Cable Car Clothiers: Trad By The Bay

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

34 Comments on "Cable Car Clothiers: Trad By The Bay"

  1. CCC offers a shave and a haircut for $90. Ninety dollars before the tip!

    At that rate I won’t have any money left over to purchase one of their fine Panama hats.

  2. My wife used to have season tickets at a couple of the theaters up in SF. Now she won’t go up there because she’s tired of dodging used needles, piles of feces and random raving homeless people.

    Progress, I suppose.

    Only eight months until retirement, but who’s counting?

  3. At CCC it’s always 1958- and I remember 1958. But with 2030 prices!
    One wonders how they stay in business. Some years ago I heard a rumor
    from another San Francisco clothier that CCC was just a hobby for it’s
    founder the late David(?) Pivnik, who over the decades made a fortune
    in San Francisco real estate. In any case, it’s a welcome counterpoint
    to the Italian fashionista gear sold by other other high end men’s shops
    in Union Square.

  4. Correction: CCC founder was the legendary Charles Pivnick

  5. David Knatcal | June 21, 2021 at 9:35 pm | Reply

    I like Cable Car Clothiers. Any time I am in San Francisco I go there. However I have grown not to like San Francisco. And even though San Francisco and Cable Clothiers and I share a state, albeit they are in the northern portion, I now find find myself visiting establishments on the east coast much more.

  6. Cable Car Clothiers: The last outpost of civilization in the midst of used needles, piles of feces and random raving homeless people.

  7. Henry Contestwinner | June 22, 2021 at 1:37 am | Reply

    Compassion, as defined in California: allowing the mentally ill and drug-addled free rein to indulge in their delusions and substance abuse, while also allowing them to live in a level of squalor that a Third World country would find shameful.

  8. Notwithstanding the foregoing, CCC is a great shop with stellar merchandise and informed salespeople. Old time SF at its very best.

  9. Gary Glazer:
    I fully agree with you; that’s why I called it “the last outpost of civilization”.

  10. Richard E. Press | June 22, 2021 at 8:48 am | Reply

    The J. Press 411 Post Street second floor emporium thrived 1968-1982 under the stewardship of former New Haven insider Jack Kennedy whose Frisco devotees comprised the top tier of West Coast Ivy..

  11. Although CCC’s prices have risen with the times, I always welcome the opportunity to stop by whenever I am in the Bay area. Also, enjoy the inconspicuous photo CC!

  12. David Knatcal | June 22, 2021 at 10:27 am | Reply

    Last time I was in, I spoke with them about the demise of the suit and tie among the office workers that abound around them. Sad. And even though I have grown to dislike San Francisco, I still love Cable Car Clothiers. It’s worth going to the city just for them. During my last trip to the Bay Area I went a day early just to go into the city to visit CCC and I left with a wonderful cap from Locke and Co.

  13. Charlottesville | June 22, 2021 at 12:32 pm | Reply

    I am delighted to see that Cable Car Clothiers is still there and appears to be going strong. From the writings of Lucius Beebe, Barnaby Conrad and others, I know what a delightful place San Francisco must have been in the 1950s and early 60s. When I was last there roughly 20 years ago, it had certainly changed but had not experienced the utter decline it has seen over the past few years. I hope that the timeless Tadich Grill and Swan Oyster Depot are still open and unchanged as well.

    Christian — Any chance of an updated photo from the same corner where you stood in this shot a dozen or so years ago? http://www.ivy-style.com/right-back-where-i-started-from.html

  14. Dear Mr. Press,
    Please don’t call it “Frisco”.
    Thanks.

  15. Dear Basic Trad,
    It would be dissapointing if the likes of Richard Press didn’t refer to San Francisco as “Frisco”. You shouldn’t, nor should I for that matter.

    Try to be a little less “basic”.

  16. I grew up learning to never say “Frisco,” but for the life of me can’t explain why.

  17. Tadich Grill and Swan Oyster Bar are still around.

  18. A bit of bracing, fresh air. Thank you.

  19. Charlottesville | June 22, 2021 at 8:47 pm | Reply

    Thank you for the welcome news, Mr. Sack. I loved those two places, and wish I could tuck into some sand dabs in that atmosphere again. Perhaps I will get to venture west again one day for a couple of delightful meals and a shopping spree at CCC.

  20. My San Francisco relatives referred to my hometown as “Los Angeles”, never “L.A.”. I,in turn, paid them the courtesy of never saying “Frisco” when referring to the city named after Saint Francis. My patrician New York relatives similarly object to “The Big Apple”.

  21. All West Coast cities from Vancouver down to the Mexicali border have issues with homelessness and substance abuse. Yes, a lot of it is climate related and self-inflicted, or choice-based ala able-bodied teenagers in Portland on every street corner, however the other part is a result of mental illness, and the growing inequity between homeowners and those who can’t get on the ladder in places where the cost of living has skyrocketed over the past 20 years.

    As for CCC, it’s a wonderful store that unfortunately is subject to the ever-declining economies of scale in the tailored menswear market; hence why you have to pay prices that many of the commenters here are uncomfortable with. Are they the only reason to visit SF? I’d argue that SF’s Chinatown is quite a marvel amongst other things once you get past the problems.

  22. Benjamin

    I would have to agree with you regarding west coast cities having problems that stem from poor, self inflicted choices. As long as they continue to choose to believe in communism, nothing will change.

