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Mar 5, 2014 03:06 PM

Dressing to eat out in SF?


What do people usually wear to eat out at nicer places in SF?

I've read that only The French Laundry actually has a dress code up there, but how do SF restaurants expect diners to dress?

Places like Cotogna, AQ, State Bird, Incanto, etc...?

  1. many people in SF are quite stylish, it's not so much the restaurant as how one feels about being a 'sore thumb'. sure you'll see guys wearing $200 t-shirts and jeans ripped by the designer, but you can never go wrong with a good sports coat (tie optional these days) and decent pants and shoes, think a step or three up from 'business casual' as a basis. but then I wouldn't wear that to a Sunday cookout at Zeitgeist.

    71 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      A sport coat says tourist to me. Ditto any pants nicer than wrinkled Dockers. Just make sure your shoes cost more than the meal.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        You're portion of the meal, or the total cost of the meal?

        Like, if two people eat at AQ, and it's $300, do you need $350 shoes? Or just $200 shoes?

        So you can get away with jeans then?

        What do you wear other than sport coats (cardigans/sweaters/leather jackets)?

        1. re: BacoMan

          People wear jeans everywhere in SF though I always wear wrinkled black Dockers. My normal garb is a black T-shirt and a black zip hoodie. The dressiest I get is a long-sleeved print shirt with a collar and a V-neck cotton pullover.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            IMO, the deal killer is wrinkles :( Clothes, that is :) I've never seen anyone out of their early 20s in a hoodie in a nice restaurant.

              1. re: bbulkow

                A fool and his money are soon parted :)

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    "You're Gonna LOVE bbulkow's Sense of Humor...

                    ...I Guarantee It!"

                    1. re: Tripeler

                      oh tripeler go deal your schmatta somewhere else (heh)

                      Baco: this is the sort of thing considered de rigeur and it makes for great people watching:


                    1. re: PeterL

                      Well, clothes aside, there was a story that Zuckerberg and his wife had to wait just like the regular folks for a table at Ramen Shop in Rockridge, and Steve Jobs left after waiting for and not getting a table at Flour + Water.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        I love the blase attitude towards celebrity that SF carries (and would hold high, except that is almost as uncool as noticing said fame)

                    1. re: BacoMan

                      No, anyone who knows me could verify my daily uniform. Some might doubt that I own a shirt with a collar.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  is it a considered and tailored vintage sport coat or is it one from Men's Wearhouse? an important distinction - and you're right about the shoes.

                  1. re: hill food

                    Isn't tailored sport coat an oxymoron?

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Doesn't quite rank as high as "jumbo shrimp" but...

                      2. re: hill food

                        Hill food and I obviously have different experiences dining in the city. My look ranges from rumpled and frumpy (unexpectedly going out to dinner after work) to nicely but not fashionably dressed; I've never owned an expensive pair of shoes or piece of designer clothing and there have only been a couple of times that I've wished I was better dressed.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          maybe it's just me, I sort of like 'putting on the dog' given a chance. I see this question usually posted by someone freaking out that they have to wear a tie or accept an old soup-stained one at the door. and honestly most of my 'nicer' clothes have been laboriously culled from thrift stores, if a jacket is cool enough and in good shape I have had it altered (don't want my sleeves dragging across the plate) and most of my khakis are ridiculously frayed at the cuff, but I walk so much wherever I am, I will blow the budget on well-made shoes - not fussy, just sturdy and good-looking (I put Bea Arthur on my feet, not Jean Arthur.

                          and if I bother with a tie it's usually knotted to look like I was recently trying to hang myself (yes I know how to do it right).

                      3. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Yes, because we all WANT to be seen as native! Why?

                        1. re: tstrum

                          It's so funny to me that CHs want to go to "non-touristy" places and yet all of us are "tourists" when we travel. I think OP just wants to dress appropriately which is a good thing. And I personally think things like wrinkled pants, hoodies, etc. aren't 'appropriate' everywhere. Some places, sure. Not all. But I'm on Social Security :)

                          1. re: c oliver

                            I really just wanted to make sure that I wouldn't be turned away from anywhere for failing a dress code, or "not looking sharp enough", which has happened to me before. It's quite difficult to go from the ultra-casual vibe of SoCal to almost anywhere else in the world.

                            Otherwise, I don't care much about fitting in wherever I go.

