Since March, the toll of mass shutdowns has forced many companies to file for bankruptcy. J. Crew was the first major retailer to fall during the pandemic. They were then quickly followed by Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers, Men’s Wearhouse, and Century 21. These sorts of big industry names capture headlines, but along with every one of these Chapter 11 filings comes countless small business closures that don’t get nearly enough attention. In San Francisco, The Archive and Maas & Stacks, two of the city’s most notable boutiques, have permanently shuttered. Since these are small businesses that mainly serve a local and dedicated clientele, their stories don’t make it into major newspapers.
Given that the holiday season is upon us, we want to encourage you to shop small where you can — a tool from a hardware store, a book from a bookstore, and of course clothing from small and independent retailers. Shopping small this season isn’t about charity; it’s about self-interest. It’s about making sure you can still walk by those friendly mom-and-pop stores in your neighborhood when this is all over, instead of big box retailers that look the same in every city. Online, things can seem faceless, but we are also all part of an internet community. Think of the stores that introduce you to new brands and inspire you on Instagram. Many of these places need your support more than ever.
We encourage you to think about which brands and stores give you the most value, not just in terms of the product delivered, but in service and online presentation. This can include anything from Sid Mashburn’s style advice column to The Armoury’s YouTube channel, where store co-founder Mark Cho discusses everything from the proper fit of tailored clothing to various subjects regarding mechanical watches. Shopping is more than just about getting a product; it’s about showing that you support a particular way of doing business.
If you’re looking for places to support, here’s a quick list of some of our favorite small businesses in the menswear market.
It’s often said that classic men’s clothing is dead, but I’m not sure there’s ever been a better time for it. In the past, men were limited in terms of what they could wear and which tailors they could use. Nowadays, you can wear shirts of all colors to work and get Austro-Hungarian hand-welted shoes shipped to your door.
If you’re looking to get a suit or sport coat, check out The Armoury’s exclusive in-house line made by Ring Jacket, No Man Walks Alone’s exclusive cut with Sartoria Carrara, and Spier & Mackay. I like the first two because of their cut and silhouette, as they’re made with a soft, slightly extended shoulder that I think looks more flattering on a wider range of body types. I bought this cashmere-blend sport coat from The Armoury and love how well the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup coloring goes with mid-grey flannels and taupe-whipcords. I’ve also never seen an affordable tailoring line that’s better than Spier & Mackay. Our own Pete reviewed Spier & Mackay’s Neapolitan-inspired tailoring and came away impressed.
For dress shirts, check out the online custom tailoring options available through our sponsor Proper Cloth, Michael Spencer, and Ratio Clothing. They offer tremendous value in terms of fit and customization. I especially like Proper Cloth’s massive range of casual fabrics, which shows that custom-made dress shirts don’t just have to be boring poplins for the office. This season, they have some beautifully designed country plaids, indigo chambrays, and Italian pique cotton (good for sprawling on the couch or dressing down a sport coat).
Our sponsor Dapper Classics offers one of the best values for tailored trousers. Made in Brooklyn at the famous Hertling trouser factory, their trousers sit between the uber-luxe Italian pants selling upwards of $800 and the cheap mall stuff you can find anywhere. They’re slim without being skinny, and have a respectable mid-rise that goes well with a tailored jacket. If you want to make the holidays feel special this season, even while at home, try wearing a necktie from Drake’s, Sam Hober, Vanda Fine Clothing, Besnard, Shibumi, Berg & Berg, HN White, and our sponsor Chipp. You can also get exceptional shoes nowadays from small businesses such as Leffot, Gentlemen’s Footwear, Skoaktiebolaget, Sons of Henry, Jay Butler, Meermin, and TLB Mallorca.
Guys who favor a coat-and-tie look often struggle with casualwear. They want to look put together, but don’t necessarily want to buy into cheap and fast trends, or do something overly rugged such as workwear. My suggestion is to check out No Man Walks Alone, which is trend-aware without being trend-driven. Their casualwear often has a point of view — Western-styled suede leather jackets, beautifully cut five-pocket cords (size up), and exceptionally comfy shawl collar cardigans. At the same time, it’s stuff you can wear for many years to come.
