You can go to Soho7 and find men in suits and women in fur. Go to the Irish Pub and see button-ups, heels and jeans mixed with the occasional college T-shirt. Stop by Fanatics and sports lovers donning classic jeans and T-shirts. Yes, all this in just a three block radius in the Historic Third Ward.
Even in the Third Ward, an area thought of as cultivating a portion of this city's fashion sense, people disagree about style and more distinctly, about clothing style. Depending on the day of the week, type of establishment and income of the clientele, Milwaukee patrons mix the style of pub goers and wealthy corporate execs to college kids and young professionals.
You'll stand out at the Tracks in heels and a skirt but get denied entrance at Decibel in tennis shoes and jeans. These are two extremes of one very vague calculation. Milwaukee runs rampant with restaurants and bars that fall somewhere in the middle; unquestionably in the running for epicenter of casually dressed fine dining.
That's the blessing and the curse of Milwaukee. Part blue-collar industrial town, part young professional creative class; categorical classification evades Milwaukeeans just as it does other American cities whose past is tinged by its present.
Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Minneapolis are plagued by this internal indecision; down to earth, modest residents supporting local taverns mingling with a burgeoning trend of mainstream city lifestyle.
Woe, the struggle. Only joking.
The influx of residents from Chicago and freshly empty nesters to the Third Ward further compounds the intricacy and diversity of perspective. If only we could figure ourselves out.
But, certain classification is the least of concerns. Whereas cities of the past were truly "industrial" or "professional," "academic" or "trade," the rise of a digital era transformed our mindset and nullifies any sense to pigeonhole.
But, possible or not, for the sole practical purpose of illuminating a unified insight, I'll ask the question -- is there a "dress code" in Milwaukee?
On the average, I think we'd agree local wardrobe staples include jeans, tennis shoes and T-shirts. Often times we think of a heels and a jacket as the ultimate dress level upgrade from flats and a sweatshirt. I've done it plenty of times but I can't imagine Heidi Klum or Roberto Cavalli would deem much about that sufficiently chic. It's truly Milwaukee style -- or more broadly Midwestern style.
Formal or informal, is there an understated, guiding code for what to wear, where to wear it and when it is acceptable to forgo it?
Obviously, a combo of dive bars and boutique lounges isn't exclusive to Milwaukee; they lie side by side in every city around the globe. But the notion separating Milwaukee and others from more metropolitan magnates is this: an assumption that "casual" (aka jeans and tennis shoes) can be worn like a localized uniform, applicable and appropriate for every situation.
But are there places where you can't wear jeans? Blu at The Pfister? Carnevor? Centanni?
Granted, this isn't New York City and it most certainly isn't London or Paris. We live in Milwaukee because we have a certain sensibility, a certain enjoyment of ease and a certain down to earth, friendly mentality protecting us from spending our lives in materialistic competition or chasing down the latest from a high-end designer.
And, this isn't to say there isn't fashion and style in Milwaukee. Local boutiques in almost every neighborhood and suburb complement a culture of indie-creation and progressive trend. Fashion in Milwaukee takes on a more artistic, more individualized perspective; it brilliantly fits the community from which it's derived and deserves our applause.
But head 9o miles west, where Madison mentality outwardly maintains you can wear anything anywhere. You can never be too underdressed but you can certainly be too over dressed. Even when dining at the city's premier restaurants like Restaurant Magnus or L'Etoile or drinking at The Tornado Room, jeans are common and suits are seldom seen.
Just as in Madison, where Milwaukee's past and Milwaukee's present best collides is in our unique juxtaposed style. What do you think? Do you think Milwaukeeans impose a social "dress code?"
Use the talkback feature and weigh in on what fashion you think is out.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.