                            1. re: BacoMan

                              BacoMan, Keep in mind that SF is not like Miami where you can be turned away for, to use your term, not looking sharp enough. In Miami the person with the $400 designer shorts will be let in but the guy in the $50 Columbia brand shorts will not be let in and be told that shorts are not allowed.

                              The fact that you even posted the original question indicates to me that you care about your appearance so you should be just fine. But you may be best off leaving the Dodgers cap in the hotel room and not wearing it out to dinner. :-)

                              1. re: Fowler

                                I have never worn a baseball cap in my life, and don't ever plan to, unless someone wants to pay me a decent amount of money to do so.

                              2. re: BacoMan

                                Very few place will turn you away for the way you dress, sometimes even for the way you undress.

                              3. re: c oliver

                                I agree with your general thoughts although I a reminded of New York/Connecticut neighbors in my youth who drew a subtle but ABOLUTE distinction between "tourists" and "travelers."

                                I should have mentioned, earlier, regarding the Redwood room, that I remember (from the 1960s) the diktat of the owner about attire and hair length. He was tyrannical, so I am told. As a New Orleanian, I am used to such stuff as the slide show you thoughtfully provided depicts.

                                I like the noble way the dog is looking on the avatar. Just had a nice chat with a friend's airdale yesterday.

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  My husband's, who's turning 70 this year, parents and grandparents used to LOVE the Redwood Room. They always stayed at the St. Francis when they came to town.

                                  Gypsy is as sweet as she is pretty :)

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Tears of remembrance are always good.

                                    Please give Gypsy a dog kiss for me. You've done the Lord's Work on rescue and Airedales are always worth it. Does my heart good just to glimpse her when I see your posts.

                              4. re: tstrum

                                I spend a significant portion of the year in SF and actually go out of my way to NOT look like a native. For example, I do not wear jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball cap in restaurants there.

                                1. re: Fowler

                                  And for that I personally thank you :) Although I don't have a problem with that (well, never the cap indoors) in a lot of places in the Mission and similar nabes.

                                2. re: tstrum

                                  tstrum: "Yes, because we all WANT to be seen as native! Why?

                                  I'm another deep native (bbulkow and I must be related, or at least our families knew each other before the 'quake) and this is the first time I saw a discussion where Bay Area people talked about "looking like" natives. No native that I know looks like anything in particular, or cares about it.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    Re; your last comment, I agree (regarless of locale). exactly right.

                                    1. re: hazelhurst

                                      Well, as I referenced earlier, the majority of Manhattanites seem to wear black and I see a lot of it in SF also.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        SF has been a well-known destination for New York expats throughout my lifetime. (Why do you think Sen. Barbara Boxer shows a bit of an accent on occasion?)

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          and yet it is odd..I grew up in and around Manhattan (in the last century) and while I agree with you about "trendy blac" as we called it when it came into sight. I still wear my Grey Flannel Suit and am not out-of-place. But I guess that is because it was MY Manhattan before the trendy folks showed up. I never noticed and hadn't thought about it until now.

                                3. re: hill food

                                  I'm really bad about these things, because coming from LA, and worse, OC...it's literally acceptable to wear anything anywhere.

                                  I've actually seen people in Hawaiian shirts, and no shoes at the Ritz Carleton restaurant in Orange County...

                                  I usually wear fairly clean looking jeans, a collard shirt, a sport coat, or a cardigan out to dinners, but sometimes more casual than that. But there are absolutely no standards here, so it's not something I ever think about. I went to a pretty upscale bar last night in a leather jacket, and a long-sleeve shirt and no one batted an eye.

                                  People in LA think I am "stylish", but the metric is probably obscenely low here.

                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                    Okay, I draw a line at the Mr. Rogers look. But a collared shirt and a leather jacket are fine.

                                    This isn't the beach. Wear close-toed shoes and avoid anything that you would wear at a resort or you will stand out like a sore thumb. People wear dark colors in San Francisco.

                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                      ahh you're from LA, so maybe a bit less casual and you'll be fine.

                                      Ruth - by stylish I meant more than most other cities, didn't realize Baco is coming from LA otherwise I wouldn't have bothered saying that. Usually this question is posed by someone who doesn't get out much.

                                      1. re: hill food

                                        For people who "don't get out much" SF is quite casual, but in a very specific way, which I guess you could consider stylish. A lot of people who are visiting wear "vacation" clothes, i.e. light colors and sporty cuts, that will look out of place, although they will not be inappropriate. Stylishly dressed for a cruise or the country club will look weird!

