Beyond Navy and Gray

Why Washington men should wear more brown, how to spot a lawyer by his suit, and more on men’s fashion.

By: Cathy Alter

Feet First

“I’ve worked for every bankrupt telecom,” says Kevin Powers, 38, with a laugh. A casualty of the dot-com bust, Powers decided in 2004 to open Carbon, a shoe store for hip-heeled men and women. Formerly on DC’s U Street, the store moved in 2006 to a larger space in Woodley Park (2643 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-232-6645; carbondc.com).

We asked Powers to talk about what men in Washington are buying.

Do men shop?

Not for pleasure. Guys shop because they need to. A woman will say, “This is cute and comfortable; I work hard, and I want it.” A guy will say, “I have a perfectly good pair of brown shoes—why do I need another pair?” Sometimes I’ll watch a guy look at a pair of shoes so long it’s like he’s trying to decide whether to invade a country.

Is it hard to sell fashion to men here?

Madison Avenue did retailers a favor when it coined the term “metrosexual,” which made it safer for straight men to shop. Men need to overcome the fear of not being masculine if they look stylish.

What’s a common mistake you see Washington men make?

Not updating their wardrobes. I see some beautiful suits, but guys are still wearing those clunky Frankenstein shoes from ten years ago. I think guys get stuck in a heyday mentality—these pleated chinos were cool when I got out of college, and that’s why I’m still wearing them.

Suits You

Wide lapels. Three-button suits. Ascots. Craig Fox has seen it all come and go since he and George Washington University classmate William Frank opened Wm. Fox & Co. in 1965. His Savile Row–style shop in downtown DC (1427 G St., NW; 202-783-2530; wmfox.com) feels like a gentlemen’s club. We asked Fox to share his observations about men’s fashion in Washington.

How do you feel about fashion trends?

I don’t touch fads. I don’t think most are top quality. Men who pay $1,200 for a suit want to wear it for a long time. I don’t think Washington is a town for fashionable Italian clothing.

What’s the one thing you’d like to see change in Washington’s fashion sense?

I’d like to see more businessmen in brown suits. Men here stick to dark gray or navy. No one has really worn brown since Ronald Reagan, who was a terrific dresser.

Who is a better dresser, John McCain or Barack Obama?

Obama. He wears clothes better. He looks more modern and is always wearing the right tie. McCain would benefit from a good tailor.

What is the latest trend in color?

In past seasons, men chose to accessorize navy suits with yellow or pink neckwear. What I’m seeing for summer is a lot of lime or mint green, which looks new against navy.

If you have limited funds, what is the best investment?

Let’s say you had $500. That wouldn’t buy you a good suit, but if you opted for a good shirt and tie, you’d make a decent suit look a lot better.

Is there a look that screams “fashion victim”?

Very tight-fitting clothing. A lot of trendier suits have such a narrow silhouette; men look like they’ve poured themselves in.

Can you tell what a man does for a living just by what he’s wearing?

I can usually spot a lawyer. Lawyers are always in a dark suit, white shirt, and foulard print tie.

To read more of Fox’s interview, including tips on dressing black-tie optional, click here.

This article is from the June 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from the issue, click here.