Sandals with socks. Pierced cheeks. Fleece over dresses. Locals get away with some pretty dodgy fashion choices in the Pacific Northwest. Yet, as wide open as Seattle style can be, we all know what works in a coffee shop doesn’t necessarily play in a boardroom or corporate “we space.” Sometimes, it can feel easier to douse your sartorial self-expression to pursue your career.
Not necessarily. A bank executive, an entrepreneur and a software designer demonstrate how it’s possible to have it all. They channel the creative energy of the region into looks that are appropriate for their workplaces and still earn them admiring double takes.
Photographs by Hayley Young
Old school with a twist
Mark Dederer, vice president, Wells Fargo Foundation and Community Affairs for Washington
Dederer wears a suit, usually sans tie, to his office nearly every
workday. “I know when I put on a suit, I feel good,” he says. “I can go
into any situation and feel comfortable.” But there’s nothing boring
about his look, from shirts he has custom-made by a tailor in Taipei to
his old-school pocket squares and monogrammed cuffs. He approaches
tradition with a fresh spirit and often flashy accents, such as
martini-glass cufflinks and red socks.
>Two pieces of advice:
Step out of your comfort zone; for men, a pink shirt is a start. And
frequent shoe shines. For more than a decade, Dederer has been a
regular for shines with Warren Johnson at Hair on the Square, on First
>Secret weapon: A full-length mirror and someone who is going to give you an honest opinion.
Wool-blend suit by Jack Victor from Steve Goodwin The Haberdasher,
Yakima; 80/20 blend shirt, custom-made at the Gentle Handleman, Taipei,
Taiwan; silk pocket square by Hugo Boss (Boston); silk tie by Michael
Kors, Saks (New York); leather shoes from Cole Haan (San Francisco). He
inherited the Hamilton gold watch from his grandfather, who received it
as a gift for his service as the chair of the 1950 Community Chest
campaign. The signet ring was a gift from his parents when he graduated
from high school.
Geek chic, engineered for style
Gopi Palamalai, software design engineer, Expedia
Gopi Palamalai is everything that’s right with business casual. His wardrobe of menswear basics is punctuated with well-cut suits, cardigans and vests that pair with dressed-down sneakers and jeans to keep him comfortably put together, no matter how stressful the 9-to-5 day gets. Palamalai breathes modern perspective into business silhouettes with unexpected patterns, splashes of color and forward-thinking cuts like slim pants and lean-toe-box shoes.
>Are jeans ever wrong? “I have not encountered any work situations for which jeans are inappropriate. I guess we have Steve Jobs to thank for that.”
>Advice for pros struggling to find a business look: “When in doubt, I recommend choosing a classic style/look for your profession. If you’re a banker/lawyer, a dark blue suit and tie, or, if you’re a midlevel manager or other professional, probably chinos/jeans worn with a button-down shirt and blazer.”
>The look: Ben Sherman black ankle boots from Edie’s, Capitol Hill; J. Lindberg skinny jeans and blue-and-white pinstripe, slim-cut, cotton button-up shirt, both from Kuhlman, Belltown; Trovata navy-and-cream striped sweater and A.P.C. black wool suit jacket, both from Blackbird, Ballard.
Linda Derschang, owner of hot spots King’s Hardware, Oddfellows, Smith, Linda’s and more
Cultural curator Linda Derschang builds outfits the way she does her businesses, which drip with her personal sense of style: informal, subversive, decidedly urban and full of gritty glamour. Derschang, who owned the Capitol Hill clothing store Basic in the 1980s and ’90s, now frequents local boutiques such as Veridis and Totokaelo for limited-run pieces and obscure lines. She loves stumbling into vintage furs, men’s hats and chunky jewelry pieces that keep her self-described “slightly rumpled, sort of boyish, eclectic” look one of a kind.
>Dressing for a meeting: “I recommend keeping the look simple and sleek. Nothing too loud or flashy to distract from the message of the meeting—it’s a meeting and not a party.”
>Advice for pros struggling to find a look: “Find someone to help. There are great people at Barneys, Mario’s or Butch Blum to help a businesswoman look chic. Because I don’t work in the corporate world, there are fewer rules for what is appropriate to wear to work. I suppose that could make things confusing, but I love it.”
>The look: Earnest Sewn skinny black jeans from Barneys downtown; black cotton Future Classics circle-cut sweater (over white cotton tank), Marsell wood clogs with removable leather heel cover and wide leather belt with silver circle clasp, all from Totokaelo, Pioneer Square; Ampersand as Apostrophe fold-over clutch tote made from vintage leather mailbags, from Lamb’s Ear, Fremont; silver signet ring from Tiffany & Co.; black leather studded bracelet from Hermès at The Bravern in Bellevue; Jamie Joseph black stone cocktail ring from Essenza, Fremont; key and safety pin necklace, a New York find.