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          We travel a fair amount and not to beachy/sunny places. My uniform is various pieces of black clothing. Pants, skirts, tees, sweaters. With some color to avoid monotony. But it gets me in just about anywhere and is practical.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Exactly. But I see a lot of obvious tourists downtown who were clearly thinking of San Francisco as being "California" when they packed and are wearing clothes that would be more at home walking down the street in Santa Barbara or Palm Springs. They don't think of San Francisco as being just as different from LA as NY is from Florida!

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              True. And are heading into those shops on Powell to buy sweatshirts. Long ago I had a friend who lived in San Rafael and worked in the city. She dressed rather oddly in the summer :)

                                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            I agree -- when I see a sports coat, I see a tourist or business traveler.

                                            1. re: The Dive

                                              What is it people in SF wear exactly? Hoodies/Leather Jackets/Sweaters?

                                              1. re: BacoMan

                                                I think you can never go wrong with a leather jacket. And remember it's going to be somewhat cooler in the evenings than it is in the OC.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  all of the above. as a friend once put it in our punk rock days trying to convince a mutual friend from the Midwest to move "... and you can wear shorts over long underwear, a good sweater and a leather jacket year-round!"

                                                  granted we were mostly hanging out in the Mission and lower Haight back then...

                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    You know, we save a lot of money being able to wear the same clothes year round. On the other hand, I had to buy boots for a January trip to Boston (where I had a lovely encounter with the polar vortex). Fortunately, I had a heavy wool coat that I bought years ago and never wear because it's to warm and dressy for SF!

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      I've always been amused during that vicious cold snap that lasts maybe a week right around Christmas and almost nobody in SF has proper clothes for freezing temps - everything in the wardrobe comes out and worn all at once.

                                                2. re: BacoMan

                                                  We wear whatever we want. Some people dress up but they're free to go current fashion, vintage, punk, beatnik, rockabilly, leather, drag, Harajuku cosplay, black tie, white tie, steampunk, you name it and sometimes you can't. Not that you'll see that crowd in every restaurant but you never know. MIssion more so than the rest of town, Oakland more so than SF.

                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                    All of the above. And the cardigan is perfect. Albeit I tend to hang out with bicycle messengers. But, seriously, you have nothing to worry about based on your itinerary.

                                                    However, it does tend to vary based on establishment. Oakland is very causal. But last Friday, my plan was to go to Plum Bar (Oakland) to meet others for drink. I was in a hoodie because that was the only outerwear I could find in my trunk. Then it was closed for a private event. I walked to several other places, all too crowded, and decided to try to go to Pican. Felt very out of place because Pican tends to attract a well dressed crowd.

                                                    1. re: The Dive

                                                      That's a great example! If we take the middle road of conservative dress (GOOD, PRESSED jeans, nice shirt and a jacket - not a blazer/sport coat) we're almost good to go everywhere.

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        Pressed jeans are only for Europeans and they usually stop bothering after they've been in SF for a while.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Agreed. High quality designer brands, yes, pressed, no.

                                                          1. re: bbulkow


                                                            I've never known anyone to press jeans...

                                                            I do buy high quality jeans though. No gaudy logos, just high quality denim.

                                                      2. re: The Dive

                                                        Picán attracts the most dressed-up customers I've seen in the area, but when I've gone in there were a fair number of customers as dressed down as I was.

                                                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    "vacation" clothes

                                                    that was sort of the fun though, I worked for maybe a year in the Hallidie Building (Sutter near Montgomery) and if we weren't swamped we'd go to the windows for a few minutes while the afternoon fog rolled in and snickered in full-blown Schadenfreude at the shorts and t-shirts desperately trying to get back to the hotel for the layers they'd been advised to wear.

                                                    but you worded it better than I, perhaps 'stylish' was the wrong word and 'considered' is a better one. I ask friends' tween and teen kids if I'm dressed weird and of course they say 'yes' so I have to explain "I mean does it look on purpose?"

                                                    1. re: hill food

                                                      LOL. I worked on Pier 39 for three years. Saw more people than I could count wearing a brand new sweatshirt that said "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" over shorts and goosebumped bare legs!

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        And I saw the same at Union Square in the mid80s.

                                                  3. re: hill food

                                                    I am always reminded of a visit when we were staying at the Ritz Carlton one July, and around 10.30 p.m. what was obviously a very stylish second-wedding-type party swept in, All older, very elegant, expensively dressed, including one woman in a full-length silver fox coat. July.

