By Richard Carreño
[WritersClearinghouse News Service] Posted 2 August 2014
Until a few years ago, almost every American city of size -- even some smaller places, especially if they were college towns -- featured at least one haberdasher known to its residents as the university, or Ivy shop, local purveyors of traditional men's clothing. These clothiers also bred what was to become known as the 'preppy look, the full definition of which flowered in the mid-20th century in a combination of American and British styling. In other words, think of an earlier version of Brooks Brothers, which through the 1900s vigorously marketed its singular American look via a coast-to-coast network of branch shops.
Or, in this city, think Cable Car Clothiers, which, since 1939, has been emphasizing its own British pedigree in its clothing lines. At Cable Car, it's more Oxbridge than Ivy.
As it enters its 75th year, Cable Car has become somewhat of an anomaly as a local haberdasher. For one thing, it has simply survived, even venturing into its seventh decade. No mean feat in an age of corporate behemoths which have transformed men's clothing to reflect more fashion-forward European styles. The British sun set at Brooks Brothers years ago.
But not at Cable Car Clothiers, where, Ed Benney, the shop's manager, told me the other day, the British Union flag still flies high.
True, it hasn't been always easy. Benny noted that, in recent years, business vagaries have required downsizing. Despite this, the shop, now in a new location in a historic building at 110 Sutter Street, in the city's Financial District, has retained a look that could well be mistaken for store-front along St. James's Street in London.
As the city's oldest existing men's retailer, Cable Car still tauts itself as 'San Francisco's British Goods Store Since 1939.' And probably, for that matter, its only one. Cable Car may well be, moreover, the only American distributor of headwear by the well-known British hatter, Lock of London. Brooks Brothers gave up the franchise years ago.
In his book, Style and the Man, fashion designer and writer Alan Flusser noted how Cable Car's commitment to headgear makes the shop a kind of a 'time machine.' 'It is a tribute to the hat-wearing era when tradition and tailoring dictated the season's fashion. Cable Car evokes a nostalgia for those post-baby boomers who, upon entering, are reminded just how different the world has become.'
And how, without shops like Cable Car, the world, or at least, San Francisco, would be a much poorer place.
Cable Car Clothiers
110 Sutter Street
San Francisco, California 94104
Ed Benny via firstname.lastname@example.org