Suiting with Southern Hospitality: A Conversation with Sid Mashburn
Suiting with Southern Hospitality: A Conversation with Sid Mashburn
- Words Andrew Craig
- Date August 21, 2018
If you want to buy a suit on a tight budget, you've got a staggering number of options, from mall brands to stylish startups. If you want to buy a beautiful one and have cash to burn, you've got Italian tailoring houses, Japanese suit makers, Savile Row shops, high-end menswear labels with firm dedications to tailoring. If you’re somewhere in the middle and want to buy a truly great suit—made in Italy, a “just right” natural shoulder, light and flexible full canvas, wool that's handsome and fine but not too sleek or shiny and a silhouette that strikes the perfect “cool-but-not-too-fashion-y” balance—but want to do it with expert guidance and without red-lining your credit card, you've got one: Sid Mashburn.
But Sid Mashburn isn't just about jackets and trousers. In fact, it's not just about clothes at all. Sid Mashburn is a kind of home, a place where you're guaranteed to find your new favorite suit, sure, but also your new favorite record, or your new favorite cologne, or a handsome pair of reading glasses or a string of beads that you had no idea could look so cool. It’s also much more—an inside tip on where to get a great dinner, an easy conversation about that day's ball game, a radio station recommendation, a game of ping pong or, simpler still, a cold bottle of Coke.
There's a reason why the brand has a hugely devoted following of average guys and fashion editors alike, and why it’s topped "Best Men's Store" lists in every big magazine and opened four stores across the South (plus another in LA) in just over 10 years. Part of it is obvious—step into any Sid Mashburn shop and you'll see right away how sharp the clothes are, how magnetic the staff is and how every item is somehow cooler than the last. But the other part, the less tangible one, starts with the man himself.
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"Even when I was nine years old," Sid says, "I had outfits, man."
A true southern gentleman with an eye for a tailored style that's traditional and a little mischievous, Sid Mashburn just might be the most friendly and down-to-earth man working in the fashion industry. Spend any amount of time talking to him or read any of the other breathless articles describing his personal style and impeccable manners, and you'll see just how magnetic, genuine and passionate of a guy he is within five seconds (you'll probably admire the cut of his suit and the patina on his shoes, too). Today, he's one of the best designers of accessible menswear in the country; back in the day, he was just a kid from Mississippi who loved clothes.
To hear him tell the story: The day he got his driver's license, he started working at the local menswear shop, drove all over the state to scout out other stores and saved his money from working at the local Piggly Wiggly. Then, he flew to Boston and went to Louis every day for 10 days straight to spend all his cash. Clothes were a passion, clearly, but the path to making a career out of it wasn't clear at the time. "A vocation where you could talk around clothes, and be around people, and come up with ideas around it—I didn't even know that was really a career," he told Dry Clean Only. "When I was in high school, I thought, 'Man, I'd love to be a designer,' but it was a pipe dream. It wasn't real. I didn't know anything—I was in Mississippi."
But after an English degree at Ole Miss and an art class that gave him some encouragement to pursue a creative job, he went for it: Mashburn sold his Chevrolet Monte Carlo, moved to New York, met (and then married) a girl named Ann, got a job working at Frank Stella and met designers who showed him the ropes—how to pitch colors, analyze fabrics, create silhouettes, make technical packages. Not long after, he heard about a clothing company starting up in New Jersey, and managed to score a job. "I was the first menswear designer at J.Crew in 1985," he says, "with really no credentials [laughs] but a lot of heart. I'd go to Port Authority at 6:30 in the morning. I was 25, 26 years old, worked there all day and into the night, and thought, 'Man, this is a waystation to heaven. I love this. I loved it like a dog loves a bone.'"
He spent the next couple decades moving from J.Crew to Polo, then to the West Coast and back, then working at Tommy Hilfiger, then moving out to Wisconsin to work for Land's End. He and Ann had a family—five daughters, by this point—and firmly established careers in the clothes business. After parting ways with Land's End, Mashburn had a few options of where to take it all. "I was with Ann and the girls, and she said, 'Aren't we going back to New York?' And I said, 'Well… let's just try this one idea first.'"
So, Sid Mashburn (the brand) was born, and Sid and Ann opened up their shop in 2007 in Atlanta. And while they sell everything from tube amps to ties—more on that in a minute—it's the suits that really stand out.
They're made for the brand by an Italian factory, to Sid and his master tailor, Dau's, highly precise specifications; specifications that were shaped, in part, by a visit to Kiton. "Being in that environment," Sid says, "we realized we wanted to work with people who would work with us. What we want to make is not a run-of-the-mill or middle-of-the-road garment."
They've got an Italian-meets-American kind of natural shoulder, with a slight touch of shape but plenty of softness that lets the silhouette fall nicely rather than feeling too structured. The full canvas construction (absolutely non-negotiable, he says) uses a custom blend of horsehair, linen and wool, chosen by Mashburn and Dau for an easy suppleness that still holds the jacket up just right. The collar fits snug around your neck—no collar gap, ever. A higher armhole, sewn by hand with a little more tension here and a little less tension there, allows for better movement and more comfort. The interiors are finished with full Bemberg lining and specially-made 80s two-ply end-on-end pocketing ("It's the nicest pocketing in the world, I'm not joking" Sid says).
