Oops….Shot My Mouth Off

Yup….I did…..shot my mouth off….I made one of those comments without thinking (to the press) that follow you for a lonnnnngggggggg time, and even though there’s some truth to it, I was being flip. Presidents do it, heads of State, diplomats, politicians, and just regular old people, you say something that seems clever at the time, that rolls off your tongue like a gumball falling out of a gumball machine, and pretty soon you’re sitting there with your foot in your mouth, sorry that you spoke so quickly. Oops!!!

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, about some pretty bland subjects (like my favorite perfume), the subject somehow rolled around to how people dress in San Francisco, and I was a little too candid. For one thing, in order to accommodate the interviewer’s schedule, I think the (phone) interview was about 6 pm for him in NY, or maybe even 7 pm, which was midnight or 1 am for me in Paris. I’m a night owl, but still, tongues get looser in the wee hours. It was the end of a long day for me, and there is something very intimate about sitting around in your kitchen after midnight, talking to someone on the phone. There is a confessional atmosphere to it, and you’re liable to say things you shouldn’t, so I guess I did. And the reaction to my comments has been interesting.

What I said was that (most) people don’t care how they look in San Francisco, and there is some truth to it—-certainly compared to how people used to look there, or anywhere in the world. When I was a kid, you had to ‘dress up’ to travel, you wore nice clothes, now most people wear the most comfortable clothes they own, and no one gets ‘dressed up’ to take a plane. And the same is true for how we all dress in most cities. People dress for comfort now, and it’s so easy to wear blue jeans, gym clothes, sweat pants, comfortable old clothes. Men used to wear suits and ties to the office, now in a lot of businesses, you can wear jeans. And the more relaxed the rules and norms have gotten, the sloppier we’ve all gotten—me included. Running shoes are considered okay footwear for all occasions, and in some climates even flip flops. Ten or twenty years ago, I would have never left my house in what I wear to go downtown now. No one wears ‘hair-dos’, I have long hair and either wear it down or shove it into a pony tail, I don’t wear make up to do errands, and my favorite daily garb is torn blue jeans, and a comfy old sweater and flat shoes. (Unlike my girls who work in fashion in New York and wear chic outfits, and 7″ heels—that would kill me). I haven’t worked in an office in 30 years, and my ‘work outfits’ have gotten more and more disreputable and comfortable over the years, and I usually work/write in ancient wool nightgowns, with heavy sweaters over them since I’m always cold, and flat shoes or even bare feet. (My entire family screams with laughter when photographers suggest they photograph me in whatever I wear to write….yeah, don’t count on that!!! It would scare you to death, with uncombed hair and no make-up in my ancient nighties). So I get it about dressing for comfort, and it has always seemed like a waste of time to me to get dressed up in order to sit alone in a room, writing, sometimes for 22 hour stretches, and straight through the night. (Believe me, I’m not looking elegant at those hours either). The difference today is that all of us, I think, allow ourselves to go out the way we look at home when we’re relaxing. The rules have changed, and anything goes, all around the world. NO ONE gets as dressed up as they used to.

Some cities are also ‘fancier’ than others. No question, although running shoes and jeans are often okay for work there too, people do dress up more in New York. They look nicer in restaurants. Men in certain industries wear coats and ties, and women just seem to make more effort when they go out in New York, although I’m sure they have sloppy days there too. But New York is still pretty chic. I’ve only been to Chicago twice, but I was very impressed with how chic people were and what a sophisticated city it was (like a smaller New York). I always find that the women in LA look sexy, and well groomed—great hair, perfect manicures, VERY fancy designer jeans. They’re casual, but they do it in a sexy way, with visible effort invested. Maybe because it’s a town where the main industry is show biz, which means beauty and good looks, so everyone seems to try harder there. And by comparison, although it used to be a very formal city, San Francisco just isn’t a chic city anymore. What I referred to in the interview in the Wall Street Journal as the ‘camping trip look’ is really prevalent, and when you look at people in the street in San Francisco, that’s what you see most: baggy hiking shorts or torn jeans, flip flops, Tevas, hiking boots, and a pretty rag tag look. Everyone looks like they dress for comfort, and even if I go to a restaurant in SF (except the few really fancy ones I don’t go to), I feel overdressed if I wear more than jeans, a sweater and a parka. People just don’t dress up there. A friend who recently visited me in SF from Europe looked around and said “Don’t people care how they look here?”. They look like they don’t, (and I don’t look much better when I’m there, it’s just easy not to make the effort). It’s just not a great look on anyone, men or women, and I actually feel better when I make a little more effort. So I made that comment about the SF look.

