Founded: 1853 by Levi Strauss, San Francisco, CA
Why you care: Because sometimes the original is the best, and for a century and a half no brand has better evoked America’s working-class heroics.
Philosophy: “Given the economy, people are looking for comfort through stability, items that are built to last from brands with time-tested track records,” says director of brand concepts Carl Chiara, who has been with the granddaddy of denim brands since 1995. “With the fall 2010 collection, we went back to the very beginning, when jeans and the 501 were workwear. We took those roots, complete with a slew of historic functional details, and applied them to suit and fit the functionalities and needs of today’s guy.”
Founded: 1863 by Thomas L. Kay, Portland, OR
Why you care: Because despite Pendleton’s rustic history, teaming up with brands like Opening Ceremony, Hurley, Nike, and Vans has helped the company reach new fans seeking to rock out like mountain men or beach bums.
Philosophy: “Our founder, Thomas Kay, brought his love of tartans with him from Britain, which became our iconic plaid shirts,” says Jim Buckner, manager of menswear. “But our first customers—American Indians—will always influence our approach to patterning.” And Pendleton has had plenty of influence itself: “In the early 1960s, a group of kids formed a band called the Pendletones, after our woolen shirts. They eventually changed their name…to the Beach Boys.”
WOOLRICH WOOLEN MILLS
Founded: 1830 by John Rich, Woolrich, PA
Why you care: Because certain staples like rugged parkas and buffalo plaid flannel shirts look as good on Johnny Depp or Jay-Z as on Paul Bunyan, proving that some things never go out of style.
Philosophy: “We are the longest continuously operating outdoor apparel manufacturer in the United States, ever since our founder was selling wool to lumberjacks and sawmill workers out of a mule cart,” says executive VP Brian Mangione of the 180-year-old brand. “One of the Woolrich classics, the arctic parka, was worn by workers building the Alaskan pipeline,” notes creative director Andrea Crane. “So we updated the fit and reinvented the jacket for the modern man.”
Founded: 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean, Freeport, ME
Why you care: Because you’re going for the perfect blend of Hemingway and Alex P. Keaton. Rag sweaters, duck boots—no one does the rugged-prepster look better, or more affordably, than L.L.Bean.
Philosophy: “L.L. once said, ‘If you get lost, go back to camp,’ and I think a lot of brands are looking to ‘home base’ to be reminded of their identity,” says Alex Carleton, the creative director who’s giving the label a modern update with the L.L.Bean Signature line. “We possess nearly a century of brand history, so
we look at the present and are inspired by the future, but we use the past as the framework for building the brand.”
Founded: 1983, New York
Why you care: Because since launching their “men’s store” in 2008, J.Crew has done the work for you—not only with their own ruggedly preppy staples but also through the other classic brands they carefully curate and stock.
Philosophy: “Traditionally, guys aren’t shoppers, so we try to make their lives easier by offering edited selections of our favorite styles and brands,” says designer Frank Muytjens. “We’re not too precious in what we design: masculine, tough, but elegant. Americana gives everything a purpose, with truly functional details, so everything we do is a product of that, a product of our heritage.”
Founded: 1978 by Alfred and Sheldon Gitman, Ashland, PA
Why you care: Because the legendary masters of the perfect button-down—who have long been churning out classics for other labels—have retooled
their own brand with the Vintage line, featuring slimmer fits and shorter cuts.
Philosophy: “The renewed interest in Americana is a reaction to big-brand
global capitalism—local ‘made in the U.S.A.’ quality trumps global quantity,” says Chris Olberding, creative director of Gitman Vintage. “I’m not a designer, though; I’ve been with Gitman for a while, working on shirt production with Burberry and Thom Browne. I’m really more of a curator of the archive.”
Founded: 2006 by Michael Bastian, New York City
Why you care: Because as the fashion director at New York style mecca Bergdorf Goodman, Bastian had firsthand knowledge of what customers want, and with his own line he’s putting his know-how into practice.
