Where trends come to die

Sacramento: More with-it than the Midwest, at least

SN&R Illustration By Mark Stivers

I knew something was up when four wine bars opened in Sacramento in the space of a few months, with more following. And then, this fall, there was the profusion of cupcake bakeries: again, four of them, in just a month or two. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love a glass of wine with some kind of small-platesy nibble, and I really love a cupcake (or two). I enthusiastically welcome these fine businesses to our city. Yet their sudden sprouting, like mushrooms after a rain, gave me an eerie feeling. Could it be déjà vu?

In a word: yes. I’ve seen the wine-bar boom before. I’ve seen the cupcake boom before. I’ve seen chichi teahouses blossom and upscale cocktail lounges emerge. That’s because I only moved to Sacramento in 2004—from the Bay Area, where all those things already were in full swing. Or, perhaps, just a teensy bit passé.

It’s the same eerie feeling I get seeing old-school skate punks in Midtown, or big ads for live/work lofts, or the lowest of low-rise jeans en route to one of those cocktail lounges: the feeling that Sacramento is where trends come to die. Or, if not to die, to enjoy a cozy, cocooned retirement, living on a reduced income while bigger cities have moved on to something else—what, I don’t know.

OK, OK, no need to send me hate mail (really); I know Sacramento isn’t completely behind the times. I see the skinny jeans on the streets here (though I sometimes wish I didn’t), and I’m sure our Apple store had lines when the iPhone came out, just like everywhere else. Anyway, I come from a town where a lot of the high-school girls still have big permed hair, just like they did when I was in high school, so who am I to talk? I’m pretty far from trendy. For one, I don’t exactly have the funds or the lifestyle to change my wardrobe constantly, or to restock my liquor cabinet with the latest prestige vodka, or to redo my house seasonally in rustic chic or eco-modern or whatever. And as for my own hair, I’m too busy (or lazy) even to blow it dry, so I don’t succumb to a lot of the waves of fashion.

Since I don’t change much aside from growing out bangs and then cutting them again, I asked my hairstylist—a style-savvy pro in an East Sac salon—what belated trends she sees. She explained that a lot of women’s tresses have a certain timelessness—think of the Posh Spice bob, which is but a reworking of bobs through the ages—but she does see one hairstyle for men here in Sacramento that fits the bill: the fauxhawk. Guys in San Francisco and L.A., she says, would no longer be caught dead in this look, but Sacramento guys? Still asking for it.

That sounds like kind of a good thing, though, because she also said that what’s hitting big in bigger cities—and might therefore hit big here in the next year or so—is a kind of modified mini-mullet with a fade at the sides. Oh, no, I thought. Do Sacramento men really need more encouragement to go mulletward? I didn’t think so. We already have a sadly mullet-prone stratum of our local culture.

So, mullets aside (please), this is the season (and the newspaper) for predictions and trend-forecast lists. What will be hot this year? What is colder than the outer rings of Saturn? I think it’s pretty easy to calculate: Just look up the 2005 it-list from New York, or walk the streets of San Francisco to determine what food and apparel people there say they’re so over.

Otherwise, well, I have a hunch that leggings and the rest of the ’80s look will be hitting us hard again, but food’s my main beat, so let me stick with that. Maybe we’ll get some of the high-end, from-scratch ice cream shops that have been the metropolitan scoop of late. (Lord knows we need them a lot more than those cold-summer San Franciscans do.) Chocolateries, which have exploded in other metropolitan areas, already are on their way here: Local chocolatier Ginger Elizabeth has one opening up early in the new year.

Anyway, it’s all relative, as I was reminded when I talked to Sac State marketing professor Dennis Tootelian, the director of the Center for Small Business in the College of Business Administration there. Sacramento, he said, may be behind New York and L.A. and S.F., but, well, those are only three cities, after all. “I think sometimes we get too close to this and we don’t see what we’ve got, and so it doesn’t look like we’ve progressed all that much and that we’re way behind,” Tootelian said. “But in perspective, we’re still way ahead of most of the country. We’d be considered a trendsetter to the smaller cities in the Midwest.”

As for our lagging behind the first-tier trend centers, Tootelian added, even that might change, “Those major cities are landlocked, and we’re not, so we can keep growing. The fact is, too, that a lot of major cities are just oversaturated.” In other words, companies that bring in trends are looking for growth—and we’ve got it, as well as high income levels and a population that is unusually likely to start small businesses (including, I imagine, those wine bars and ultra lounges).

“As you get the migration of people from the Bay Area here, they’re bringing their wealth with them,” Tootelian reminded me. They’re probably bringing their ideas and tastes and, dare we say it, trends, too. Just in the food world, for instance, all that disposable income in Roseville and Granite Bay, as well as Sacramento proper, is attracting high-end chain restaurants; they’re cushioning the sticker-shock blow on entrée prices; and independent, adventurous restaurateurs are following (mostly from the Bay Area, like the population), with their amuse-bouches and fancy salts and locally sourced produce.

If you think about it, Sacramento always has been a town driven by trends but built by slightly belated followers: The forty-niners, of course, lagged for nearly a year behind the actual discovery of gold. Yeah, I know, they had to go overland with horses pulling their rickety wagons and no roads and only hardtack (or, in particularly unpleasant cases, each other) to gnaw, or around the Horn battling huge waves, and all that. Excuses, excuses. They could have made it here faster if they’d really tried, and maybe then we wouldn’t have been a year or two behind the times.

It might seem like today’s trends could struggle along faster, too, if our state-government-worker population were a little less socially conservative and a little more wild and free.

Here’s the thing, though: We do get some things faster than anyone else. We’re famed, in corporate America, as a test market, thanks to our ethnic diversity, relative isolation (what’s tested here doesn’t spill over into other markets) and affluence. Despite our boom-and-bust past, we might not get the crazy fads quite so fast as New York, but the broader trends do come here relatively quickly—and, said Tootelian, they’re likely to come ever more quickly as Sacramento continues to grow at a rate outpacing larger metropolitan areas. “It’s just a pure guess, but I’d say that within 10 years we’ll get stuff just as fast as anybody else,” he said. “You know, we may turn into something like the Off-Broadway kind of concept, where they’ll bring things here first, try it out, see how it goes.”

Or, well, here’s an idea: Maybe we could try originating some trends. In the food world, may I suggest the popsicle, which is due for a fun renaissance and is a natural fit for our hot summers? I’m not sure what we could offer to the worlds of fashion and hair, but surely we can come up with something better than mini-mullets.

Anyway, if you feel a little un-trendy every now and again, console yourself with the thought that there’s one current trend on which Sacramento has been way out in front: the current housing bust. In that, according to a November article in Forbes magazine, we lead the nation, with prices that have fallen 10.5 percent—outpacing any other city. Be proud, Sacramento, be proud. Or, if that doesn’t seem like a matter of pride, let’s all at least admit that being trendy isn’t everything. Maybe you can’t sell your house, but at least you can console yourself with wine and cupcakes.