GQ’s writers must not spend much time in the nation’s capital. The city has changed dramatically since however many years ago it was when the author of this month’s “Project Upgrade: Capitol Hill Edition” formed an opinion that professional men in the District favor “blousy shirts and ill-fitting suits.”
It is easy to take pot-shots at Washington, but walk down K Street or around the halls of Congress, and you generally see men who dress confidently and with care. That goes for everyday professionals as well as DC’s elite. Washington Capitals don stylish shirts by innovative District-based shirting company Hugh & Crye and suits by Hickey Freeman and Ralph Lauren. RG3 looked pretty good in his GQ photo shoot. Even President Obama has upgraded his style, which was already pretty sharp, with slimmer, more fashionable suits.
As Dutch-based Suit Supply, who in September chose to open its third American store in Georgetown, noted in a tweet in response to the GQ post, “some of our most fashionable clients are in DC.”
What’s changed? Pranav Vora, Hugh & Crye’s founder and CEO, observes that, “living here, it’s neat to see men paying more attention to how they look.” He told me that, “the fashion dial for men doesn’t move as quickly or aggressively as it does for women, but you see guys playing with color and accessories more and pulling together different patterns and textures. It’s exciting.”
Retailers have taken notice, flocking to DC to cater to a clientèle who want to look good without breaking the bank. In addition to Hugh & Crye and Suit Supply, Brooks Brothers opened its first concept store featuring its Black Fleece suits and extra-slim fit shirts near Georgetown University last year. HMX, the parent company of Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner Marx, located its second concept store in the country, Streets of Georgetown, on Wisconsin Avenue. Major brand retailers who are trying to appeal to young, stylish professionals are well-represented in the District from Allen Edmunds to Hugo Boss to J. Crew. (See Refinery29’s 10 Best Men’s Shops In All Of D.C. for additional highlights.)
“DC is becoming an incubator for companies to test if a concept works,” said Grant Harris of Image Granted. “Washington is more buttoned up than New York or LA, but there’s real demand for quality and style, and if something works here, you can be pretty confident it’s going to work elsewhere.”
A new generation of entrepreneurs and custom tailors has also found a lot to like in the region, including daily deal sites such as the Daily Hookup and Living Social and new e-tailer Ikkon, all of whom are based in DC.
Earlier this month, high-end, New York-based custom suit-maker Michael Andrews Bespoke opened his second showroom in Washington’s Dupont Circle. In 2011, startup Alton Lane also set up shop in Dupont following a successful launch in New York. They join local operations such as Sofio’s Custom Tailor, based in McLean, Geoffrey Lewis Ltd., a Washington institution around the corner from the Treasury Building that works with factories in New York and New Jersey to produce American-made custom suits and shirts, and small, creative boutiques such as Ginger Root Design and stealth Georgetown tailors J&C Suiting.
There are people here, like anywhere else, who dress with the enthusiasm of someone who was forced to put on a suit at gunpoint. But while Washington may not be the next Milan or even New York, it offers a much more stylish and confident aesthetic than even a decade ago, which ought to have shattered tired old stereotypes by now.
“There has always been a stylish side to DC, but now that a wider variety of brands have come to call it home, it is truly becoming more of a fashion and style destination, “says Kate Michael, president of K Street Magazine, which covers fashion and lifestyle in the District. “DC men and women care about how they present themselves and, lately, it really shows.”