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Dressing to the Nines

Despite the Malling of the Local Haberdasher, High-Quality Men's Specialty Shops Still Thrive
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96

There was a time when every town of respectable size and culture had a reputable haberdasher, tailor and possibly a campus shop. Today, they've been largely replaced by the endlessly vast and interchangeable malls, with their endless and identical Gaps selling their endless duplication of shapeless jogging gear. Ironic really, since you've probably noticed that a lot of athletic clothes actually make some people appear even less athletic than they would in almost any other garb. But let that pass.

The old stores have become in turn pizza parlors, jeans joints and video rental shops. Even the veritable firm of Brooks Brothers, our oldest and most American of men's stores, has, in the saddest story of clothing retailing in the twentieth century, lost its way rather badly, and taken the road most traveled by. If Mary McCarthy were writing about the man in the Brooks Brothers suit today, he'd be the disk-driven equivalent of Muzak.

So, where does one go for a spirited sartorial excursion? Well, the men's specialty store is alive and well, albeit in fewer quarters. "We're really in the midst of a major sociological change," the distingué San Francisco retailer Wilkes Bashford is quick to explain. "Many people are turning away from the cities in favor of rural communities. I've noticed that our rural environs are having a higher and more active cultural life than ever before. And more and more people find they don't have to come to town as often, which means that we have to go to them. We've opened three quality-oriented stores in more rural areas of northern California, stores that have a relaxed urban style combined with a rather sophisticated country sensibility." This is the trend.

Wilkes Bashford is just one of a number of retailers around the country where one can find a good selection of quality brands and private labels, a sense of individual style, the service and integrity of knowledgeable salesmen, and expert tailoring. Places where you can invest wisely and tastefully in clothing. Not many, mind you, but enough. The kind of places where a man can still dress to the nines, and occasionally the tens and elevens, if the need should arise.

To look at it from another perspective, the selection of off-the-rack clothes has never been more varied or tasteful. Nor, need we say, expensive. Every season, it seems, the price of manufacturing increases with the prices of material and labor, and retailers are faced with the dilemma of either raising their prices or cutting their quality. Many, it's no great secret, do both. But fine stores--such as those listed below--never cut quality. And so, prices will continue to escalate. In the stores on our list, suits are priced upwards from $900 and shirts from $75, to give you a rough idea. Half of the stores on our list are in Manhattan, always and still the capital of fashion in the United States. But Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco can still be counted on to provide elegant assemblage.

In alphabetical order, our choices:

The Andover Shop
127 Main Street, Andover, Massachusetts 01810

Outfitters to students of the Brooks School, Phillips Andover Academy and preppies everywhere, The Andover Shop is the prototypical Eastern Establishment men's store. One of the few remaining authentic examples of the "campus shop," a unique American genre in clothing, The Andover Shop represents conservative, tweedy tailoring at its best. Natural-shouldered, two- and three-button single-breasted coats with center vents are the rule here, all in the most traditional woolens, from heavyweight handwoven Harris Tweed to English tropical worsteds. Accompanied by the proper accoutrements: barber-striped button-downs, London-made silk rep and club neckwear, handwoven Shetland tweed jackets, corduroy patchwork waistcoats, ribbon cinch ring belts, English cricket caps and everything else to warm the ivy-covered cockles. Excellent service, personal and friendly.

Barneys New York
660 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022

When Barneys opened its uptown store a few years ago, it brought with it three generations of retail savvy (current Chapter 11 difficulties notwithstanding). Superlatives tend to multiply when talking about Barneys. It's not that this is merely the largest clothing store in the United States, but rather it offers the most of the best in menswear: Brioni; Oxxford; Kiton; Garrick Anderson; Kilgour, French & Stanbury; Nick Hilton; Luciano Barbera; Tanner Kroll luggage; the best stock of cologne anywhere; footwear from France, England, Italy and the United States; the most extensive selection of fine silk neckwear, including woven beauties from Charles Hill of London; and exclusive dress shirts by Piatelli and Kilgour, French & Stanbury. Not to mention the designer collections of Armani, Donna Karan, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Issey Miyake and anyone else worth considering.

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