Fall Fashion--searching For Style
There is a definite Monterey County look.
Thursday, October 22, 1998
It is the clichd beautiful Sunday afternoon as I drive into Carmel. People pack the avenues, shopping bags in hand. I''m on a mission. My job? To uncover Monterey County style.
So here I am in Carmel, on the first stop in a whirlwind, four-hour style tour of the Monterey Peninsula. I get out of my ancient, rusting Corolla, and get away from it as fast as I can. I cross the street. A brand new Land Rover stops inches from my legs. Yield to the Princess, reads the license plate frame.
Looking for an ATM machine, I find Carmel Plaza with its red brick walkways winding around overgrown planters. Even the trash can is covered in flowers. A woman walks by me in a flowing black rayon pantsuit, with a silk T-shirt underneath. Dark lipstick stains her lips. On her arm is a man in a silk shirt, tucked into linen khakis. I notice the woman in front of me. She is wearing a ruby red lampshade hat, like the one Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany''s. It is startlingly glamorous, even with the blue jeans she is wearing. I decide to blow my cover, and ask about the hat.
Isn''t it wonderful? she says. My friend owns the Hat Shop, and she gave it to me to wear. It''ll make your day different, my friend said. And it has. I ask her if she thinks the Monterey Peninsula has a unique style. Absolutely, she nods, the giant hat bobbing in front of me.
In one of the boutiques, I check out prices. A thin gold sweater of silk and rayon is $242. A flowered silk blouse is $196. As I scrounge for price tags, which are sort of hard to find, I notice the saleswoman eyeing me. She is beautiful, impossibly thin. I want to offer her a sandwich. She is wearing a skin-tight, shiny black, ankle-length skirt with a matching skin-tight T-shirt. I wonder what I must look like to her, in rumpled Levis and dirty sneakers. I leave the shop before she decides to call security.
It''s time to move on, to expand the definition of Peninsula style. I turn onto Highway 68 and cruise the always breathtaking descent into Pacific Grove. Stopping for a coffee, I ask the barrista about Peninsula style. I tell her I am headed to The Clothing Store, which I am told is practically an institution in the area.
The Clothing Store oozes relaxation. A waxy white cyclamen in a terra-cotta pot holds the door open. In the window is a black velvet ankle-length dress, with a shimmery burgundy and black wrap. Around the neck of the headless mannequin is a string of black glass beads: at the base, a scarf of tulle and velvet. Inside is more of the same. Low jazz seems to wrap itself around the flowing, jewel-toned clothes. I am back in the land of polished, more expensive clothing.
Owner Terry Clemens uses the ubiquitous word "casual" to describe the area''s style, but elaborates further. It''s sophisticated, but not urban. It''s softer. If fashion reflects a place, ours reflects our natural, beautiful environment.
But my time grows short, and I must continue on my journey. Jaguars and BMWs give way to Toyotas and Volkswagens. Driving up Lighthouse, I decide to check out the Goodwill store. The place is packed. It is a world apart from the boutiques. Fluorescent lights glare down on customers of every color and age.
Peninsula style looks different here. Solid colors have given way to prints, silks and rayons have given way to cottons and old-fashioned polyester. I spot a ''50s-style polo shirt sweater on a nearby rack. I grab it. Price? $2.95. The hipster girl nods in approval as I carry my score to the counter. Then it''s off to Alvarado Street and the Blue Moon for one last sweep before I head north, my style adventure coming to an end.
Walking to the Blue Moon on Alvarado Street in Monterey, I check out more shoppers. There is more of a Gap feel here--more jeans, khakis and T-shirts. But styles are similar--pulled together, a little classy, sometimes conservative, sometimes funky.
Or in the case of the Blue Moon, always funky. The shop is closed. I press my face longingly up to the glass. Inside, along walls of aqua and chartreuse, are some truly groovy threads--lots of old school polyesters, lurid prints and plaids. In the window is a mix of old and new clothing, against a backdrop of astro turf and leopard print: a T-shirt that looks like delicate chain mail, a black-and-white polka dot dress, velvet platform sandals.
Driving back to the urban jungle of Oakland, I try to form a definitive idea about Peninsula style. I remember something Terry Clemens said. People choose to live in our community, she says. It''s a lifestyle choice. That style here is connected to the lifestyle. It''s an attitude, not a specific look.