                                                    1. re: lemons

                                                      Lemons - are you sure Lady Charles hadn't followed your trail of breadcrumbs from Balaban's?

                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                        Ah, bless his heart. I was at Herbie's for a photo shoot last week, and his memory was invoked. He would have had much to say on the subject.

                                                        And as you obviously have STL history, were you aware Herb Cray, the elegant maitre d' at Tony's for many years, had passed away?

                                                3. re: hill food

                                                  I think the key is "how one feels" -- the restaurant won't care. The other people probably won't care. So it's really up to you what you feel comfortable wearing in a nice restaurant.

                                                  I think it's ridiculous to call SF "stylish" -- compared to NY or LA, SF is a style backwater!

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    We just spent two weeks in Manhattan and I'd say the majority of the people dressed the same as SF. All in black :)

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      Ah yes, but there it's this season's hot designer black. ;-)

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        On the Manhattan board recently, there was someone who didn't want to scream "Midwestern tourist" and were looking for places to fit in. My suggestion, which was 'recommended' by others was - Wear Black. ALL THE TIME :)

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          It's OK to mix it up with some dark gray, but not after Labor Day.

                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      As long as I won't be turned down from a place, or be given terrible service for it, I'm comfortable dressing as myself anywhere.

                                                      But I've been turned away from places in Europe before. Not sure how European SF is. I've tended to eat at the more casual places in SF in my life.

                                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                                        I can't imagine how you'd have to dress to be turned away from a restaurant in SF. I know a guy who went to all the most expensive restaurants in town in his unvarying uniform of T-shirt, hoodie, jeans, and sneakers.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Yeah, I think it would actually take some kind of affirmative effort to get turned away from a restaurant here.

                                                  2. No shoes, no shirt, no service. I've worn developer casual to all those places and probably wasn't the worst-dressed guy in the room.

                                                    7 Replies
                                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                                        Tee shirt with a logo, jeans, sneakers. None of which are necessarily the cleanest. Sandals and shorts may be involved, but that's on the extra-developer-casual side.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          No one is going to turn you away as long as you have real shoes (e.g. not flip flops), real pants (e.g. not sweats), and either a collard shirt, or a t shirt with a real jacket (e.g. not a hoodie). And most places you'll find someone wearing one if not all the items I just listed anyway =P

                                                          The only things that stick out as not belonging to me for men are shorts (a bad idea in SF for most of the year anyway) or white athletic/tennis shoes. But you generally won't get turned away from a restaurant for wearing them (you will from a dance club though!)

                                                          For women, of course, it's a bit trickier.

                                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                                            >No one is going to turn you away as long as you have
                                                            >real shoes (e.g. not flip flops), real pants (e.g.
                                                            >not sweats)
                                                            I've worn shorts and flip-flops to BOULEVARD. although it was mid week. in a t-shirt too, although i dont recall which one. the mid-level chef i spoke to that night said one person did come in that day in worse dress [a BUDWEISER tshirt].

                                                            [it was sort of an impluse to
                                                            meet a downtown-working friend there ... i used to wear flip-flops, teva-like shoes ~365days in SF].

                                                            i cant recall seeing anyone in a table service resto in sweats ... although in the 'hood i've seem people running errand in sweats and pyjamas.

                                                            1. re: psb

                                                              well, Boulevard, Nancy still turning that fork?

                                                        2. Good pressed jeans, collared shirt, leather jacket will take you anywhere IMO.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                            Well...It won't take you to the Duck and Waffle in London apparently. I often wear that combination of things, and I wore it out to try and get into the Duck and Waffle and was told I was "not dressed smartly enough, eh chap?"

                                                            So, apparently not anywhere...

                                                            But good to know it will work in SF.

                                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                                              And what were you wearing at the D&W? Planning a trip there myself.

                                                              1. re: lemons

                                                                You better wear a full suit, collared shirt, and NICE shoes. Something in leather, Prada ideally. (Judging by my friend who now lives in London, and what he wore to get in).

                                                                I think the only thing that is optional is a tie.

                                                                I had a collared shirt, clean looking jeans, suede shoes, and a leather jacket on with a scarf (was quite chilly to me). No bueno.

                                                              2. re: BacoMan

                                                                California is quite different than a lot of the world :) Much more a do your own thing kinda place. Within reason.

                                                                1. re: BacoMan

                                                                  Oops, I meant it will take you anywhere in SF.

