I found myself puttering around downtown Portland on a recent morning, and decided to type “menswear” into my phone and see what came up. Luckily enough for me, the answer was John Helmer Haberdarsher.
Helmer is the kind of old-school men’s clothing store you find in the downtown of most major cities. It’s been on the same location for nearly a century, its ownership is in the hands of its third John Helmer, and the staff are a mix of young guys in bow ties, old guys in bow ties, and women who would wear bow ties if that were a reasonable and tasteful option.
Walk into Helmer and you’ll find the right half of the store taken up by hats of every shape and size. Sadly, it’s tough to find a really fine hat these days at retail, and the best of these was only fine, but there truly was a selection to beat the band. After putting on and taking off a summer hat by the German brand Mayser about a dozen times, I resolved to buy it. I recently cut my hair quite short and the sun in Los Angeles is unforgiving.
On the left-hand side of the store was traditional haberdashery fare. Rep ties, Southwick sportcoats, and a clerk helping a customer with a custom order of Bill’s Khakis. Behind glass was a beautiful selection of Alden shoes – I had to restrain myself from trying on a pair of shell cordovan plain-toed bluchers.
The service at the shop was uniformly excellent – you could tell that this was what these folks do, not just a summer job. The styling was uniformly, well, dad-ish. Maybe grandpa-ish… but if you expected something different perhaps you thought you were down the street at the high-end department store Mario’s. John Helmer Haberdasher offers a comfortable place to shop for traditional clothes, and next time I’m in Portland, I’ll pop in again.