Cafe Society : Coffeehouses awaken blends of fashion, from bistro bohemian to saucy and sophisticated. Spectators can sip back and watch the percolating parade pass by.


If you want to find out what’s brewing on the fashion scene, check out your local coffeehouse.

While sipping your cup of joe, you can see a wide range of looks, from casual to cutting-edge.

“Sometimes it’s really a fashion parade,” says Karen Varese, manager of Fahrenheit 451, a coffeehouse and bookstore in Laguna Beach.


Come Friday nights at Fahrenheit 451, artists, students, the after-dinner crowd and tourists come together over espresso and double decaf caps.

On the patio, students loiter just beyond the tables--a girl in a vintage green velvet swing coat and knee-high hiking boots, a boy with long dark hair and denim shorts that fall below his knees and a pair of Doc Martens, those industrial-style shoes with heavy soles.

Inside, standing in line for coffee, a young man in black motorcycle boots, jeans and a denim jacket waits with his date, who’s spoting a black leather motorcycle jacket with a black lace shawl draped over her shoulder, suede lace-up boots with fringe and black lipstick.

At the tables, where jeans and jogging suits are plentiful, there are a few stand-outs: A 40-ish man conveys a look of understated elegance in his gray chinos, black mock turtleneck and loafers, while a would-be Annie Hall wears a romantic-looking rose-colored blouse with a floppy collar, black blazer and blue jeans.

Perhaps it’s something in the java, but coffeehouses attract creative dressers.

“There’s a real variation in fashion,” says Catherine Grazian, manager of Alta Coffee Warehouse & Roasting Co. in Newport Beach. “Students and art heads wear a lot of tie-dye, beads and Doc Martens. But some of our upper-class clientele dress up. I’ve actually seen mink coats in here.”

The trendier coffee achievers tend to wear avant-garde, one-of-a-kind clothes. Many dig through vintage clothing shops and thrift stores to put together funky outfits one won’t find in any department store.


Vintage Vintage in Laguna Beach carries used clothes for those with a creative flair. The boutique’s bestsellers include dresses from the ‘40s and ‘50s, ‘40s-era men’s gabardine shirts, old cowboy boots, used 501 Levis, motorcycle jackets and assorted hats and gloves.

“People have to mix the old things up with the new,” says Lu Ann Ly, owner of Vintage Vintage. “The jeans go with a lot of the crocheted things that are out there now.”

Used clothes usually fit the budget of a student or starving artist: Vintage Vintage’s faded Levi’s go for about $20, the Hawaiian shirts for $20 to $30 and dresses for about $25. The black leather motorcycle jackets are pricier, at $150 to $225.

Handmade, one-of-a-kind garments of natural fabrics are also favorites of the clothes-conscious spotted sipping coffee. Lately they’ve been favoring bell-bottoms, leather bombers, bodysuits, chokers and anything black.

Laura Downing, a clothing boutique for men and women in Laguna Beach, carries the kind of creative clothing that seems right at home in a coffeehouse.

For women, there are lots of sweaters and vests hand-knit of novelty yarns, crinkled flowy skirts and lace-embellished tank tops. Men can find comfortable cotton, denim or silk shirts, oversize polo-style knit tops in natural hues and contemporary ties with small geometric prints. The shop’s accessories include ‘60s-inspired crocheted berets, chokers and glass love beads.


“Our whole focus is relaxed and comfortable but not sloppy,” says Laura Downing, boutique owner. “If you’re out for coffee, you’re in a comfort mode. People want simpler, relaxed clothes with unique accessories.”

For women, her taupe-colored hand-loomed tank vest ($115) and linen walking shorts ($50) are perfect for an espresso afternoon, and her blazers with kimono fabric ($350) and vests ($145) can be worn to a coffeehouse day or night. Her men’s collection features a comfortable silk shirt with a bold leaf print in black and tan ($100) and a knit polo-style top with a geometric pattern of teal, gold and green ($70).

Ethnic looks, especially the flowy skirts and dresses of Indian fabrics that were popular with hippies, are also strong with the new coffee generation. Ivory Moon in Laguna Beach imports ethnic styles from India and Indonesia.

“Indian fabrics, lots of gauze, tie-dye and batik, anything from the ‘60s--it’s all new for girls in their 20s,” says Sunseray Raj, manager and clothing buyer for Ivory Moon. She pulls out a pair of denim drawstring pants with bells and a lace-up front ($44). “They’ve been a sellout,” she says.

Other styles reminiscent of the ‘60s: halter tops of blue floral batik ($29), drawstring pants of vintage Indian saris ($16) and batik sarongs from Indonesia hand-dyed in natural colors ($20).

“People are wearing them over bodysuits,” Raj says.

She suggests that coffeehouse regulars might be taking the beatnik idea a bit too far.

“I walked into a local coffeehouse, and every person had black on black,” Raj says. “People are trying to look hip. They’re trying to copy the L.A. look, but after all, this is Laguna Beach.”

So lighten up.