    Working from home today. Vintage BB OCBD, white, olive drab RL flat front, cuffed pants, Trafalgar engine turned belt, Alden loafers in need of another re-sole and C W Dixey Chartwell 02 glasses.

    Will

    Will

  23. sacksuit
    Not all the decisions were self-inflicted. The mental health problem cannot be over-stated. Many also have physical disabilities. Some have deeply sub-100 IQ’s.

    Several years ago, I saw a very scruffy and dirty homeless guy sitting on a bench and doing The NY Times crossword. In ink. I had done the same puzzle earlier in the day, and he was doing it better than me.

    I told the story to a friend of mine who helps the homeless in Austin. Something about it rang a bell with her. A couple days later, she figured it out and made some phone calls. To make a long story short, she ended up approaching him at the same bench doing another puzzle. She asked him his name and he confirmed what the family told her. She then said his family was looking for him and asked if he would like to see them. He said yes. She then walked him several blocks away to a homeless shelter.

    It turns out he had been a respected UT professor who had severe schizophrenia and ended up on that bench. Thanks to my friend and his family, he got the meds he needed and transitioned from the street to a stable environment. He’s still okay today.

    Sure, many homeless people are bad actors. Maybe even a majority. Maybe not. Regardless, there are a whole bunch of homeless human beings who didn’t choose to live on the streets. A little compassion won’t hurt you, but it could help them.

  24. whiskeydent

    Your account of the homeless fellow is touching and your friend should be commended. I feel for the people on the streets who are incapable of fending for themselves because of mental disorders, physical limitations or just not being smart. They should absolutely be taken care of. They are my brothers and sisters. I do, however, take issue with cities that have needlessly been turned into shit holes by encouraging bad actors with promises of utopia where everything is free and all problems are somebody else’s fault. That San Francisco feels the need to publish maps for those wishing to avoid human feces and filthy needles, tent cities on the once beautiful beaches, racial strife and everything else should be abhorrent to any reasonable person. San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, New York, Minneapolis, Detroit all have something in common.

    Will

  25. I don’t know about the other cities of which you speak, but Austin promised no one a utopia or anything for free. A year or so ago, our city council did eliminate a ban on public camping on city property by the homeless without any plan to get them off the street. It was dumb and it was a failure. The voters restored the ban in a referendum in March and the tents will all be gone soon.

    The homeless crisis had little effect otherwise. During the pandemic, Austin’s population continued to boom and there was only a short-lived dip in the economy.

    I guess you just can’t find competent communists to kill free enterprise anymore.

  26. …Pretty sure the homelessness issue in our cities has much more to do with unbalanced capitalism run amok than with communism, which is actually *not* our economic system in this country. San Francisco’s colossal income disparities are a product of the tech booms of the past couple of decades. Its homelessness problem stems from NIMBYism and zoning regulations that force more and more people to live in a finite space with severely limited new construction to accommodate them all, leading to some of the most expensive real estate on earth, pricing out all but the highest earners. But sure, in an American city that fully embodies capitalist success (and excess), it must be those dang commies.

    I really just wanted to comment on Cable Car Clothiers. I’m grateful for this post because I honestly had no idea it was still open — I thought it went the way of so many such stores years (or decades) ago. I would see their label on some of the sport coats I would covet while scrolling through eBay and think, “man, what a place that must have been.” Next time I’m visiting family in that pinko nightmareland by the Bay, I’ll have to make a special trip.
    I live up in Portland (cue further reactionary assumptions about the causes of our problems), and we have a wonderful shop here called John Helmer. They’ve been in downtown Portland since the 1920s and have somehow managed to survive to this day. They are stubbornly trad in most respects and are blessedly allergic to modernization, though they have made some concessions to trends with the headwear. Their selection of Aldens is also admirable. Well worth a visit for anyone in the Pacific Northwest.

  27. Why not write a profile on them for the site?

  28. I would be delighted to and will be in touch.

  29. Henry Contestwinner | June 24, 2021 at 9:38 pm | Reply

    I have patronized John Helmer for decades, and it is just about the only reason I will venture into the war zone called downtown Portland.

    If capitalists had had free rein in SF, then there would be plenty of housing, although demand, high incomes, and limited land to build on would still result in high prices, just not as astronomical as they are now. Whether or not the politicians who run SF are Communists or something else, they certainly are not capitalists, and do bear the responsibility for the squalor of SF.

    Here’s a video that explores some of the issues, particularly the anti-capitalist policies of SF: https://youtu.be/b9pgh5EO6lw

  30. “As long as they continue to choose to believe in communism, nothing will change.”

    The City Fathers(and Mothers) of San Francisco may believe in Communism, as you
    put it, but practice Capitalism- Innovative, Aggressive, High Growth Capitalism.My guess is
    that you are working from home in one of the reactionary brain dead areas of the country
    wearing clothes that should be donated to GoodWill so that they may be provided to the
    people that San Francisco communism failed to help. Full disclosure: I am not a resident of
    San Francisco.

  31. Roger Sack

    Shouldn’t that read City Sperm Contributors(and Birthing Persons)….?

    He Him Will

  32. Perhaps sacksuit’s clothes should be donated to BadWill.

  33. “Shouldn’t that read City Sperm Contributors(and Birthing Persons)….?”

    I am afraid that you are not keeping up. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors
    (city council) recently passed an ordinance that henceforth “sperm contributors” and
    “birthing persons” shall officially be referred to as”Muthas”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*