I can lay some claim to being a third-generation San Franciscan. My grandparents on both sides settled there, and my parents were raised, met and married there. I grew up an hour north, but that’s close enough for the city to have played an integral part in every stage of my life. After being away on the East Coast for 12 years, I recently got to relive all those stages while inaugurating the start of a new one.
San Francisco used to be a very trad town. You can get a glimpse of it in the 1963 drawing-room comedy “The Pleasure Of His Company,” one of Fred Astaire’s few non-musical roles. Of course now it’s one of the most progressive cities in America, which kicked into high gear in 1967 with the Summer Of Love, one of the key markers of social and sartorial change that reverberated across the country and served as a death knell to the heyday of the Ivy League Look.
Amazingly, through it all, one trad clothier in the city remains: Cable Car Clothiers. And it has an even rarer distinction, for not only is CCC one of the last independent haberdasheries left in the US, it’s also still in the same family. Jonathan Levin manages the shop that his grandfather founded long before the arrival of hippies, tech companies, and even Fred Astaire’s witty film set on Nob Hill.
Cable Car had moved during my dozen years back East. The new space — still Downtown, and in a circa-1910 building — is quite a bit smaller, but I think to great effect. As these photos show, it’s densely packed and requires adjusting one’s eyes and moving about slowly in order to take it all in.
What one takes in serves as an initiation into traditional Anglo-American style. Everything that many in the digital community of Tradsville learned about on the Internet over the past 17 years since the start of the Ask Andy Trad Forum is all here in one place: plain front trousers, natural shoulder jackets, rep ties, loafers and longwings, madras trousers, argyle socks, surcingle belts, grosgrain watch straps. And for the more advanced Anglophile with a daring streak, there’s also fine pajamas and tartan robes, umbrellas and walking sticks, silk boutonnieres, grooming supplies, and hats of all kinds.
It is one of the last places where a novice can go, create a checklist, and begin obsessively building an ultimate classic wardrobe with all the fine accoutrements. It’s still possible, thanks to old-guard shops like Cable Car Clothiers, and a new guard determined to keep them going. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD