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Originally published Monday, January 13, 2014 at 8:04 PM

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From peacocks to Seahawks, the sartorial spectrum in Seattle

Nicole Brodeur wonders whether men are the new women, when it comes to getting gussied up. She tests the theory at the opening of Suitsupply downtown and at the Seattle Opera’s Jester’s Ball.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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I work in Hoodie Hamlet, surrounded by men who do little more in the morning than get up and zip up. Their jeans. Their sweatshirts. Their boots and their backpacks.

It’s the workaday uniform in South Lake Union; the dogs are often better dressed than their owners.

So attending the opening of the Suitsupply store in downtown Seattle the other night was like Dorothy coming out of the farmhouse into a Technicolor, tailored Oz. Young men stood pressed and shorn, their wool suit jackets hugging their masculine forms. I saw spread collars and colored soles, surgeon’s cuffs and ... tweed tote bags?

“Boys are the new girls,” I heard in my head, something my Brookl yn transplant of an editor said a few months ago, when the online suit store Indochino opened a pop-up store in Pioneer Square, selling made-to-measure, three-piece suits for under $500. The place was packed.

Soon followed Suitsupply and its head of U.S. operations Nish de Gruiter, who described his passion this way: “hashtag ‘menswear.’ ” He’s 29 and his Twitter handle is NYCNish, and he can pin a cuff like a Broadway costumer.

“Menswear is indeed the new womenswear,” said de Gruiter. who compared donning a suit to donning armor, good for fighting not only in the Art of War but the Battle for Babes. “I don’t want to say we’re the new women, but guys are taking care of themselves and it doesn’t get judged anymore,” he said. “If you buy a facial cream, it’s OK.”

I’m wrong to think that too many men are zipping up around here, said de Gruiter, who tracked the ZIP codes of where Suitsupply orders are shipped. And?

“Boeing,” he said. “We have a huge presence there.”

The stores — this is the chain’s 10th — are built on the premise that men want what they need right away and at a good price, so a three-piece suit starting at $399 and an on-site tailor (set up like an open kitchen) is a win-win.

At the opening, Seattle’s fashion community — writers, salesmen and high-end haberdashers from places like Mario’s and Butch Blum — were sipping Veuve Clicquot and scanning the “suit wave” stretched across one wall, and the accessories displayed under bright lights and glass, like jewels.

So are boys indeed the new girls, in their new passion for pressing and preening?

“Men are more invested, yes,” said Bob Bailey, who should know. He’s Nordstrom’s national retail director for men’s tailored clothing. “They are a little braver.”

Personal stylist Mellicia Marx of Poplin stood sipping with her husband, Justin.

Her theory: “Women expect a lot more from men than they used to. They need to be more put together. When you see the woman all put together and the man in sweats, well, you want to cry.”

So, thank heavens for events like the Seattle Opera’s Jester’s Ball, which followed opening night of (the spectacular) “Rigoletto,” which runs through Jan. 25.

Tuxedos abounded, which are old hat at McCaw Hall — and old clothing.

“Tuxes are as easy for me to get into as regular clothes,” said managing director Speight Jenkins as he stood at the top of the grand stairway, greeting attendees — and directing some who mistook him for an usher. (Oh, brother.)

“I can’t believe clothes prices,” he said. “But fortunately, what I have lasts.”

Jenkins’ successor, Aidan Lang, was wearing a mere suit. Ahem.

“My tuxedo, at this moment, is in a container, somewhere on its way here from New Zealand,” he explained. We expect the full treatment for “The Consul,” which opens Feb. 22.

John Gaston was there with his wife, Carol — she in a velvet dress with a collar of shimmering black feathers and he in a Fahey-Brockman tux he picked up in a San Francisco consignment shop in the ’50s. So who knows how old it is.

When I asked if boys were the new girls, Gaston quoted the late silent-film actress Anita Page, who turned down a marriage proposal from an actor known to preen.

“I’m sorry,” Page told him. “I can’t marry someone who takes longer to dress than I do.”

And then there was Nick Abercrombie, 26 and a Boeing engineer, sporting a bowler from Bailey of Hollywood and a bow tie that he did himself. (“I know,” his girlfriend, Nikki Watson, told me. “He’s a keeper.”)

Boys are absolutely the new girls, Abercrombie said — and he’s a little sick of it.

“Dressing up is much more popular now, to the point of annoyance,” he told me. “I say wear whatever you want. Dressing nice is great, if it doesn’t matter if you don’t dress up nice.”

Speaking of, along came Jess Hagerman, who was at the opera in a Seahawks jersey and baseball hat. I get that the team had just beat the New Orleans Saints, but to the opera? On opening night? And on your 45th wedding anniversary?

“That’s what I have on today,” Hagerman said, unapologetically.

Beside him, his wife, Becky. Did she mind?

“It doesn’t matter if I mind or not,” she said, resigned to enjoying her Verdi accompanied by a 12th Man.

Talk about taking one for the team.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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On Tuesdays, I tell you about my travels through some of the week's social and philanthropic events — not just the ones for the swells, but those for work-a-day folks who care about making this region move and improve. 206-464-2334

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