle brought West Coast style to film, introduced it to the rest of the country, and then to the world. I drive the point home when we look at the Hippie Couture in the movie “I love you, Alice B. Toklas!” Thea Van Runkle incorporated a very unique California “look” that quickly spread to the rest of the country and at the time was considered quite unique and, in some households, very revolutionary. West Coast style had an enormous impact in the way the rest of the country dressed and had its humble beginnings in a San Francisco neighborhood, Haight Ashbury. I am not suggesting that the films launched a new way of dressing, because it was already happening. But I am suggesting that it brought it to the mainstream, with the Blue Jean as a wardrobe staple.

San Francisco is home to fabulous neighborhoods, wonderful culture, glorious food, and a relaxed style. Whether your interests are seeking refuge in Golden Gate Park with a picnic (a little known fact is that the Park used to be a pile of sand dunes and is now covered with trees) or being on-scene at a hip night spot in Soma, you should be thinking sundress with a pair of Frye boots or a pair of skinny jeans, or a Mr. Larkin organic yummy top and a pair Stella McCartney vegan peep-toe pumps. Don't stop there! You need accessories to complete your look, like a fun cuff bracelet by Petite Princesses, or a fun hand-dyed cotton boa by Mary Jaeger. Remember: accessories are what make a look unique. Accessories, whether they are shoes, handbags, and/or jewelry, can take a day look and repackage it for the evening. How fun is that! Let your favorite Boutique in Berkley or Missionary Row help you put it all together; after all, they are in business to take care of their customers. I want to take a moment to speak to why you should shop locally: you will find unique labels often designed by local talent and so very different from the large chains. In addition to honing your cool style, you also are supporting local business, which is so very important!

San Francisco is known for the Golden Gate Bridge, Cable Cars, Fisherman’s Warf, and China Town. San Francisco has also become a fashion beacon through the emerging talent graduating from the Academy of Art University. In addition, San Francisco’s fashion scene has been participating in San Francisco’s Fashion Week -- in the first week of August -- since 2004. Though relatively new to the scene, San Francisco manages to showcase amazing talent by infusing fashion, style, culture, art, and music into a weeklong celebration through a series of fabulous events.

Here follows some general fashion tips regarding what dress style will best compliment your figure to get you started on your San Francisco Dress Boutique Adventure:

If you have little definition between your bust, waist, and hips, an A-line or Babydoll Style will give you the illusion of curves, while a simple fitted Sheath will let you show off your fit silhouette. Another way to enhance your figure is to look for a dress with a ruche bodice, which offers some depth and is also great way to hide a tummy.

So you are a bit fuller at the hips and bottom and smaller on top? Then you want to shop for dresses that have Full or A-line skirts with a neck line that is open. Strapless with a fitted bodice will accentuate your upper half, thereby taking the emphasis away from your lower half.

If you have a curvy silhouette with a defined waist, your figure is the prototype for the classic feminine figure, so a wrap or knit dress with a fitted waist would look fabulous on you, as would a simple sheath. So when you are knocking around Haight during an impromptu outing involving exquisite food and a bit of vintage shopping, why not showcase your womanly gifts by donning a knit dress? You will look and feel awesome!

Dresses with an Empire Waist with an A-line or full skirt will take the attention away from your lack of a defined waist and create an hourglass effect. You have relatives in town, which means a sightseeing trip to Fisherman’s Wharf. Pick a cute skirt, fun blouse, cardigan, and a pair of ballet flats. You will look adorable while you are kicking around and loving Fisherman’s Warf.

If your bust measurement is larger than your hips, look for a dress that has a Halter, U, or V Neckline. This will draw attention downward; include an A-line or a full skirt to balance your total look. Off to do some slumming in the Tenderloin where the night scene is jamming? Choose a halter-top, a jean jacket paired with a Paco Rabanne skirt, and a pair of Chloe Boots, and you can’t go wrong.

The world of accessories is so amazing and actually quite important to defining your style, as well as changing your look. While the central theme is the garment(s) you are wearing, you can change the statement you want to make by adding a pair of espadrilles, hoop earrings, a stack of bangles. Take the same garments and throw on a fedora, a pair of “fish-heads,” and a skeleton ring, and it’s a new you. Shoes are such a fun subject, and your choices are limitless, from flats to five-inch pumps with a one-inch platform; boots ranging from a shoe silhouette to over-the-knee are all fun and can be quite addicting. My only suggestion is that you invest in stylish shoes that are well crafted and constructed with quality materials, fit your feet, and are comfortable. Don’t be committed to a size; be open to going up a half size or even a full size because all styles and design labels can vary. I am partial to shoes made in Italy and Spain and have been very pleased with a line out of LA called Bag & Shoe, which are totally handcrafted and very comfortable.

Handbags have taken off! More and more women are collecting Designer Handbags, whether they are by a luxury label or an Indie Designer. Choices range from clutches and totes, to hobos and satchels, all the way to backpacks made from great materials. I just came across a fabulous line made out of recycled rubber! Remember, all bets are off: you don’t have to match your bag with your shoes, although I would suggest that they complement each other. There are handbag lines, like Nomi Network, made out of recycled rice paper that is hand-made by women in Southeast Asia who have been rescued by the folks from Nomi Network. They were rescued, rehabbed, and taught to sew, so now they can take care of themselves: how wonderful is that! Nomi Network is adding leather handbags to their Spring 2011 line.

San Francisco is a fabulous city with a rich heritage that incorporates Asian-Pacific, Hispanic, and European Cultures to create the vibrant culture and aesthetics that can be viewed in every Boutique featured on this site.

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