Trunk Clothiers, Beige, Colhay’s, and Anglo Italian are also great sources for smart casualwear. Trunk has such a good range of classic sneakers that even ardent coat-and-tie guys will find something they can wear with jeans or chinos. They also have a wide range of topcoats, field jackets, and Shetland knits that should be staples in a classic casualwear wardrobe. Colhay’s has some incredible knitwear, including luxurious cashmere turtlenecks (they’re super thick and warm). Anglo Italian has some wool country coats this season that I love. The company is really good at coming up with colors in cold tones, so their clothes mix well with other pieces you may have in your closet.
If you’re looking for something more uniquely designed, Stoffa makes some of the coolest looking classic-adjacent casualwear I’ve seen in a while. Their clothes are so much more interesting — and stylish — than what you can find at big Italian retailers such as Canali or Zegna, but they still play well with classic items such as grey flannels and suede chukkas. The owner behind the company, Agyesh Madan, is obsessive about textiles and testing. It takes him years to develop each new product, as he wants to make sure things are up to snuff before offering them to customers.
Prep and Americana
Guys who are all about natural shoulders and center hook vents often complain about what’s happening at Brooks Brothers. And while Brooks hasn’t held to the same standards as they did in the past, the internet is still full of excellent options for every preppy item imaginable.
If you’re looking for a tailored jacket, check out J. Press, The Andover Shop, Junior’s, Cable Car Clothiers, H. Stockton, and The Armoury’s Model 11. O’Connell’s sells my favorite Shetland sweaters, although they’re also a one-stop-shop for all things trad, including sightly fuller fitting trousers in hard-to-find materials such as gabardine and whipcord. You can get 1960s styled, oxford-cloth button-downs from O’Connell’s, Mercer & Sons, Michael Spencer, Ratio Clothing, and our sponsor Proper Cloth (choose their Ivy collar style). Our other sponsor Chipp was one of the more notable clothiers during the heydays of Ivy Style, having made patchwork madras and tweed sport coats for students and executives. Today, they sell classic men’s accessories. I love their grenadines, ancient madder ties, and cheeky neckwear, if for no other reason than provenance (they tailored for JFK). For trady shoes, check Rancourt, Quoddy, and Alden (buy from a small shop for the third). Some of my favorite shoes include Alden’s leisure handsewn penny loafers and unlined chukkas, which I wear with both trad and non-trad outfits.
Our sponsor Rowing Blazers is more neo-prep. Founder Jack Carlson cares about authenticity, but mostly in the way that a sociologist would reference institutions. He says the brand’s starting point was “doing things the right way,” by which he means making club blazers from the “right materials,” using the “right factories,” and connecting them to actual organizations. But their designs are a bit more playful, contemporary, and slightly streetwear-inspired. I like their vintage reproduction rugbys in cool color combinations such as Argyll & Sutherland stripes and this Patagonia-inspired piece (we have suggestions on how you wear rugbys well). And I don’t know if it’s quarantine fever, but I’ve been thinking about buying these patchwork tweed trousers (made with actual patchwork tweed and not just printed). Imagine that with a light blue oxford-cloth button-down and some dark brown penny loafers. Is it loud and ridiculous? Yes. But would it be fun to wear? Absolutely. Joy is in short measure these days, so I’ll take it where I can.
Sid Mashburn isn’t strictly prep, but they’re at least adjacent. Every season, I find myself checking in with their store, looking at new products, and reading Sid’s friendly and illuminating style advice. Sid Mashburn carries an incredible line of five-pocket pants made in every material imaginable, including cotton canvas, moleskin, and corduroy. Those are the kinds of things I mostly wear at home these days. He also carries some wonderful things for the home. I bought some Diptique candles earlier this year from him and think Feu de Bois would make the perfect holiday gift. First, it smells amazing — like a crackling wood fireplace. But more importantly, when someone asks who’s this candle for, you can shout “FEU DE BOIS!”