Amazingly, a journalist in the SF Chronicle picked up my comment from the Wall Street Journal interview and ran a big article last Sunday which began and ended with the line “Danielle Steel is right”, and followed up with photographs of people in the streets, wearing just what I described, and concluding that as a whole, and a city, we don’t care how we look here anymore, and it’s too bad.

Well, let me tell you, that second article REALLY did it, and I figured I’d be shot on the street in SF any minute. Predictably, there were editorials in the paper today about how full of hot air I am, how badly dressed I am, etc etc. I guess I asked for that when I shot off my mouth. And I had compared SF to Paris, where people have gotten more casual too, but still make more effort about how they look. It’s a dressier city, like New York, but they are big cities of many million people, and SF is a small town, with a much more relaxed atmosphere which also affects how people dress. It’s really not about money, it’s about effort—it doesn’t cost anymore to comb your hair and put on make-up and put on a clean shirt or sweater before you go out. The point is that ‘anything goes’ in SF, so people take advantage of that. And I do feel like a weirdo if I get dressed up in SF (but I look like hell in hiking shorts, and I don’t wear them!!! Maybe if I had cuter legs…..).

In any case, I took a big blast in the SF papers today, for my snotty, or ill advised comment, true or not. No one likes to be told they look a mess, even or especially if they do. There was a lot of response about why would you get all dressed up or wear something fancy to go out, or stiletto heels. They missed the point, it’s not about looking ‘fancy’, it’s about looking nice, neat, clean, and not wearing the absolute worst thing you own to go downtown, or the office, just because you can get away with it. Eventually, if enough people do that, it sets a tone for the whole city, and becomes how we all look (me too, minus the hiking shorts, as explained above). My torn jeans look no better than the hiking shorts others are wearing, and make me look like I need a free meal.  I would never go out in Paris, even to the grocery store, looking the way I do in SF. I’d look like a bum there if I did, but in SF, you stick out if you look too neat and clean and nice. I think that’s too bad. It’s bad for my morale too, I feel better when I look at least a little better. In the paper today they lambasted me for what I wear (when I go to big public events, like benefit evenings, which I do seldom), they commented on the bracelets I wear, which I don’t even notice, I have a collection of bracelets on each arm, that are wood, gold, and some diamond ones too, that people I love and my kids have given me over the years, and haven’t been off my arms in 25 years. My kids call them my ‘fruit salad’, and I never take them off, and even sleep with them, and forget about them. But I suppose if one thought I was putting them all on every day, it would be pretty strange.

So my comment was not very discreet, but it is sadly true about SF. I’m sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings, and I’m sure I’ll hear about it for a long time. The funniest thing was that the article in the SF Chronicle on Sunday said I had moved away, because I live in Paris half the year now. I started doing that 7 years ago, and it took them 7 years to notice that I’m gone part of the time. I suppose I should be insulted by that, but I’m not……anyway, I certainly woke people up with my comment, and I guess they’re going to be throwing rocks at me for it for a while…..oops….as my kids used to say, ‘open mouth, insert foot’…..Love, Danielle

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17 Comments so far
  1. P.J. May 23, 2011 8:07 pm

    You did not hurt my feelings; I live in SF Bay Area and could not agree more. I also think women over 25 should not go out in public wearing a fancy smancy dress with bare legs and high heels-I always wear stockings and wish they did. It’s fine for young tan legs, but tastefully colored stockings are my choice for dressing up. You wouldn’t catch me dead not dressing up when I go out to dinner in SF or the superbs for that matter. You tell ’em girl!!

