Men's Style Guide | Portland Edition
Change is a-Comin'
If you’ve ever been invited to a decades-themed costume party, and you’re over the age of 25, you know how quickly clothing trends change. My ten-year high school reunion should have happened last year; as one of the class leaders who felt so committed to the idea of its planning when I graduated in 2007, I must sheepishly admit 2017 has come and gone with no class gathering. It’s a less enticing concept in an era when Facebook updates provide you up-to-the-minute information about even your most distant of adolescent acquaintances. Facebook also gives you the ability to scroll through a collection your own photos and grimace at your clothing mistakes without making a trip up to the attic. Visual evidence suggests I was very dedicated to the combination of a certain Kelly green V-neck t-shirt and seersucker shorts right around FB’s advent.
Change is inevitable; as a people, we get bored, as individuals, most of us grow up. Some of us, believing fashion to be cyclical, save things because we are certain that one day they’ll come into vogue again. Sometimes we’re right, but most of the time, old staples return in radically altered versions of their original format. And this isn’t just true of people and their clothing—it’s also true of food, architecture, art and even the identity of entire cities and cultures. Recently, the team at Daniel House tried to make sense of its own community’s inevitable change through a guided exploration of some of Southwest Portland’s best clothing retailers. One visit stood out as marking the changing tide most clearly.
We started by asking a professional to guide us through this potentially painful process. We’d met Portland native Jake Houston several times in his sales role at a long-standing local gentlemen’s clothier. He’d helped us pick out everything from a pair of pants that fit just right, to shirting and shoes we wouldn’t necessarily have selected on our own, but which have greatly enhanced our plebeian wardrobes. Our first task for Jake was to help us identify some narrative for Portland’s current style, clothing specific or otherwise. Without pause, he summed it up in one word: “tactical.” “Dress here,” Jake started, “as with everything else, is about keeping warm and dry” (Fig. 2 Jake looking warm and tactical). This is the best synopsis we have heard regarding Portland style. It’s more generous than merely utilitarian and broader than just “modern.”
Thinking “tactically,” Jake steered us toward Frances May, a high-end boutique boasting hard-to-find designer labels that fall mostly into the streetwear category. In an effort to put together a true Portland ensemble, he quickly selected a rubberized olive green raincoat by the rain gear company, Stutterheim, which sells coats ranging from $295.00 to nearly $1000.00 (Fig. 1, below, Stutterheim raincoat in Olive). In a city that has been historically fiercely loyal to native brands, it’s strange to imagine a long time Portlander buying such an expensive garment made by a company whose Instagram identities its product line as “Swedish melancholy at its driest.” But, there is something in the aesthetic of this particular garment that makes it feel more Portland than anything Columbia has to offer. Whether or not it actually is tactical, the jacket looks the part. It has no extra bells and whistles at all. This piece of rubberized fabric with some metal buttons could be the original raincoat. It is the exact picture a child tasked with drawing a raincoat would produce. Where the cartoon raincoat would likely be bright yellow, this one is olive green.
Jake paid a good deal of attention to this important distinction. “I’m wearing olive as a blue these days,” he said, “Everyone is wearing so much blue, but if you try it out, you’ll find olive works with all the same stuff and has the added bonus of looking great with earth tones. He pulled a cozy looking, mud-toned mohair argyle sweater from further down the rack and layered it beneath the green jacket (Argyle sweater in mohair). As a true hater of Argyle, I have to admit Jake’s unlikely combo completely revitalized the classic pattern for me. Then, he removed the argyle and replaced it with a white sweatshirt that had an orange printed breast patch with that iconic “C” marking it as a piece of Champion athletic wear (Champion Wood Wood sweatshirt shown in gray). The C was followed by W.W., which apparently does not stand for World War, but Wood Wood, a trendy Danish brand.
Champion is a nearly 100-year-old staple which has its origins in the rust belt city of Rochester, New York. Like so many other heritage brands, it’s seen a signifcant resurgence in the years since the streetwear took center stage. At a sale price of $62.99, the Champion sweatshirt was perhaps the most affordable article in the store. Eastern as its roots was, it combined with the Swedish jacket to sing of Portland tactically.
Finally, Jake grabbed a pair of jeans. He said, “I don’t know if I’m quite buying into these yet, but this much wider pant leg is making its way back.” He pointed at the cuffed, frayed bottom that appeared relatively huge in diameter when compared with the slimmer pant leg to which we’ve grown so accustomed. At that moment, I flashed back to a fall morning in 2003 when a “goth” kid I went to high school with walked into my sophomore Spanish class wearing the tightest pair of jeans I’d ever seen on a man. He’d had to venture into the women’s department to find them, and the choice seemed noteworthy at the very least – all the other boys were wearing a very broad leg at the time and he was definitely teased for his choice. Now his skinny jeans have come and gone, and we see this huge volume of fabric starting to creep into men’s pants again.
We couldn’t have kept our jeans from 2002 and happily worn them out again though, because there are so many ways in which the jeans Jake picked up at Frances May last week are different, starting with the length. “That’s a bit of a Tom Sawyer look,” one of the Daniel House team remarked. Jake said, “Yeah, I was always taught that if you were wearing a really short cropped jean, you want the leg to fit nice and snug, but that rule doesn’t seem to hold true anymore.” It’s hard for us to say if this new trend falls into the tactical nature of Portland’s dress, but it’s evidently taking hold, as the salesman at the very next men’s shop we visited was wearing pants so voluminous he could have fit another body in there with him.
We’ll write more about the other places Jake took us in upcoming editions of the DH quarterly. For now, we will leave with this question: will tactical remain the definer of Portland style in the coming decade? The city is changing so quickly. It’s nothing like the quaint if slightly gritty place we remember visiting when we were kids. And it, like all cities, is so much more subject to the design ideas happening in every other city around the world with the rise of social media. Culture used to be advanced by these great symposiums of thought called World’s Fairs. These events were attended by hundreds of thousands of people around the globe and shaped nations for generations, rocketing their hosts into new stages of maturity. They were a little like high school reunions for a whole culture. Now we have the digital world, which keeps us informed of a whirlwind of micro-changes so tailored and minute it’s hard to identify what is groundbreaking and defining and what is momentary.
Jake is right for sure; tactical is the definer of Portland style right now. But our own identities have changed in ten years; why wouldn’t the city's?
Even as I write up this article in an Edison bulb lit coffee shop, I’m eavesdropping on a meeting in which two newly acquainted members of Portland’s rich alcohol-producing industry are discussing how quickly the city’s drinkers are shifting from beer to wine. What would compel a whole city to make such a radical shift, especially one known throughout the world for its seemingly endless number of microbreweries? Usually, individuals making the switch from beer to wine are showing signs of maturity. We can’t really say we hope Portland’s style is cemented as purely tactical as it transitions from a trendy hipster town to a full-blown city, but we hope that this will be a period of maturity for the city, in which its tactical identity becomes a springboard for new ideas rooted in, but perhaps looking nothing like the ideas of its more adolescent phase.
Now you’ll have to excuse me, minutes ago I read a blog post that told me the exposed Edison bulb was dead. I’ve agreed with that for some time, which is why I’m in the process of having tiny lampshades made for a project whose lighting schedule was created three years ago when Edison bulbs still seemed fun. I’m sad to admit that even our own design schemes sometimes fall subject to the pitfalls of trend. Looking forward to next time, when we’ll all be wearing bigger pants.