Two features of San Francisco’s Mediterranean climate stand out. One is fog, which turns summer in my neighborhood into winter. The other is a response to fog-induced gloom—homes painted in cheerful colors. As to the latter, the fashion tyrants have foisted gloom upon us.

Owners of houses and apartment buildings are adhering to fashionistas’ counsel to paint their exteriors gray. What about blue, pink, peach, green, yellow and the occasional purple? Fuhgeddaboudit. 

The last thing we need is homes that coordinate with our environment, blending in with the overcast above and gray asphalt streets below. Gray buildings threaten to create a streetscape of unending dinginess. One bit of encouraging news? Styles change.

As a kid in the 50s, I too followed fashion tyrannies lest I be labeled an outsider: charcoal gray slacks and pink shirts, chinos with a buckle on the back, pegged (narrow leg) pants, boatneck shirts. Teen-age girls wore skin-tight jeans. Many still do. Straight adolescent boys like that.

The convention-hating 60s and 70s imposed new conventions. Earth tones—browns, oranges, yellows—dominated home interiors and clothing. Refrigerators turned avocado green. 

Men and women embraced longer hair. I grew a mustache (and kept it for years). Clothing went paisley. Red, white and blue striped jeans? Had ’em. (Now, I decry flag-based apparel.) And bell bottoms. I loved my patched bell jeans. They’re long gone. A good thing. I couldn’t come close to fitting in them.  

Fashion kept changing, consumers kept buying in. Lapels widened and narrowed. So did ties. Hemlines went up to just below women’s backsides. Disclosure: I never complained about miniskirts—particularly Carolyn’s. However, I didn’t care for see-through blouses. Who could concentrate in the office when fellow employees were putting on a show? Leisure suits came and went.

The ’80s and ’90s regurgitated the ’40s with women’s shoulder pads. Later, women’s clothing bared midriffs. Not always flattering. Usually not. I thought that was a bit much. I still do. 

Okay, I’m old. But even decades back, I believed that women’s—and men’s—clothing should be more modest. I’m not championing styles required by Orthodox Jews and Muslims. Burqas especially tell us less about the sinfulness of women and more about men in some Muslim societies, deprived of contact with women not family members and often bringing their sexual frustrations into the public square.

Nonstop stylistic change applies to everything. Something of a cultural Luddite, I still love 1950s Doo-Wop and ’60s Motown—while the label still came out of Detroit. I cling to Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Sir Elton John. The Beatles? The Boss? I’m not a hardcore fan. (Hiss at will.)

It’s sad, if economically advantageous, that fashion remains dictatorial, impels and often compels people to continually change what they wear, listen to, see, drive (remember tail fins?) and eat. (Chocolate-chip bagels? Really?) Advertising plays a major role. So do today’s online “influencers” who exercise great power for reasons unknown to me. Enduring style? The tastemakers have little use for that concept.

So, San Francisco is graying, not just demographically like me but also visually. The former is inevitable. The latter needn’t torment us if we acknowledge that we actually see the world in color. All that takes is using our gray matter.

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  1. Zoe on December 17, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    This was a fun review of fashion and color. Love, Zoe

    • David Perlstein on December 18, 2021 at 8:39 am

      Glad you enjoyed the trip down Memory Lane, Zoe. I always wonder, what’s next?

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