  2. September May 24, 2011 12:11 pm

    This is funny: I moved to SF about 10 years ago from another country and thought that SF would be a very glamorous city. Stylish at the very least, because I’ve seen a few old movies shot there and somehow assumed.. I was wrong 🙂 All my elegant European outfits went straight to the closet and stayed there, until I moved to LA a couple of years later.

    I didn’t mind it that much, but SF is a beautiful city and I kind of felt cheated I didn’t get to dress up. On the other hand, it is California, it is a new century and even (and especially) the wealthiest of americans dress as casual as it gets.

    You are right: there is a difference between comfortable/neat and comfortable/sloppy. I don’t think anything can be done about it though.

  3. amina May 24, 2011 5:11 pm

    never mind them danielle, you are great.

  4. amina May 24, 2011 5:11 pm

    never mind them danielle, you are great.

  5. Lorelei Pepe June 8, 2011 4:19 pm

    I live in Miami, but used to live in New York and near San Francisco over 20 years ago. I cannot believe because of the hot weather here, how sloppy the people dress. My friends say I am the most dressed up “casual” person here. I used to work in the fashion business in NYC and was always dressed to the “nines”. I miss that so much. People live in there sweats and p.j.’s here. Don’t they ever look in a mirror?
    By the way, I am a big fan and read all your books!

  6. Leslie June 9, 2011 2:16 pm

    i googled you just to see what your take on that article would be and thank you for clarifying your feelings.
    The article made it sound like you suddenly abandoned the city in a fit of pique after spotting one too many locals in jeans and sneaks.
    One of my favorite memories is of traveling to the city on the SP with my aunt, decked out in white socks and black patent mary janes, layers of crackly petticoats, and best taffeta dress. We spent the day in chinatown (lunch at Louies) and then the financial district where she and my mother worked during their days as legal secretaries (1940’s). I remember the granduer of the civic center buildings, the marble stairs and soaring columns and that I felt just like a princess in a palace.
    I am now in the city every day to study for a new career at the downtown SFSU and at 61, its pretty darn exciting to start all over again.
    Sometimes I close my eyes and remember the magic of those days, and wonder if I will run across my mother in her smart suit, heels, hat and gloves, young and beautiful and excited about what the future will bring.
    She would be so sadly out of place in todays San Francisco, although she would have been a lawyer now! There are always tradeoffs!

  7. Zantara June 19, 2011 1:54 am

    I live in the Netherlands and the same applies.

    I am still one of a dissapearing generation who dresses up for travel, dining out, visiting and theatre.

    I was brought up that dressing up is not only a courtesy to a host, but unacceptable to go to the cinema in jeans.
    That dressing up is also part of the fun of going out, whether it being a visit or the cinema.

    I still dress up for such occasions and learned not to feel overdressed.

    People do wear for comfort and I feel comfortable in my special dress, my hairdo and careful make-up.

    At funerals, depending on who the diseased was by life, it hurts me to see mourners wearing jogging bottoms and sweatshirts.

    On the other hand, I realise that it isn’t about outer layers like clothing.

    You mourn in your own personal way and that includes your personal dress code for the occasion.

    I appreciate to see people making an effort to dress up for occasions, but realise that we should cherish the freedom to be who you are, including your dress code.


  8. Deborah June 28, 2011 2:56 pm

    I come from New Zealand where the dress style is casual except if you have a reason to dress up (like going out or to work). I moved to the UK 17 years ago and met and married (and now divorced) a farmer from a very, very traditional farming family in Suffolk. Their local Doctor’s surgery is in a neighbouring village and they would never dream of going to see the Doctor without anything other than their ‘Sunday best’ on. It never happened, but I had visions of a nasty accident on the farm requiring an urgent visit to the Doctor, which would be delayed while they got changed out of filthy work clothes, cleaned up and put on their ‘Sunday best’, even while bleeding all over them!! Hehe! Of course, you would dial 999 nowadays but not in the days of yore from which this family originates! Interestingly some members of said same family considered a weekly bath to still be acceptable!!

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