Men’s Fashion is Back in Philadelphia

Thanks to a new generation of men's clothing stores, Philly's millennial men are returning to their gender's once-stylish roots—without looking all, you know, gay.

Men's fashion in Philadelphia is experiencing a renaissance. Illustration by Tim Gough.

It was one of those long-awaited evenings in April when it finally felt like spring had come, the type of night when the whole city emerges from its musty winter cocoon. By some small miracle, my husband and I had landed a coveted table by a window at Parc, which meant we could enjoy both our roasted chicken and the parade of people fluttering by us on the sidewalk.

And oh, what a parade! What a procession of finely clad asses walked by, hugged in shrink-wrap denim! Long legs were emphasized by slim-cut pants in periwinkles and mustard yellows; hair was carefully styled to look effortless; bare, slender ankles peeked sassily out from rolled-up trousers; and the handful of lightweight sweaters was so streamlined, you could almost make out anatomical details through the cable knit.

And you should have seen the women.

Nice weather doesn’t bring out more fashionable male plumage, necessarily—it’s just easier to take it in without all the coats. Nor would I say these sorts of fashions are limited to rich Rittenhouse prepster types. No, the men who are out there looking good seem to span all classes and genres. Hipsters, skater dudes, jocks—they’re all finding ways to buck the old Philly norm. (The old Philly norm, as defined by a girlfriend: “You could guess that pretty much any well-dressed man in Philly was either gay or worked at Boyds.”)

But now? Slim-cut selvage denim, retro statement glasses, custom-designed (or at least tailored) suits, thoughtful details like cuffed pants and man-scarves and pocket squares … pop into Pub & Kitchen, or Johnny Brenda’s, or Alla Spina, and you’ll see all sorts of male chic once reserved for devotees of Details magazine. What’s more, you see it on the same 20- and 30-something guys who not so long ago lived and died by the hoodie. It’s a fascinating transformation to behold.

And I’m hardly the only woman who’s noticed. A friend who attended the opening of Locust Street’s new Suitsupply marveled at all the “cute straight men” meandering around a shop known for fashionable suits and excellent tailoring. Another pal—a fantastic dresser—admits to having asked her husband on more than one occasion to please take his outfit down a notch: “He puts on his skinny jeans and his perfect blazer, and suddenly my jeans look dumpy.”

It sounds a little braggy, but we 20- and 30-somethings are credited with driving a lot of change in this city right now, from revitalizing the restaurants to jump-starting Center City’s real estate boom. Is it possible that we’re also responsible for a new masculine metamorphosis of citywide proportions? Considering the average age of all those natty straight guys strolling our sidewalks in their salmon-pink skinny chinos, the answer looks like an emphatic yes.

But before we deem this a new era of male sartorial splendor, it bears noting that there are some other guys who look really good on the sidewalks of Philadelphia: the old ones. Some of the most fetching ensembles out there are on older men who pay attention—have always paid attention—because in their day, it was not just ungentlemanly but also unmanly not to. Sure, this generation’s pants might be tighter, their colors brighter and their styles more diverse, but today’s guys aren’t so much forging new fashion paths as finding new, modern reasons to return to their gender’s once-stylish roots.

In other words? Modern men are just reclaiming their masculinity, one tailored blazer at a time.