At buzzy Taiwanese restaurant Wenwen, it’s thrifted dad sweaters, leather pants, and lots of Balenciaga
Welcome to Best Dressed, a new Eater series where restaurant diners show and tell what they’re wearing out to dinner, from the small details to the splashy pieces — and how they approached getting dressed for each spot’s specific scene. After two years of inside time, how do we dress to go out these days?
The Restaurant: Wenwen
Location: Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Menu Highlights: Huadiao shrimp, cold sesame noodles, hot honey popcorn chicken, “BDSM” (brined, deboned, soy milk) chicken, pork belly, and cuttlefish
At Wenwen, a Taiwanese restaurant from New Guard member Eric Sze and restaurateur Andy Chuang, the red brick walls and light wood tables contrast with vibrant decor sourced from Taiwanese night markets and colorful, tropical-leaning cocktails. The contrast makes for an environment where diners feel right at home, if home takes months of scouring reservation apps to get into and is also where they throw damn good parties. It’s likely that Chuang will ply you with baijiu shots, and the bar is just as welcoming as a table. Keep an eye out for what the servers are wearing: You may spot a pair of Balenciaga shorts.
Here’s how people turned out to dine at Wenwen on a Friday night.
Patricia, 28, medical industry and Rita, 26, medical industry
Eater: How has the pandemic changed how you dress to go out?
Rita: Going out to eat — going out at all — has become just an excuse to feel good and dress good. It’s just a treat going out. I think that Patricia and I specifically always dress up when we go out because we like to have fun.
Patricia: When we work, we’re always in scrubs. When we are not working, it’s like the only time where we can actually look good. Especially with COVID and with the pandemic, it’s just been really great to have an outlet to feel feminine and human and feel good about yourself.
Rita: We text each other before we plan to go out and we’re like, we want to dress cute, we want to look cute, and we always do. We always do that for us and we’re having a great time, we’re having a great day and it’s probably because we look cute. Patricia always sends photos to me first and I’m like, “We’re late.”
Patricia: Vibe check! And if we’re bumming it, we also bum together.
Rita: We’re in the medical industry — but style is really important to both of us.
When you dress to go out, do you go harder now than you did before the pandemic?
Rita: I would say so. I’m from Massachusetts; I moved here during the pandemic, so I’ve become more aware of what people are dressing like on the streets and I just take advantage of every opportunity to dress up because it’s really fun for me. I think the pandemic absolutely affected that.
Patricia: During the [early waves] of COVID, Rita was still in school. I was working 80 hours a week in a COVID ICU; for six days a week, literally I looked unwell. Now that life is getting back into a [relatively] normal pace, I think we’re all just trying to make up for lost time.
Rita: Going out to eat is something that’s really important to us. Our friendship started with a foundation of food and fashion. We thrive off of that together.
Did you cater what you’re wearing to Wenwen in particular?
Rita: Not to this restaurant, but I definitely dressed a little bit more fun tonight for Brooklyn.
Patricia: I think whenever you go out for dinner, because it’s New York, you never know what the night will bring you, where you’ll end up. I try not to go too dressy but I’ll like, wear something versatile where like, you can kind of go with the flow and see where the night brings you.
Is there anything you’re wearing right now that you’re like, “This is my armor”?
Rita: This is the second time I’ve worn these boots. I was like, “I feel good and I’m wearing these boots and I never wear them.” It was exciting for me.
Patricia: I think leather is really in right now and especially in this transition season here, it’s kind of cold at night but warm during the morning and the afternoon. These are Agolde leather pants and they just fit really well and they’re comfortable and you can have a food baby and still look cute.
Justin, 27, music advertising and William, 25, fashion industry
Why did you decide to come to Wenwen tonight?
Justin: We’ve been trying so hard to get a reservation here. I’m actually on the American Express Resy app and they send you a notification when there’s a table open, and we were able to get a table that way.
How did you decide what to wear tonight?
William: This is his shirt, this is also his shirt. I love a pair of jeans. I need something comfortable. I knew we were going to eat a lot. Something to look cute in but still stay a little tight.
