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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.

As somone who predominantly writes about food, what I’m eating is often more on my mind than what I’m wearing. I’ve long said that food is fashion in San Francisco. But it just might be that with this new movement, the reverse is true. For men at least, fashion is fast becoming something to aspire to, just like mixing the ultimate old-fashioned or baking that perfect French country loaf. It’s no coincidence that the beloved Tartine baker Chad Robertson actually modeled for a campaign that’s on display in the Unionmade store. A good-looking guy who has the urban-woodchopper look down pat, Robertson works with his hands to painstakingly make something from scratch with organic ingredients—a true artisan in every sense of the word. And when he’s not doing that, he’s surfing the rough waves of Ocean Beach. It’s a life of which most of these fashionable, evolved San Francisco men can only dream.

Jonathan Kirby, the vice president of global men’s design at Levi Strauss & Co.—whose focus this year is on the 140th anniversary of the 501 jean— believes that the strong maker movement here, combined with our propensity for nostalgia, is one more reason that the gentleman-carpenter look has taken such hold. “The city has really enabled people to obsess about how well things are made, whether it be food or clothing. I think men in particular are quite obsessed with the story and the origin.”

Kirby may have just moved to San Francisco, but he recognizes that to find this man to whom Levi’s is catering, you have to know where to look— “from the Woodshop in the Sunset to Heath Ceramics in the Mission,” he notes succinctly. Watering holes specializing in cocktails with rhubarb bitters or Third Wave coffee drinks are pretty much a guarantee, too.

Which is why the Réveille Coffee truck in Jackson Square—with its surrounding architecture firms and proximity to Levi’s corporate headquarters (not to mention San Francisco magazine’s office)—provides excellent opportunities for witnessing this fashion movement in the flesh. For a writer doing fieldwork, there are enough well-dressed men to allow cherrypicking. Thus, I accost a promising couple waiting in line. The guy is scruffy, yet conspicuously assembled. It turns out that Britton Caillouette, 28, is a director who actually makes films for Levi’s and has even done something for Phillip Lim. (He laughs when he hears that I’m trying to make the case for men’s fashion here and tells me that, while filming, Lim kept calling our city Sans Sexcisco because of its lack of sex appeal.)

As for Caillouette’s personal fashion muses? Not surprisingly, they’re all fictional or dead. “I’m always inspired by the historical photos of dockworkers, Steve McQueen, Dirty Harry—there used to be style here,” he says, running his hand through his blond bedhead. When we get down to Caillouette’s attire, it’s clear that he doesn’t have to think twice to rattle off what he’s wearing: Red Wing boots, Alternative Apparel green T-shirt, Mat Brown belt with hand-dyed indigo thread, Pendleton shirt, hunting jacket, and 1947 Levi’s 501 jeans, which, of course, are cuffed just so.

This compels me to bring up the importance of proper cuffing, which, according to Kirby, is done as a one-inch two-fold. Caillouette’s wife chimes in, concerned about a friend who needs a cuffing intervention. “He thinks he’s cuffing his jeans. But he’s not cuffing them—he’s rolling them up!” she exclaims. “You’ve got to tell him,” she implores her husband. Sure, it may seem like no big deal. But in this perfectly casual fashion movement, what may seem like an insignificant detail to some might just be what separates the boys from the men.


Originally published in the March 2013 issue of San Francisco

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