Why so divided? Exploring the comments in ‘Wonder’ series

Utilikilt photo by djwudi/Flickr

In the Northwest, we share some unique attributes. But, like people everywhere, we disagree passionately when it comes to those things that tie us together. That came clear to us after sorting through the comments prompted by KPLU’s ‘I Wonder Why…?” series.

For instance, in combing through two of our most popular stories, no one could agree on just how friendly we are in the Northwest or whether men in skirts … er Utilikilts is a good idea.


‘Nerd skirt’ or high fashion?

The story about Utilikilts, a skirt for men that was invented in the Northwest, generated some of the most heated debate. People either love ’em or hate ’em.

Responding to the KPLU story on Facebook, Saul Troy Sabia wrote:

“Wear it (the Utilikilt) with pride and apologize to no one.” 

On KPLU’s website, Loudspeakerguy echoed the sentiment:

“Yeah, some folks think it’s wrong for a portly 48-year-old short guy to wear one, but my experience has been 85 percent positive. They’re not for everyone, but everyone should at least try it once – you may find yourself donating your pants to the thrift store!”

There are female fans as well. On Facebook, Mary Avery wrote:

“It’s a welcome relief from the sea of jeans.”

On the other side of the fashion divide, though, were people who referred to the Utilikilt as a “utilishouldn’t” or a “nerdskirt” or the epitome of “Seattle Dork.”

On Facebook, Dorian Huerta called them “the ridicule of the street” and “the worst thing that ever was unleashed on mankind.”


Really? The worst thing?

And why the strong reaction in a city known for caring so little about fashion?

I called up Rachel MacMorran, who had commented on the story on Facebook. She calls herself a “fashion hold out” in the anti-fashion Northwest.

She thinks some of the negative reaction to Utilikilts stems from the lack of fashion sense on the part of wearers.

“I think you have to be aware that you are making a fashion statement. You really need combat boots to pull it off.”

She adds, “the whole socks with sandals with Utilikilt shoots it down immediately.”


Are we friendly in the Northwest or not

In addition to Utilikilts, the story that sparked the most heated debate was the one about the so-called “Seattle Freeze.”

There is no agreement on just how friendly people in the Northwest are or how easy it is to make friends here.

Many newcomers say trying to break the ice here has been frustrating. Others call the “Seattle Freeze” a myth.  This comment thread is typical:


“First, I am an east coaster. For 39 years. I am from New York, and lived in CT for 10 years and just moved here to Seattle. I find no Seattle Freeze. In fact, when I was just home for the holidays, I forgot how grumpy and self-absorbed everyone is on the east coast, and nearly got run over twice, and had doors shut in my face. Not here. People stop. They wave you on. They hold doors for you. Granted I don't have friends yet, but I am optimistic and hopeful and I smile at everyone I see, I talk to make conversation and know eventually, my husband and I will make good friends here!”


“ ‘I don't have friends yet’... That's kinda the point. The article isn't talking about day-to-day interaction. It's talking about those deeper connections. I'm a transplant from CT as well and we may have a ‘grumpy’ exterior but, generally speaking, I feel like we are always looking to cultivate new relationships. Natives from Seattle could care less ...”


“My husband and I are in the exact same boat!”


“We moved here three years ago from the south and the subject of the Seattle Freeze has been a constant source of stress and amusement. What I've concluded is that Seattle has the best customer service in the world. If you're shopping, calling someone for help, getting a cup of coffee or going to dinner ... all the people that you deal with are super kind and happy to assist you. This is not friendliness! This is good PR. The problem is when you are walking in the park or on a trail and someone will do everything in their power to avoid eye contact. When they will actually ignore a smile and a ‘hello’ or ‘good morning.’ Stare at their dog rather than acknowledge your existence. In my opinion, Seattle's character is best judged by the candid actions of its residents and not how well employees represent their places of employment.”


Making friends

One theme that seemed to emerge is that making friends can be difficult here. In some posts, people gave advice, recommending that others join a group or take up a hobby to meet others.

Florence “Finn” Spelzhausen, who is from North Carolina but has been in the Seattle area since 2009, had commented that she had trouble breaking the ice here. She took the advice

and joined a running group in Mill Creek.

She says when she first sent an email inquiring about the group she got a message back asking if she wanted to meet up on Sunday morning. The message also said that the group sometimes goes out to Starbucks after a run and that there are potluck gatherings on holidays.


 “It feels great,” she said.