Dress-Up ’Dandy’ Men’s Accessories Site Opens Store in NYC
Long live the dandy! Although it’s hard to predict these things, there seems to be a slow, but steady, move away from the standard-issue jeans-and-tee uniform of homo americanus toward a more refined, put-together look.
This doesn’t necessarily mean dressing up; it just means not dressing down.
Every fall it seems, GQ heralds the return of the suit. Well, maybe. In this economy, it’s probably a good idea not to go to work at least looking like a slob. Mark Zuckerman and David Geffen can get away with it, but Mark Zuckerman and David Geffen are billionaires who can wear whatever they damn well please.
Matt Fox and Enrique Crame III, partners in business and life, don’t necessarily want to see men revert back to wearing a suit and tie day-in and day-out. Their philosophy is more nuanced.
They hark back to a certain idealized notion, as they state in their website, of "the well dressed gentlemen of yesteryear."
While that certainly doesn’t preclude a business suit and rep tie, it’s a more expansive notion of "dressing up." If you look at photos of men standing in bread lines during the Depression in the 1930s, nearly all the men are wearing suits -- but that doesn’t mean they’re well dressed. Look closer, and their threads are pretty threadbare..
Fox and Crame take their inspiration from the über-WASP Ivy League and British Etonian English "public school" (what we call "private school"). Not that the look is limited to WASPs, only consider the hip-hop rage for Tommy Hilfiger a few years back.
Fine and Dandy, again per the website, "caters to the guy who enjoys dressing up. He has an appreciation for the well dressed gentlemen of yesteryear and is inspired by their unabashed use of accessories."
Accessories like bow ties, suspenders (the real ones, with buttons), pocket squares, argyle socks and even spats. Yes, spats -- those button-up coverings around the ankles men wore to protect their shoes from mud.
Even if you think spats are little too retro, there’s plenty to love here. You don’t have to abandon your comfy contemporary outfit; a small touch here and there -- say, a newsboy cap or classic "boater" -- will transform your appearance from slob to snob. Or at least give you a touch of class.
In a reversal of the usual store-to-website, Fox and Crame have expanded their website into a bricks-and-mortar retail space.
It’s tiny. In a highly favorable review, The New York Times wrote, "It might be the smallest retail establishment in Manhattan." Maybe, but it’s packed to the rafters with accessories.
The store is a few steps down on a stretch of West 49th Street between Ninth and 10th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. The once-gritty neighborhood has become the city’s major gayborhood. Together with the distinctly un-dandyish gay-centric men’s clothing stores, Tagg and Universal Gear, just around the corner on Ninth Avenue, this pocket of HK is becoming a mini-menswear destination.
As Fox explains it, "I was rather conservative" -- no surprise there! -- "so I started the business online, built a following, an audience base, tested the brand in a safe environment before opening the brick-and-mortar store."
The mid-block location was dictated more by the economics of Midtown Manhattan’s sky-high rentals for retail space on the avenues. But it gives customers the feeling of a quiet, out-of-the-way store, which totally fits the vibe.
This is as unlike the usual menswear store as the offerings on display. Fox and Crame purposely crammed every square inch not just with merchandise, but with bric-a-brac that gives it the distinct feel of an Ivy League club circa 1910. You might even be confused about what’s for sale and what’s decor. (Fox confesses that it’s a nightmare to dust, hardly helped by the seemingly endless workmen tearing up the block just outside.)
It also gives the store a "being in the know" feel. "People get excited," Fox says, "like they discovered something."
The two men both gave up their day jobs to dedicate themselves to raising the comfort level of men who might balk at the prospect of figuring out how to tie a bow tie, perhaps Fox and Crame’s principal accessory of choice.
As someone who has struggled for years with this dilemma, I’m not so sure, but I keep trying. Walking by the store almost daily, I can see all types casually browsing: middle-aged men dragged in by their wives; young iconoclasts delighted to discover that someone else finally gets it; gay guys eager to expand their repertoire beyond upturned polo shirts and skinny jeans.
While it’s more fun to shop in person in this intimate environment, the website offers everything inside and more. If you think that this is all too retro, do yourself a favor and experiment. Even if you revert to the old reliable jeans-and-a-tee, you’ll find that gussying it up with a well-chosen accessory will put a zip in your step.
Especially in spats.
Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).