Justin: I just love the outfit I put together. I’m wearing Peter Do, he’s a newer designer but he’s up-and-coming and he’s doing really great. This is Balenciaga; my bag and my shoes are also Balenciaga.
William: He always gets dressed for dinner.
Did the pandemic change what you wear to go out?
Justin: [Over the first years of the pandemic] I feel like I had more time to articulate my style and kind of figure out what my goals were, because I feel like going out was much more of an event rather than going to work every day then throwing something on. Obviously it would look good, but now it’s more special. I definitely invest more time in thinking about what I would wear.
William: I do like to stay home and stay in my pajamas and eat, but nothing beats the experience of going out and having a full dining experience.
Did you dress specifically for this restaurant?
Justin: No. We’re actually going to go out after this probably to see some friends so I wanted to put on something cute.
William: I was like, “What can I wear to dinner, but also out to go drink and party after?”
Are there some nights that you go really hard and you’re like, “Tonight I’m going to look super special”?
Justin: Like, you kind of have your party clothes, you have your dinner with friends, or going to a movie, some kind of nice event. There’s definitely the sexy, playful kind of clothes.
Is it different if you’re going out to a bar or club rather than if you’re just going out to dinner?
Justin: I try to look much more polished when I go out to dinner.
William: I’ll wear a T-shirt to a bar.
Justin: I wouldn’t wear a T-shirt.
Do you feel like you fit into the scene here in terms of how you’re dressed?
Justin: I didn’t really notice anyone’s clothes. I’ve been focused more on the ambience here as well as the food and just general decor. I guess everyone feels in place here.
William: It’s nice, it’s cute. We sat down and he was like, “I love the waiter’s shorts.” They’re Balenciaga, of course.
How do you feel the pandemic will change how people dress in the future?
William: I hope they want to dress better!
Justin: It also feels like this kind of resurgence of loungewear and being comfortable and making that feel elevated. I think especially with technical wear like gorpcore, people are getting more into fitness and caring about hiking and activities and things that they’re doing outdoors. I think that’s definitely influenced their style.
William: I prefer when there’s not an expectation of what I need to wear to be somewhere. I wanna dress and get dressed for this in my own vein. Everybody else is going to dress how they want to dress. There’s not like, “You have to wear this.”
How would you describe your personal style?
William: Casual. I’m so much more casual.
Justin: I would say mine’s very playful, but also elevated. I have to look chic. I definitely want to incorporate something funky or fun, like a big earring or a crazy shoe and definitely kind of want it to echo my personality but also look put together.
Taylor, 30; Cheryl, 28; Joanna, 33; Terrence, age withheld, all work in tech
Has the pandemic changed what you wear to go out?
Joanna: The other day I put on pants I used to wear and they don’t fit anymore. They are also really uncomfortable, just high-waisted denim. I don’t wear that anymore. Pants [need to] have an elastic band. Comfort!
Terrence: I’m similar. I like wearing stuff that’s looser now, so I wear what I wear outside and inside.
Cheryl: I feel different actually. Today doesn’t reflect it because I literally rushed from work, but I feel like when I go out now, because we were inside for so long, I want to dress like I’m going out more, even more celebratory. [That’s] definitely not reflected today.
Does that mean doing makeup, doing the whole thing?
Taylor: I feel the same where I’ll definitely sport a ’fit and I’m in some very dad minimal outfit right now, it’s very cozy — I’m happy with this ’fit — but typically I would think about what I wear. During the pandemic, I’m just wearing shorts, so now I think more about compositionally what I’m going to wear to go somewhere. Kind of the vibe too, if it’s fancy or if it’s not, if it’s more casual.
Specifically for this restaurant, did you think, “Oh this vibe is going to be like this so I want to dress in this way?”
Cheryl: I feel like this restaurant has a really homey vibe; I didn’t really feel like I needed to get changed into something fancier to come. It was a really easy Friday night out.