I also want to give a shoutout to All Blues, which feels like the last store on earth to be supporting the 2010 menswear ethos in terms of design, quality, and pricing. Ten years ago, menswear was all about contemporary classics that were well-made and sold at reasonably affordable prices. Nowadays, designs have often gotten a lot weirder and prices have shot in two directions. It’s easy to find $1,000+ designer coats and $5 fast fashion shirts. If you want that in-between 2010 menswear value, All Blues has $450 down parkas modeled after an Eddie Bauer classic, sturdy Harley of Shetland knitwear, and dashing Le Labourer chore coats (in yellow!). The only catch: they don’t have an online webstore, so you have to message them on Instagram or call the shop. Over at Indigo & Cotton and Supply & Advise, you can also find similarly easy-to-wear, high-value items that sit close to Americana.
Like many people, I was burned out on workwear in the late aughts after every urban resident looked like a Northeastern lumberjack. But these days, I am admittedly mostly in jeans, flannel shirts, and heavy workwear jackets. Workwear is geographically neutral and plays well into most people’s lifestyles. In a basic flannel shirt and pair of raw denim jeans, it can even be used as a casual work uniform. Best of all, the clothes require almost no maintenance. In fact, this stuff looks better when it’s beaten, stained, and even tattered.
If there was ever a case to be made for how casualwear can be classic without being boring, just check out Self Edge. They’ve been trading in the same raw denim jeans and Japanese workwear flannels for over ten years. Their stuff lasts not only in terms of build quality, but also in design. There’s too much good stuff here to mention, but I would start by emailing them for advice on getting a new pair of jeans (they sell the best ones), browsing their selection of flannel shirts, and closing your eyes and buying one of their sweatshirts. I hate publicly admitting that I wear expensive sweatshirts because it sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever. But this Buzz Rickson sweatshirt is absolutely perfect, and one of the most useful items in my closet. Inspired by vintage sweats, it comes in a slightly shorter, boxier fit that layers well underneath classic workwear jackets. The material is a perfect weight and holds up better than J. Crew’s sweatshirts over time.
There are a ton of other great workwear boutiques. 3sixteen makes my favorite pair of jeans, the SL-100x. That specific model is commonly recommended on denim boards because of how well the cut fits and flatters a wide range of body types. Standard & Strange is also one of my favorite shops, as they carry both basic and not-so-basic things. I love how the business is clearly driven by love, as the owners of the company simply buy things they think are great, not just safe bets that move with trends. I like their black COF Studio jeans (the perfect cut for slim black jeans, as they’re not too low rise), Papa Nui caps, and extremely rare Japanese-made Clinch boots (check out their video on YouTube). For other highlights, check out their “Staff Picks” section, where each of their employees chooses some of their favorite things.
You can find similar things at boutiques such as Stag Provisions, Snake Oil Provisions, Rivet & Hide, AB Fits, Lost & Found, Blue Owl Shop, Kafka, and Cultizm. If you want to be more adventurous, Pancho & Lefty, Canoe Club, Blue Button Shop, The Bureau Belfast, and Blue in Green carry slightly more fashion-forward labels such as Engineered Garments, Kapital, and The Letters. Bryceland’s makes retro-styled workwear and puts an incredible amount of thought into their clothes. Our friend and contributor Peter Zottolo has their black Western denim shirt and I think it looks terrific. Bryceland’s collar points are a bit longer than what you’ll find on Levi’s Western shirts, which gives them some verve. I’ve been wanting to buy one of their rayon shirts to wear in the summertime.
