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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

October 31, 2012 at 5:45 AM

Is Seattle the country’s worst-dressed city?

The Teva high-heel in black — perfect formal footwear for Seattle? (photo: Gray Ant/Teva)

Last week I attended the Seattle Opera’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.  The singing was beautiful, of course, but that’s not what inspired this blog post.  It was the clothing.  The audience’s clothing.

Suffice it say that Tevas, jeans and polo shirts are still acceptable attire for a night at the opera in Seattle; not much has changed in the four years since Pam Sitt wrote this article on the subject in The Seattle Times.

It’s a long-standing complaint that Seattleites don’t care how they dress, don’t buy new clothes, and even take a perverse pride in their frumpiness — we’re into books here, not clothes.

But is it true?  Do we really have no interest in clothes in Seattle?  And can data help us find an answer?

Not sure, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

I devised a simple measure — an index — to gauge the fashion priorities of Seattleites in relation to people in other cities.  I’ll call it the Shoppers Index.  It’s calculated from market research data that tracks how much people spend on clothing and shoes in 77 metro areas around the nation (I did not include spending on sportswear — only “nicer” clothes).  I calculated index numbers for each metro area using this data, and I made one index for women and one for men..

What does the Shoppers Index tell us?  Simply put, it is a way to rank places by how much they skew toward high spending or low spending on clothing.  In other words, a place with a high index number has a preponderance of shopaholics.  A low index number indicates a place where clothes shopping is near the bottom of most people’s priority list.

So how does Seattle stack up?  Let’s start with the ladies.

Would it surprise you to learn that Seattle women are among the top shopaholics in the country? It’s true. Seattle has one of the highest percentages of women who spend big on clothing and shoes. Compared to the national average, Seattle-area women are 26 percent more likely to spend $500 or more in a year on their wardrobe.  In addition, there are very few women here who are tight-fisted when it comes to clothes shopping.  Out of 77 metro areas, Seattle has the sixth smallest percentage of women who spend less than $100 on clothing per year.

As a result of these factors, women in Seattle place fourth in the nation on my Shoppers Index with a score of 33.  They keep some pretty ritzy company, too — San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC. are the only cities ahead of Seattle:





San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose



New York



Washington, D.C.





Source: Scarborough Research, Multi-market 2012 Release 1

As you can see from the index numbers, there is a fairly big gulf between women in Seattle and those in the three top cities.  Nevertheless, would you have ever guessed that Seattle women would be nipping at those well-heeled heels?

So if we can’t point a finger at the women for our city’s frumpy reputation, how about Seattle’s guys?

Fellas, the women are putting you to shame.

Seattle area men scored much lower than the women.  Data show that only about 4 percent of men here are willing to shell out the big bucks on clothing and shoes.  That’s 12 percent below the national average for men.  In addition, a slightly higher than average percentage of guys from Seattle make it through an entire year spending less than a C-note on their threads.  Combine those two factors, and it’s no surprise that Seattle men only score -15 on my male Shoppers Index.  That uninspired result ranks them 31st among men in the 77 metro areas.

You know, it could be worse.  Men in Seattle didn’t come in last (that would be Green Bay, Wisconsin, in case you’re wondering).  But if you like a well-turned-out guy, Seattle is not your ideal city; you’d be happier in one of the top-ranked towns — Dallas, New York, or Boston.

So is Seattle’s unfashionable reputation fair?  Probably not, but I’ll just say this:  if we are a badly-dressed city, the data suggest you can blame the guys for it.

Agree or disagree?  What do you think of Seattle fashion?  Feel free to sound off in the comments.



Comments | More in Market Research | Topics: Seattle, shopping


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