Balboa Park may not be Bryant Park, but that doesn’t mean that San Diegans haven’t made a sartorial splash. Sure, San Diego’s unofficial wardrobe includes surf brand–issued shades and flip-flops. After a quick beach dip, though, we can clean up rather nicely. In our archives, we found some epic examples of San Diego fashion through each decade of our history.
In our debut decade, we embraced the dapper trends of the day, which were basically Katharine Hepburn’s Mid-Atlantic accent slapped on a dress form. At locales like the Del Mar racetrack and the Hotel Del, women were draped in slinky suit dresses and nary seen without a hat, while men sported a proud G.I. fit or the ever-flattering high-waisted slacks and ties as wide as Cary Grant’s grin. My, you’d look yar on the deck of the Point Loma Yacht Club.
Advertising! Post-war materialism! Jell-O! The economic boom of the ’50s led us to off-the-rack bliss (more Nordstrom than Shein) as the number of styles kept up with increased amounts of disposable income. Barbie waists and slimming suits were de rigueur and essential in completing the era’s picket-fence chic, which would fit perfectly in any Rancho Bernardo front yard.
Miniskirts. Paisleys. Surfers, bikinis, and beach-blanket bingo at Black’s. Welcome to the ’60s—quite possibly the most fashion-dense era. Mods and rockers were the early-era trendsetters, while hippies upset the apple cart by trading hyper-sophistication for casual, print-heavy chaos (and turning said apples into pipes). But San Diego Mag keeps it classy with a nod to the glamor of the decade’s early years, hinting at the emergence of James Bond and “it girls.”
We could have given you halter tops and sequins, but our city has a subversive side, offering more Annie Hall and less Saturday Night Fever. Don’t get us wrong—no one was safe from wide lapels, gold chains, and chest hair, but this androgynous get-up proves the decade was more than the sum of its disco.
Ah, the ten-year span of excess, where the Gordon Gekko manifesto, perms, and Magnum P.I. lookalikes ruled the decade. Love it or hate it, folks in the ’80s made statements. Menswear was split between rolled-up blazer sleeves in a pastel Miami Vice palette and the neon skate-scene garb seen on the likes of Tony Hawk. And, ladies, if you didn’t have on shoulder pads or pantyhose, well, you might as well be naked. Omigawd, like, run to Fashion Valley to rectify that.
It was a fashion-driven era of many trends—and it’s back. It bedecked the dudes in an ’80s hangover of boxy suits and outlandish ties before giving way to the grungy flannels of rock gods that would be right at home at the Casbah. Womenswear ran the gamut from tapered power suits to femme-forward surf gear that would score you cred at Fletcher Cove.
Three words: Going-out top. As a city, we watched Paris Hilton and Britney Spears parlay their privilege into a blur of paparazzi pics that had young women aspiring to find the perfect bejeweled tank to wear for a night out in the Gaslamp. One more word: Metrosexual. Some guys embraced their feminine energy and opted for a more manicured take on casual menswear, while others went full emo and rocked the shaggy ’dos we’d later dub a Bieber haircut.
The 2010s were a time when fedoras were the socially acceptable headwear of choice among middle-aged dads and frat bros alike, worn without shame to many a barbecue or PB bar. For women, statement necklaces reigned supreme, along with ankle boots and moto jackets, taking you anywhere from a UTC shopping spree to a La Jolla sunset.
The dawn of a new decade brought with it a global pandemic that forced us indoors (and into sweats) for a few years. Athleisure became our daily uniform and masks were our main accessory. Even now that we’re donning pants again, we’re still snuggling into sherpa jackets and wearing sneakers with jeans.