For footwear, consider splurging on a pair of Viberg boots. They specialize in service boots, such as the ones issued to Allied forces during the Second World War, but they come in a slightly modified design that allows them to pair easily with contemporary workwear. Division Road in Seattle is one of the best retailers for Viberg, as they have a huge inventory of both stock models and special makes. This season, they’re also carrying some very handsome outerwear from Ten C, Eastlogue, and De Bonne Facture (there are more model shots at DBF’s website). And while it’s painfully expensive, I can’t recommend this Iron Heart Ultra-Heavy flannel enough. It’s dense enough to be windproof, but also triple-brushed inside so it’s kitten soft. The blue shadow plaid colorway this season pairs so well with jeans in blue, black, and even white. You will not find a warmer flannel.
Vintage and Used Clothing
Thrifting can be a great way to save money, as you can build a wardrobe at a fraction of the price you’d pay on the primary market. But there’s another reason to go second-hand: the clothes are often cooler. Unless you’re shopping at the very high-end of the market, something such as a vintage Lee Storm Rider will be much cooler than what you can find brand new. Military field jackets, casual leather belts, French chore coats, and many types of workwear are also often better old, if for no other reason than patina.
Some of my favorite vintage shops are online. The selections are mostly curated, which means the prices are higher. At the same time, the upside to shopping at these places is that the hunting, digging, and certification has all been done for you. The people behind Wooden Sleepers, Raggedy Threads, Mothfood, Velour, The Goody Vault, and Buttersworth Vintage Company all have excellent taste, helping you discern treasure from trash.
A lot of vintage shopping nowadays happens on Instagram. If you subscribe to these people’s feeds, you can see what’s new and in-store. Then if you like something, you can shoot them a message. Alternatively, I’ve had good luck messaging people to ask if they have something specific I’m looking for. These places will often have a huge pile of inventory at the back that they can dig through.
For something a bit more tailored, check out The Armoury’s sister site, Drop93, where people offload high-end tailoring. Marrkt is also a second-hand site specializing in workwear. Our sponsor LuxeSwap carries a bit of everything. Oh, and you know, we have a pretty amazing selection of vintage finds at our online shop. I particularly like our vintage jewelry section, where you can find affordable rings and pendants.
There are some other odds and ends. Kent Wang, Gustin, Taylor Stitch, and Epaulet are small businesses offering higher value than most big brands. Kent Wang specializes in classic clothing; Gustin and Taylor Stitch in modern workwear; Epaulet has a bit of both. We recommended them in our series on value-focused brands. American Trench makes surprisingly wonderful socks. I bought a few pairs of their wool-and-silk boot socks a couple of years ago, and they’re simply fantastic. They’re warm, comfy, and hold up reasonably well over time. The retro-striped socks also have a series of small terry loops, sort of like what you’d find on a towel, which forms a cushioned footbed.
Chester Mox and Equus Leather both make wonderful leather goods, including belts and wallets. Both use saddle-stitching, which results in a tighter, neater, and more secure seam. I mostly rely on Chester Mox nowadays for small leather goods, as I think they offer much better value than big brands (larger designer labels almost always rely on machine stitching and sell at a much more inflated mark-up). For classic bags, I still use the Frank Clegg Leatherworks briefcase I bought nearly ten years ago. Their bags are the sorts of things someone can use for life (and indeed, if anything needs fixing, you can send it back to them for repair, as they’re the original manufacturer).
Finally, for contemporary clothing, check out Namu Shop, Reliquary, Joyce, Neighbour, Mohawk General Store, Couverture & The Garbstore, Frances May, and Evan Kinori. Namu is carrying my all-time favorite coat, Kaptain Sunshine’s traveler coat, which is a raglan sleeve design with a handsome A-line silhouette. You can also find it at No Man Walks Alone and Standard & Strange. I consider it my “one coat,” meaning the single one I’d keep if I had to get rid of all my other outerwear. It’s the sort of coat you can mindlessly put on and be assured you look amazing. Just make sure to layer it over a chunky knit, as you need something to help fill the space.
One last thing: if you have someone in your life who loves clothes, consider getting them a gift card this holiday season. Sleuth out which are some of their favorite small businesses, or choose from our list above. This can be a great way to support small businesses this holiday season if you’re at a loss for how to shop for someone who may have strong opinions about clothes.