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All grown up

By Jenna Scatena, Photograph by Jen Siska | February 24, 2011 | Story National

If the adage “The clothes make the man” were true in San Francisco, our financial district would be in trouble. Thankfully, Nelson Jang, a graphic designer, Daniel Lee, a Kaiser employee, and Adrian Putra, a city planner, have got the Muni-riding Dwight Schrutes in their sights. At Department Seventeen, their modest new storefront on Pacific Avenue—four blocks from Jang's childhood home—the three Bay Area natives, none of whom has a formal background in fashion, are showing clothes with an edge for the suit-and-tie crowd who can't seem to get it together. Their take on spring: Shirts are leaner, fabrics are thicker, and ties are finally finding their happy medium. With their SoMa-manufactured clothing line, Jang, Lee, and Putra are teaching their peers—and their elders—how to dress like, well, men. Department Seventeen, 1218 Pacific Ave., S.F., 415-567-8340, dept17.com

How did you dress when you were young? Daniel Lee: Growing up, I was into hip-hop, so I wore baggy jeans and True, the Haight Street-based brand known for big lettering scrawled across every garment.

And how did your style change as you got older? Nelson Jang: After I graduated from high school, I went into the Marine Corps, and that had the most influence on how I dress now. There were rules I never knew existed—your pants had to be a certain length, your shirt had to fit a certain way—that got me interested in fashion. I found that European clothing fit better, so I got into Paul Smith and Ben Sherman. Adrian Putra: I realized it was about the fit, not necessarily the brand. I found Japanese salvaged denim A.P.C. jeans, slim ties, and the right pair of boots, which for me is Alden; they've been around since the late 1800s, and they're having a resurgence now.

How do you think men's fashion consciousness in S.F. rates compared with other cities? AP: Guys here get away with jeans and a North Face fleece. We tend to dress homogeneously and don't set the bar too high. People get around with cars and use that to express themselves. But we're starting to see more men care about what they wear. There are more stores popping up to support that, including Hayes Valley's Welcome Stranger and the Mission's Unionmade.

When I get dressed, I decide on shoes and take the rest of my outfit from there. What's your process? AP: I don't want to overthink what I'm wearing, so I buy clothes that are easy to mix and match with what I have already. If I see something I like that doesn't fit my wardrobe mix, I pass.

You all have really different jobs—what do you typically wear to work? NJ: Since I man the store, I wear our stuff, so people can see how it looks on. I also wear shirts by A.P.C.; the style is clean and works during and after work. If I want something a little funkier, I wear Nom de Guerre. AP: I like to wear Gitman Bros. Vintage; it's a slimmer cut than J. Crew. And though I wear Alden boots almost every day, Quoddy also makes great shoes. Their blucher moccasins are great spring shoes—dressier than a sneaker, but casual and easy to slip on.

What about guys who have a stricter dress code at work? NJ: When it comes to suits, it's all about getting away with the details. Get creative with a pocket square or wear a suit with a rougher, more relaxed fabric. You'll look stylish as long as you have the right cut. AP: Find a less structured suit or wear a jacket or a blazer. DL: Add something subtle, like unique socks.

And that brings us back to shoes.
AP: I often see square-toed shoes on financial district types. It's not the most flattering shape for your foot, and it screams 2000. Go with a rounder toe and a slimmer width. NJ: That's a pet peeve. A square toe can ruin the whole look. You can't go wrong with a pair of less chunky lace-up oxfords.

Speaking of pet peeves, what's the worst thing you see?
NJ: Untailored suits. It might look good on the hanger, but if you don't have it fitted, it looks sloppy. Look at your pant hems: The length should depend on the cut of your pants. If you have skinnier trousers, get a shorter hem—even show a little sock—and if your pant legs are wider, leave them longer.

A few months ago, my boyfriend dared to arrive at a work party wearing jeans and an untucked button-up because he didn't want to wear a suit. How would you enlighten guys like him? NJ: San Francisco is a casual city, and it shows. Guys think just because they're wearing a button-up, they look professional. But the way you wear it counts, too. He should try wearing the structure of a suit, but with mismatched separates to look more casual, like black pants and a gray jacket. A suit doesn't have to look like a uniform. DL: We wear a lot of jackets here, but beyond a blazer, try a military jacket or a chunky-knit sweater.

What's the best fabric and cut for a gentleman's dress shirt right now? AP: Because it's still cold, oxford-style shirts have a great weight to them. Patterned shirts will be big, too. NJ: And Japanese oxford and chambray fabrics in off-white, gray tones, or muted green. Something that's tapered at the waist.

Why did you decide to make your signature tie asymmetrical? NJ: It has just enough edge to be different. We don't want our fashion to scream.


Tied up
The Department Seventeen team dissects spring neckwear.

Width: Don't go too '90s or too mod (fat or skinny). The tie should be around 2½ inches at the widest part. Tie it in a single knot; keep wide knots for wide ties.
Landing point: The bottom tip should hit the top of your belt buckle.
Fabric: Move beyond silk: Try cotton, wool, or corduroy. It's chilly here in the spring, so rougher fabrics still look right.
Color: It may sound trite, but pick something that complements your outfit. Bright colors distract from the rest of your ensemble.
Bars: The tie bar is making a comeback. It should sit a little lower than midway down from your top button, and the end of the bar should land inside the border of your tie.
The other tie: If you're the type of guy who can pull off a bow tie, go for it. Just leave it messy, so it doesn't look like a clip-on.


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