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Men in Uniform

There is a sameness to the way San Francisco guys are dressing these days—to which editor-at-large Sara Deseran says, “Hallelujah!”

The men of San Francisco: A slideshow.

At the heart of this universal truth is something I know from reading The Female Brain. Everything about women is simply…complicated. “I think Unionmade has definitely been influential in this uniform for guys,” says Jenny Chung, the owner of two very stylish coed boutiques, Acrimony and Acre/SF. “But it’s a look that’s actually really easy to adopt. You can make small changes—facial hair versus no facial hair—but you’re still wearing the same Gitman Vintage shirt. Women push themselves more to be stylishly different. There’s no such thing as a women’s uniform.”

We’re also much more trend-driven and fickle. This season alone, women are being faced with racks of the latest spring fashions—including sandal boots, monochromatic suits, flatforms (a flat platform shoe, for the uninformed), wide-leg culottes, and pants with thick vertical stripes. And this is just the beginning. Considering this tsunami of potentially disastrous what-to-wear predicaments, I ask Chung—who believes, charitably, that women here need to be guided on how to dress—what she’d love to see San Francisco women clinging to in the storm of choices. “My favorite is the Scandinavian style,” she says. “It’s kind of an aggressive shape, and very directional.” So, women have to look aggressively, directionally Swedish, but all men have to do is slap on a button-down?

OK, so I’ll admit to feeling pangs of envy. But I’m big enough to recognize that the rise of the stylish San Francisco guy is something to celebrate. Unlike their peers in New York or L.A., San Francisco men have had to emerge from some pretty deep, dark pigeonholes. Between Steve Jobs’s black mock turtleneck and mom jeans (may they rest in peace) and the repeat offense of Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie and flip-flops, the tech world has done untold damage. Meanwhile, the Mission hipster still haunts us, and—worse yet—a certain steampunk kind of hippie who continues to show up at the Edwardian Ball and burner parties in a top hat and a vest without a shirt underneath. The national media has, of course, taken notice: Most memorably, there was the 2010 Fashion & Style article in the New York Times that called the Bay Area “the land that style forgot.” In 2011, GQ’s “Worst-Dressed Cities in America” hit list put San Francisco at 20th out of 40, pleading, “Would it kill you, San Francisco, to give the fleece a rest and put on a blazer for a night?”

Which is where Freeman’s Sporting Club, which arrived in the Mission in 2011, comes in. Riki Bryan is the former West Coast director of this men’s store and barber shop, which was launched in Manhattan in 2005 by Taavo Somer—the man the New York Times called the “godfather of urban woodsmen, high priest of heritage chic.” Bryan says that men here (even tech guys) now find their way to FSC for their first suit. “They’ll tell me that they’ve got a startup and they’re doing a presentation, and they need to look cool, but not like they’re trying too hard,” says Bryan (who, it should be noted, has a beard and is wearing a cardigan and Oliver Peoples glasses).

The idea that one cannot be trying too hard or dressing too up is at the core of San Francisco’s fashion ethos (if you insist that we actually have one), especially when applied to men. With this classic look, however, casual can be fully embraced. It’s not about who designed your varsity jacket—it’s about how and where it was made. Bryan, whose next charge is to help open FSC’s future location in Tokyo, speaks to the “buy less, buy better” theory that’s proselytized at this new generation of stores. “It’s the same thing with the locavore movement, even cocktails—guys here like to intellectualize all of this,” he says. “They will pay $300 for a pair of jeans if they can talk about how the cotton is a particularly unhearty strain that can only be grown in this one region of Japan, then it’s slow spun on shuttle looms, then hand-dipped 22 times over a two-week period in a vegetable based indigo dye by an old lady named Katsuko,” he (semi) jokes. Ryan Curtin, the manager at Unionmade, who used to work at the store’s Los Angeles location, concurs: “The culture here supports it. Everyone has a cause here, unlike in L.A., where everyone’s fine without one.”