Philosophy: “Before everything crashed economically, we’d been in this period of 10 or 15 years of high designer fashion: the slim black suit and the skinny tie, everything branded, and everyone striving for this fashion look,” says Bastian. “I think we’ve all been shaken up, and as the dust settles we’re looking around us, and what we’re seeing is America.” The result is a timeless line perfect for a weekend in the country or a night on the town.
Founded: 1996 by Simon Spurr, New York City
Why you care: Because after stints with classic American brands like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, the British-born Spurr knows how to craft both Savile Row–worthy suits and denim that’ll last you forever.
Philosophy: “I design products that make guys feel comfortable and look good. There’s a reality and a functionality to the clothes,” says Spurr. “It’s a slimmer-fitting, cleaner product than you’d associate with a European brand, but I was heavily influenced by American denim brands like Levi’s, Wrangler, and Lee.” And take this tip when purchasing a pair of his seriously addictive jeans: “Buy the correct size, which is often a size smaller than what you’re buying now.”
Founded: 2004 by Billy Reid, Florence, AL
Why you care: Because by melding high style and classic workwear—the rugged and the refined—this Southern boy conquered the Big Apple fashion scene.
Philosophy: “My favorite brands make things that you can own forever and will look better with age. It’s a timeless quality that’s very American,” says Reid, who recently launched collaborations with Levi’s and Stetson. “I start with pieces I personally want and build from there, things that have the versatility
to wear in the two worlds in which I spend most of my time: Alabama and New York. If the piece can translate well in both, then we’ve hit our target.”
Founded: 2009 by Vincent Flumiani, Los Angeles, CA
Why you care: Because like its namesake Catcher in the Rye character, the Caulfield line—with its distressed fabrics, wrinkled button-downs, and frayed hems—harks back to a golden age of prep.
Philosophy: “I grew up in a very conservative upper-middle-class society; there were rules, but I got really good at putting my own twist on things,” says designer Vincent Flumiani. ”Caulfield Preparatory is very much that. It’s got this obviously ingrained Waspy middle-class American attitude to it, but I like to mix shit up a little bit. And break some rules.”
RAG & BONE
Founded: 2002 by Marcus Wainwright & David Neville, New York City
Why you care: Because these darlings of style mavens and rock stars alike have found the perfect combination of traditional rustic staples, impeccable tailoring, and quirky downtown detailing.
Philosophy: “We make as many of the garments as possible here in the States and constantly look to the roots of Americana—the workwear and denim heritage,” says cofounder Wainwright. “But neither of us has any background in design,” adds Neville. “I was an investment banker in London, and Marcus owned a telecommunications business.”
Founded: 1999 By Steven Alan, New York CITY
Why you care: Because while the New York native designed what may well
be the ultimate button-down shirt—slightly rumpled, slightly snug, and best left untucked—the rest of his clothes and accessories are just as addictive.
Philosophy: As Alan has noted, “Everything came out of the shirt,” which quickly became the must-have garment for every guy who wanted to look stylish but not like he cared. “I think about different designers and how they developed, but for me there’s this certain sloppy schoolboy look that I grew up with.”
Since opening in 2005, Ryan Huber and Sam Parker have offered denim addicts the very best. “Guys are becoming more interested in where and how things are made and less interested in sweatshop garbage,” says Huber. “U.S. brands are proud of their heritage, and we show that to our customers.”
Brands: Gitman Vintage, Band of Outsiders, Engineered Garments
New York City
“People want to go back to comfort and things that are familiar,” says co-owner Paul Birardi, who founded the downtown fashion mecca—which stocks both
the old and the new—in 2004 with Eddie Chai.” Plus Americana tends to be a
little rough around the edges and confident. Chicks like that.”
Brands: Rag & Bone, Woolrich Woolen Mills, Florsheim by Duckie Brown
Blackbird and the Field House
“Old-school American brands just make me smile: Quoddy, Alden, and Filson,” says owner Nicole Miller, who opened the Field House in 2009. “They’re all really small companies that stand true to their heritage and refuse to sell out.”
Brands: Pendleton, Levi’s Vintage, RRL, Filson, Red Wing