They come in a few different makes: The Virgil is Sid's take on the sack suit, with a hook vent, an undarted front, and a more American profile. The Landry is a slightly athletic, slightly more old-school build—a little wider in the shoulder, a little longer in the body and a little fuller all over, but still plenty smart. What you're most likely to see, though, is the Kincaid: a slightly Italian-leaning cut with just a bit of tracing, extra lightweight canvas and a slim-but-not-skinny profile. It's designed, they say, "To take you from Mississippi to Manhattan to Milan, and back again, without looking or feeling out of place."
Then there are the construction levels, which are numbered one to five with increasing levels of handwork and structure. The No. 3, the brand's everyday workhorse suit, uses an impressive 40-plus percent hand sewing, with a build that's handsome but not overly stiff; it's got an ease and comfort that feels just right. The higher-priced No. 4 (starting around $3,000) uses 60 to 70 percent handwork, and the No. 5 (starting at a cool $4,950) is tutto a mano: completely handmade, the absolute top of the line. That No. 3, though, will run you only $1,250 (give or take a bit depending on the wool). It’s one of the absolute best values in tailoring, anywhere. It's still a lot to spend on a single garment, sure, but given that the level of handwork and quality of construction in a Sid Mashburn suit is usually reserved for tailoring that costs twice as much, it's one hell of a deal.
Even the best suit won't look good, though, without the right eye for fit. That's where the Sid Mashburn staff—some of the most warm, welcoming and knowledgeable people you'll ever meet—comes in.
Walk into a Sid Mashburn shop and ask a few questions, and they'll take you through everything you could ever want to know about tailoring; they'll do it while grabbing you a drink, cleaning off your coat, and shining up your shoes. Buy a suit, and they'll guide you through every possible tweak it might need, going way beyond your standard “nip in the waist” into an obsessively detailed focus on whether your shoulders are quite level, or slope too much or little, whether the button stance needs to be changed a quarter inch, where there's a slight bit too much tension in the upper back, where there's just a little bit too much room in the seat, which causes the thigh to look less sleek than it should… and on and on.
When all is said and done, a Sid Mashburn suit will fit slim but not photoshoot-tight, long enough in the jacket to cover your backside, and soft and easy in the shoulders but not full-on Neopolitan. It's got a tailored structure, but with a hard-to-describe easiness to it that makes a two-piece feel as comfortable and as natural as a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. It's sharp, but not attention-grabbing—until you look closer. "We don't want to be the first guy you look at in a picture, Mashburn says. "We like the second look, instead."
All of this is to say nothing of all the other things that Sid Mashburn does so well: beautiful and sturdy shirting, both off-the-rack and made-to-measure, garment-dyed denim, cashmere sweaters, gorgeous leather shoes made by hand at a small family-run factory in Italy, locally screen-printed T-shirts and a huge lineup of some of the nicest pocket squares and ties you've ever seen. It’s all stocked alongside a carefully-selected lineup of other brands, both classics— denim from Levi's and A.P.C., ties from Drake's, watches from Timex—and other offbeat and uniquely stylish pieces, like hand-made African bead necklaces, custom Swiss Army Knives, reading glasses, home goods, office supplies, espresso makers and an impeccable collection of vinyl records with speakers and tube amps for playing them. They've got a full women's line, too, introduced in 2010 (Ann Mashburn), with an equal measure of amazing style that's helmed, of course, by Ann.
Sid (and Ann) Mashburn is not the first and not the only store to do sell more than just clothes, of course, but something is special about their approach that feels more authentic, more fun and more curiously cool than most anywhere else. "It's a reflection of Ann's and my life and our experiences," Sid says about being more than just a clothes brand. "When we used to live in New York, Ann and I were one of the only couples who were married at the time, and so people would wind up at our house. Ann took care of everyone's eating and drinking, and I took care of the music and it was a family affair. It was a super, super fun and a way to enjoy people, celebrate what y'all share and celebrate your values. And we just want to do the same thing now."
You can see it in the staff, who make you feel completely at home in the most casual, comfortable way. You can see it in their newly-opened coffee shop in Atlanta or their vinyl-only AM radio show, WSID (it's incredible; give it a listen). And you can see it in Sid himself, whose genuine passion for helping people—through clothes, and in general—is diamond-bright. “That's really a social contract, isn't it,” he wonders. “That's what our real goal is—how do we lift someone else up?"
So whether you're market for a workhorse suit or a completely handmade special-occasion one, a pair of white jeans, something cool for your coffee table, or just a cup of coffee and some style advice, Sid and his crew have got you covered. A visit to any of the shops won't just make you want to wear a tie more often (though it will) or deepen your knowledge of ’70s soul music (that, too)—it'll make you feel a little brighter, both about clothes and about life.
"Listen," Sid says, "at the end of the day, you know what we're really giving customers? Confidence. I want someone to walk out of the shop and think, 'I'm gonna get the job. I'm gonna get the guy, I'm gonna get the girl. Everything's coming my way.' It might not be the whole truth," he admits, "but you'll have a better start on it."