Critical Shopper: A Men’s Wear Store Made for Men

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Critical Shopper

By JON CARAMANICA

The fact that men’s interest in fashion is now taken as a given, not a rare treat, cuts both ways. On the one hand, it is no longer easy to condescend to a consumer who has curiosity, access to information and capital. But a different sort of condescension has replaced the old one: selling mildly glamorous versions of the old unglamorous garments, and passing it off as an achievement all the way around.

You can see this sleight of hand at work in the newly opened Todd Snyder shop in Manhattan, which feels like an achievement and also a hall of mirrors, depending on which angle you’re viewing from.

I went on a weekday around 5 p.m., near the end of office-bro work hours. Everywhere in the store there were men. Men! So many men! Men happy to shop for and by themselves. Skinny men and burly men. Men who thought hard about their hair and men who thought too hard about their hair. Tall men and men who thought no one could notice they weren’t tall. Like, three women, too, but mostly men operating under their own steam, and without prompting.

This was the dream, right? The fashion industry gets to sell double-priced oxfords and sweatshirts! Men no longer let their better halves squeeze them into fashion that is too directional! A J.Crew Liquor Store on every corner!

The right half of the shop is laid out like a shrunken department store, or a men’s wear bazaar, broken into discrete, well-thought-out sections, mostly derived from the #menswear schematic of the early 2010s. It’s a greatest-hits revue: a block of British items, a block of seasonal but timeless designer clothes, a block of athleisure, a block of suits and formal wear.

On the other side are jewelry cases and an ample shoe section, which is also a timeline: double monks, bluchers, tasseled loafers, Chelsea boots, suede boots with a crepe sole very similar to ones I bought at Sid Mashburn a few years back.

Everything was for sale, the staff said. The fixtures? Sure, they said, less certainly. Scattered around the store are vintage magazines — GQ, Esquire, The Face (up to $210) — and vintage vinyl (a Dead Kennedys L.P. for $46, Keith Jarrett for $98). In the middle is a pommel horse, which, yes, is near the athletic wear, but is still a pommel horse in the middle of a clothing store. It is … performatively butch? Whatever it is, it is certainly a holdover from the RRL section at Bloomingdale’s a decade ago.

Some of the specialist sections are handled by outsiders, which is a savvy decision if you are going to make your retail location a one-stop shop for refinement. The hats are Bates; the pajamas, Sleepy Jones; the belts, Anderson’s (though not the good Anderson’s). The modest watch collection, including a quite handsome gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust from the 1970s ($3,600), is curated by Hodinkee.

In the rear is a Moscot eyewear stand. The cafe/bar is an offshoot of El Rey on the Lower East Side. The barbershop is by Persons of Interest, a growing minibrand. The space isn’t huge, but it is empathetically laid out. Nothing is competing for attention.

So far, so good. Nary a conceptual misstep.

But there is a gap between Todd Snyder the retail experience and Todd Snyder the label. There are things the store nimbly achieves that the house line doesn’t quite.

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First, the colors. So many grays and navys. Flannel shirts that shrug. Piles of reluctant washed-color plaid ($158) à la Steven Alan (and which had a mysteriously high chest pocket, too). Second, the styles. There is only one cut of suit, which is not enough, even with the in-store tailor who has his own posh hovel in the rear.

The athleisure collaboration with Champion is … fine. The collaborations with New Balance are … fine. There is little to elicit either elation or revulsion. That disqualified more than half of the store, and so I was drawn to the outliers. There was a handsome all-black shearling coat ($2,498) that fell a little limp on the body. Better was the olive shearling jacket ($1,598), which had panache and military rigor. From a distance, I loved the thick-knit raglan-sleeve sweater in a hard shade of peach ($358), but it made me look like a bench-warmer on a 1920s collegiate football team.

I felt gamed. This store, so elegantly designed and merchandised, was ultimately a front for the sort of how-we-used-to-shop values we’ve been trying to move beyond.

After about an hour, though, I stumbled onto a piece that brought the level of the label up to the level of the store. It was a shirt in a ruddy beige with a straight hemline ($288), something you might have worn a few decades ago in East Los Angeles, slow-driving your lowrider down Whittier Boulevard, or something the angry jazz guy in “La La Land” would have worn to look tough but prim. It was a responsible version of an irresponsible shirt, so I bought it. A man with an opinion and a credit card — just as the store envisioned.

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