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Valley Professionals Break Dress-for-Success Rules : Tale of Two Sartorial Styles

October 24, 1985|SAMUEL GREENGARD

When John Craig works at his downtown law office, he always wears an expensive, well-cut suit. And when he's conducting business at his San Fernando Valley office "it's breakfast in shorts and a polo shirt, lunch in slacks and a dress shirt, sometimes business with a tie."

Like many Valley businessmen, Craig has found that, in terms of fashion, things are a bit more casual in the Valley. "If you're not careful you can actually be overdressed for the occasion," he said. "It has happened to me more than once."

From Sylmar to Sherman Oaks, fashion experts agree that, if Southern California is the land of laid-back style, the Valley may well be the capital of casual. Jogging suits and tennis shorts abound. In the professional world, open collars and corduroy pants are not uncommon. And, although nobody will go so far as to say comfort doesn't have its place, some support the notion that Valleyites could dress with a bit more panache.

"In general, the Westside and most of L. A. seems to be more fashion conscious, and, for the most part, better dressed than the Valley," acknowledged Rick Pallack, owner of the large Sherman Oaks men's store of the same name. Pallack, who says 40% of his business comes from Los Angeles, commented, "You see fewer sweaters, coats and vests in the Valley; you see lighter colors and more informal styles."

More Relaxed Dressing

Added Jerry Wainess, general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue in Woodland Hills: "People in the Valley are dressing up more than they used to, but there still remains a tendency to go relaxed, even underdressed for some occasions, including business."

Few restaurants in the Valley expect formal dress. And, with no ballet company, philharmonic orchestra or major live theater in the Valley, a black tie or silk gown isn't often in order. Add to this the fact that few firms have located their corporate headquarters in the Valley, and doesn't it seem natural that the style of dress would be a little less formal?

Yes, say Pallack and Wainess, who stock their stores with the Valley shopper in mind. Nevertheless, according to Pallack, "It's important people look their best. In the past there hasn't been as much emphasis on dressing up in the Valley."

Nobody's suggesting that most Valleyites fit into the slob category. Or that the contrast between L. A. and the Valley is as great as, say, Paris, France and Pixley, Calif. It's just that each side of the Santa Monica Mountains seems to have its own basic style. And though some would argue the Valley has less of it, everyone likes to argue over the reason why.

Among the more popular explanations:

The Thermometer Theory. This one is probably the most commonly advanced. Since the Valley is often 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Los Angeles, not only is it impractical to dress up, it's undesirable.

The Elevator and Restaurant Theory. In downtown L. A., Century City and points between, clusters of similar businesses--advertising agencies, banks, law and publishing offices--often occupy the same high-rise. In the Valley, competitors are usually farther apart. According to Laurie Golden, who operates Jacob's Well Public Relations and Advertising in Woodland Hills, "If you're in the city you ride the elevator and eat at the same restaurant as your colleagues. If you want to impress them you have to look successful."

The Two Kids and a Dog Theory. According to Pallack, "Valley people are more family oriented. They have house payments, car payments and kids. They have their priorities in a different order."

The George Washington Theory. Although most Valley residents aren't exactly poor, incomes don't match parts of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and the Westside. Thus, the thinking goes, retailers don't necessarily offer top lines of clothing and Valleyites aren't as interested in buying them.

The Product of Your Environment Theory. "If you live in an area where other people don't dress up, you probably won't dress up as much either," Pallack said.

No matter which theory (or theories) one chooses to subscribe to, the fact is that all of this has led some to adopt a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde philosophy when it comes to putting on clothes. "When I go into the city I dress differently than when I'm in the Valley," explained Laurie Golden. "Here I wear much more relaxed, free-flowing, artistic styles. Over the hill, I have to wear a suit or a dress because that's what everyone else wears. Besides, you often meet in formal conference rooms. And, if you aren't dressed properly, it can be very awkward."

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