The Seattle Man's Fashion Moment

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

Butch has a longstanding love affair with Luciano Barbera, the classic Italian brand famous for its fabrics, and an exclusive with Closed from Germany. It’s also the place to go for a made-to-measure suit, starting at $995, once your options vest. Around the corner, Mario’s has twice the space to showcase everyone from Armani to Zegna, and dozens more designers in between. (Browse its entire roster online.) If you come, be warned: Just as you don’t test-drive the Tesla before the Toyota, shopping here will spoil you for anything else.

I know a guy who’s so self-conscious about shopping, he can’t walk around town with a shopping bag in his hand—even a manly one from Mario’s. He’d wear his first communion suit to his own wedding before shopping at a store called Baby & Co. But it’s a must-visit now that one of Seattle’s best women’s boutiques carries a selection of menswear. I say “selection” because the clothes take up the same square footage as Nordstrom dedicates to shoelaces.

Located in Belltown, Baby & Co. goes “narrow and deep” on a few designers, including my favorites, Munich-based Hannes Roether and the always innovative Girbaud. There’s more, but not much more. I think of the owners, Jill and Wayne Donnelly, as my own personal shoppers; the catch being that they have to guess at what I might want, they can only carry so much and, well, flying to Europe is expensive. I justify my splurges by calculating the cost of flying to Germany myself for a shopping trip.

Next stop: Totokaelo Man. If Baby & Co. is a nook, this place deserves its own ZIP code. Located on Capitol Hill below Totokaelo’s women’s boutique, it’s a cavernous space awash in white and bright lights, trimmed in natural wood. It proclaims on its website to be a purveyor of “thoughtfully curated fashion and objects,” and it succeeds in creating an art gallery aesthetic. For anyone interested in design and architecture, both shops should be on your inspiration field trip itinerary.

Its gracious salespeople-cum-gallerists leave you to waft your way about the acreage undisturbed, but for the occasional murmur of vital way-finding (e.g., “Thirty percent off here, new arrivals there…”). I felt the vastness of the place every time I made the transcontinental trek to the mirror to get a look at how a Yamamoto jacket fit—too tight, though I did score the perfect fit in a car-coat-length trench by Saturdays Surf NYC for $148 at 50 percent off.

Given that the Van Noten, Margiela and Yamamoto works on display do rank among the fashion world’s modern masters, their prices can seem like capital investments. But if you aspire to join the ranks of those Monocle magazine–reading, craft-cocktail-swilling slaves to fashion who have been spending down their savings in order to look like Lotto winners with exquisite taste, this is the place.

But maybe you suffer from retail celiac disease, and salespeople are your gluten; or you’d really rather write code than carry on a conversation. If so, hurry over to Hointer. The name may sound like a computer virus, but Hointer is actually a glimmering palace of denim located in Wallingford and Pacific Place. And Nadia Shouraboura, the Russian Oz behind the concept, is attracting hordes of tech pilgrims curious about the wizardry she’s created behind the dressing room curtains.

Your experience here hinges on your smartphone and the Hointer app with which you scan the tags of the jeans you want to try on. In the dressing room, your selections slide down a chute one after the other—it’s like standing inside a jeans vending machine. Need a different size? Just tap the app, and it dispenses another pair. When you’re done, drop the rejects down the chute. As shopping experience go, it’s as friction-free as you can get.

I bought a pair of Joe’s ($135) that are as comfortable as the Superman pajamas of my youth, thanks to a bit of stretch; and another from Nudie Jeans Co. ($185) that are as scratchy as a Maine-potato sack—which Nadia solemnly swears will soften to fit like a custom-made second skin. So get used to the name Hointer, because it’s soon to be your go-to place for the perfect jeans to make your socially awkward ass look great.

Our final store on the tour also happens to be the most accessible for the average guy. Besides having a name you can easily pronounce—Ian—the clothes it sells are easy to wear. Nothing here will make you wonder if you’ve accidently wandered into the women’s department (upstairs in the loft); and its prices won’t force you to start that three-month ramen diet.

If Totokaelo translates as “clothing as art,” then Ian means “sportswear.” In addition to old favorites and familiars, such as Levi’s and J Brand, it carries a newer American line called Relwen. Each shirt, sweater and jacket looks like slightly cooler versions of favorites I used to own. But these are updated with more interesting details, richer fabrics and a better fit. The line—and the whole store, really—is about hardworking clothes with a sporty edge that won’t easily go out of style.

I bought a striped cotton V-neck sweater with small pocket details and polo-shirt tails (say that three times fast)—normally $148; I paid $98 sale price. The first time I wore it, three people—three totally normal Seattle dudes who wouldn’t know Yamamoto from Quasimodo—gave it an unsolicited nod of approval, “Dude, cool sweater.” You gotta like that.

It seems Seattle finally has enough fashion critical mass and, more importantly, critical awareness of what’s possible across the men’s fashion spectrum—whether your fashion statement elicits a fist-bumping, dude-on-dude compliment, or prompts the sexiest, most stylish woman at the party to cross the room and whisper, “Baby, I love your look.”

Either way, may you never again have to answer the inane question typically asked by the jerk in pleated Dockers and a polo shirt emblazoned with the logo of a soon-to-fail tech company (which he got for free at last year’s developers’ conference): “Why so dressed up?” If it does happen, feel free to quote me: “Always dress like you’re going someplace better later.” (Though I draw a line at the ascot.)