The Seattle Man's Fashion Moment

Seattle men are dropping fleece in favor of creative license ranging from retro-funky to neo-dandy

I spotted a man on Pine Street the other day wearing an ascot. Just your average Seattle man in weatherproof shoes, coffee in hand, on his way to work. Wearing an ascot. He could have been naked from the waist down carrying an assault rifle, and had a cop interrogated me, I would’ve confessed, “I don’t recall any nudity or a gun. But I’m certain about the navy blue, silk jacquard ascot.”

Checking my favorite barometer of fashion, Bill Cunningham (of The New York Times’ “On the Street” column), the story of late is the renewed energy around menswear and the slow death of casual Friday. I thank God—or Paul Smith or whomever—that these fashionable winds have finally come ashore in Seattle, where I was once mistaken for a gay, international diplomat simply for wearing a collared shirt, polished shoes and a belt.

It’s now kind of OK for a man to style his hair and care about what he wears. In Georgetown, Ballard and Capitol Hill, I see a meta-exercise in sartorial insouciance at play. Clad in plaid, tucked into greasy jeans, guys seem styled in standard-issue neo-grunge from a distance. But up close, as they’re grabbing coffee at Vivace, the curatorial hand is clear—dandies in disguise. What looked like a vintage Mackinaw Cruiser worthy of a Macklemore mention turns out to be Filson’s new “Seattle Fit,” the company’s more stylish, fashion-forward line.

All across the city, men aren’t just groomed, they’re hypergroomed—sometimes taking great care to appear entirely unkempt. Hang out near any of Rudy’s eight local primp palaces (aka barbershops) and you’ll see beards and ’staches that run the gamut from scruffy to biblical; human topiaries sculpted with hand-forged razors, artisanal pomades and organic oils. I don’t know their secrets, but if bearding was an Olympic sport, some of these guys might be accused of doping. Rudy’s now sells a full line of product, including Burroughs Beard Oil from Prospector Co., and its house-brand shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream and body wash ($12–$18 at rudysbarbershop.com). Body wash??? I’d rather be caught buying porn.

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Between grooming, fashion, food and drink, a Seattle man has more latitude than ever before in how to express who he is (or wishes to be) and what he stands for. Uniforms—formal or fashionable—signify status, and this new complexity requires that our old radar be recalibrated to make sense of the new signals. Whether you’re sipping local, barrel-aged whiskey at Old Sage or pounding PBRs at the 9lb Hammer, the only way to know if the guy on the next stool in the Carhartts and tattoo sleeves, stroking his Fu Manchu, is a designer, doctor or dockworker is to actually ask him. Which, come to think about it, isn’t a bad thing.

(Of course, not everyone is embracing the new freedoms being conferred. South Lake Union at lunch hour is occupied by vast numbers of gainfully employed young men, dressed identically in jeans, sneakers and graphic tees, accessorized with backpacks and security lanyards—clinging like Velcro to the old ways.)

When it comes to shopping for clothes, I prefer brick-and-mortar retail. Like golfers who grab a quick nine holes before work, I squeeze in a round of shopping after work or on Saturday morning. I enjoy talking about the trends coming down the runways or the break of a cuff, the same way they like talking about pros on the PGA tour and the break of a putt. You can’t get that online.

At Nordstrom, just about every fashion decision is a gimme. It’s the easy one-stop shop to stock up on basics, and still make your tee time. Unfortunately, when a key premise of your brand is to take any and all fashion hazards out of play, you risk catering to a bunch of high-handicap fashion duffers in Sansabelt slacks. Like a suburban public course, Nordstrom is a pleasure to walk, but not the most challenging.

To Nordstrom’s credit, it has introduced a new mix of heavy hitters such as Dolce & Gabbana, Lanvin and others that help make it a more satisfying place to play. And if you want pointers from a local pro, connect with my friend Brent Martin. As a personal shopper, it’s his job to marshal the most shopping-averse and style-challenged men (and women) through the store and make them look like a million. Which is just an expression, not a budget.

From Nordy’s, it’s an easy wedge (the golf club, not the shoe) to Butch Blum and Mario’s. These guys are the Augusta National and Pebble Beach of Seattle men’s fashion—championship quality and impeccably manicured. Both offer a mix of iconic, Old World labels and contemporary designers, along with a gracious and knowledgeable staff. If you like the idea of being thoroughly schooled in the arts of tailoring, textiles and trends, then welcome to the club.

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