Taylor: It also depends on what’s after dinner. If we planned to go out or to have a longer night, I’d probably wear something appropriate for that. Tonight’s very casual, though, a very chill night.
Terrence: It’s casual, so, this is the same jacket I wear to walk my dog. It’s a vintage find. I got it for $30 at one of the stores around here. It’s a Sergio Tacchini. I like to play tennis, so I identify with it.
When you go out to eat, do you also look at the people around you and see what they’re wearing and compare notes?
Cheryl: I think it depends on where we go. Here, it wasn’t so much. I think because it’s casual and our table is secluded; I think it depends on the area of the restaurant sometimes, too. I feel like on East Broadway in the Lower East Side, it’s very fun to people-watch because there are really good outfits there.
Taylor: We lived in the Bay Area before, too, so I think even being in New York in general I look at people’s outfits a bit more. It’s a lot more inspiring. [There’s] more cultural diversity and diversity as far as what people are wearing, stuff like that. It’s a little more monotone in the Bay.
Joanna: I have friends who moved away from New York and came back; they’re always like, “Wow people in New York always dress up and it’s so fun. It’s so fun to watch.” I feel like because of those comments I always notice it more.
Can I ask about your bracelet? It’s so beautiful.
Joanna: Oh yeah, it’s from my mom. I can’t take it off. It’s literally on me forever. I can’t remove it.
You sleep in it and shower in it, the whole deal?
Can I ask about this sweater? Is it a thrifted find?
Taylor: It is thrifted, the knit is very pretty. There’s some geese on it. It’s my cozy dad sweater.
Maya, 41, design lead in tech; Ross, 29, menswear designer
Eater: What brought you to Wenwen tonight?
Maya: We both live in Stockholm, Sweden but I’m from around here.
Ross: She’s a Bushwick girl.
Maya: I think I maybe we saw Wenwen on Eater, maybe I saw it somewhere, and I was like, “This place looks great and new and fun.”
How did you decide what to wear tonight?
Maya: We are going to the Knockdown Center after this for Bushwig and I wanted to wear something.
Ross: It’s for Fatboy Slim and Hercules & Love Affair.
Maya: And drag queens.
How has the pandemic changed how you dress?
Ross: Oh my god, I feel like people are more up for being a bit more extravagant now. Everybody was dressed so sloppy and they didn’t give a shit, and then now it’s like, even in Stockholm, which is way more tame and pulled back, when people go out, they’re like, “Honey, we’re going out.”
Maya: He also works in fashion.
Ross: I’m a menswear designer. People want to party. You know when you get ready with your friends and go out on a night it’s a big, long, drawn-out thing, you’ve been trying on stuff and whatever. But now people are like, “Girl, I’m wearing this.”
Maya: We went through a lot of outfits tonight.
How did you land on what you’re wearing?
Maya: We tried on a lot of things to get to where we are.
Do you compare notes?
Ross: Always with a glass of wine.
Maya: I definitely dress up when I go out. I always love to dress up when I go out. I’m not going to go somewhere and not.
Ross: [Because of] the pandemic, it’s either I’m in really bad clothes at home, working from home, or I’m so overly dressed up; there’s no in-between anymore.
Maya: I mean, I had a full sequin mesh dress tonight and he was like, “It’s too much for going out to dinner.” I toned it down.
Even though you were going out to a club afterwards?
Ross: It was the in-between, the transition.
Do you gear what you’re wearing to the the kind of restaurant you’re going to?
Maya: Yes. I booked this before the Knockdown Center purposefully because I was like, “I know this is going to be a fun vibe and we can kind of be dressed up here and we’re going to look okay.”
Ross: I’m wearing heels for the first time. They’re annoyingly, overly expensive. I was like wearing all the Stockholm brands.
Are you going out anywhere else while you’re in town?
Maya: I’m going to Mood Ring tomorrow.
What will you wear then?
Maya: I have a Discount Universe astrology jacket that is perfect for Mood Ring.
These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Christian Rodriguez is a New York City-based photographer interested in creating work that dives into his diasporic roots. He has been published in the New York Times and New York magazine, among others.