                                                              3. I usually wear a collared shirt, nice designer-ish jeans, and a snazzy jacket. Snazzy might mean the vintage red corduroy that I got on Melrose, or it might mean the tan moleskin, or it might even mean a wayward tux jacket, but it's not just a straight sportscoat. I might just wear a decent shirt, something with stripes and french cuffs. Just not a simple white shirt no jacket - you might be confused with the help. If I'm in after work mode I might wear anything from a full suit to tee shirt and a fleece.

                                                                My attitude is a bit - if you don't like what I wear, "forget" you. I was born in oakland, I've been doing tech in the valley all my life, I have ancestors in california going back to the gold rush, I'm as close to native as you're going to get. Deal with it.

                                                                At the places you listed, you will NEVER get poor service depending on how you are dressed. That is a point of pride in SF - we accept all kinds, even if you're dressed LA style or Tourist. In my recent writing about Atellier Crenn, my parents were there, and they came from the airport, coming from a day at the San Diego Zoo with family - tee shirts and baseball caps. The waitstaff said "you're not from around here" and bantered a bit, the service was almost especially warm.

                                                                Most of the room was dressed like I described in the first paragraph, although most had more boring jackets. My girlfriend had jeans and a knit silk shirt.

                                                                One point: you will get some chill if wearing shorts at a few places. By "a few" I would say about 5. One Market, Danko, maybe Spruce, maybe the Top of the Mark, some places that are closed like Masa's or the old Ritz Carleton dining room, maybe Acquerello.

                                                                There's a story about Morimoto getting turned away from Manresa because he was wearing shorts - apparently he came from the golf links in monterey while opening Morimoto in Napa. He thought he could get a pass because he was a chef, or he was livin' Vegas style, and they wouldn't serve him. Here's the story:


                                                                13 Replies
                                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                                  Oh, that reminds me. @OP, remove your hat indoors :)

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    And stand when a lady arrives at or departs the table.

                                                                    All the foregoing makes me wonder how Cable Car Clothiers stays in business.

                                                                    1. re: hazelhurst

                                                                      There are still a few lawyers, bankers and stockbrokers in this town. :-) The sales and marketing people in our company still wear suits and ties.

                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                        I am pleased to hear it.

                                                                        I do not get to San Francisco often but if I go to, say, the Palace or the Redwood Room, I wouldn't walk on the same block as the hotel without suit and tie.

                                                                        1. re: hazelhurst

                                                                          Well, you'll be treated fine, I'm sure, but may be the only person in those places dressed like that :) You may want to look at the slide show here:


                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                            I've become used to it. Iv'e often been the only man in a suit and tie in the late Oak Bar in the Plaza NYC, at the Clift, and God knows where else. In New Orleans there are still a few of us old guard who still dress going out. We'd feel uncomfortable NOT doing it, I think. And it allows for flexibility: one can be spontaneously invited as a guest to a private club, for example

                                                                            1. re: hazelhurst

                                                                              I remember when I first moved here about nine years ago, all my clothes were typical New York -- like 90% black wool, with some gray for those occasional cycles when grey replaced black. And then perhaps a month or two after I moved here, I was talking to someone I met outside Mecca, who said, "In San Francisco, you can wear your casual clothes to a restaurant; you don't have to dress up this much." And I said, "These _are_ my casual clothes," to which she responded with a throaty laugh. But now I wear a hoodie and sneakers to dinner too, I don't care...

                                                                          2. re: hazelhurst

                                                                            The blocks adjacent to the Palace these days are mostly occupied by programmers and art students.

                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                              Yes, that about describes it when last I was there a couple of years ago.

                                                                          3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                            I hate, hate, hate it when I have to wear a suit to work and go out in the city. I always feel out of place. I recently had to wear a suit to 15 Romolo -- and I was miserable!

                                                                            1. re: The Dive

                                                                              So true! When I know I'm going out after work outside of the financial district and I have to wear a suit that day, I will bring something (yes, all black) to change into and leave the suit at the office.

                                                                          4. re: hazelhurst

                                                                            Do they actually enforce that insanely sexist paradigm in SF restaurants still?

                                                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                                                              Oh, god, no. I thought it was stupid in the 60s.

                                                                      2. I have worn jeans to AQ, SBP, Incanto. I dress up for Coi, Benu, Quince. And business-like places such as Boulevard and Waterbar. I have consistently worn jeans and black at all level of places in the Mission.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: The Dive

                                                                          That's a good point: it's really more about the neighborhood than the restaurant. In restaurants in and around the Financial District, more people will be wearing suits and ties, simply because that's what they wear to work.