John Locke once said, “education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.” Sure, John. We can dig it. But we must admit it, seems something’s been left out of that equation. After all, the man who shows up well-dressed and impeccably groomed can usually coast a bit longer than his untailored, unshaven counterpart (and if he can recite Dylan Thomas or hold forth on the natural physics of 19th century tidal-powered mills, so much the better).
And yet, dressing like a gentleman can seem daunting. What does it mean to be—and dress like—a gentleman? And how can this be achieved by the average man? We went Kenneth Himmelstein, owner of Samuel Parker Clothier, to find the answers to these questions. After all, if anyone around town would know, it’s him. When walking into Samuel Parker (named for Himmelstein’s fashion-forward grandfather—a clothier himself) one is immediately struck by the smell and feel of those traditionally masculine elements of cedar, leather, and that certain je ne sais quoi that says “a clean shaved man was here.” And— like a well-dressed gentleman—that’s no accident; it’s thanks to excellent taste, a keen eye for detail, and a willingness to go the extra mile for perfection.
Baltimore Fishbowl: So, how did you get into this business? Where did your interest in men’s clothing start?
Kenneth Himmelstein: I grew up loving clothes, took a high school job at Frank Leonard University Shop, a Baltimore icon at the time, went on to manage Stonehenge Ltd., one of the first upscale boutiques in town, then spent the next 32 years on the wholesale side of the business. I made a good living, and I loved what I did. I enjoyed the travel, seeing the best shops in America, and meeting many wonderful people. By the way, today I own the Frank Leonard trademark, and I use it as a private label vehicle in my shop!
BFB: So, in order to dress like a gentleman, we should probably know what that means. Sometimes those traditional values seem like they’re being lost. What defines a gentleman? What kind of values or style does he embody?
KH: I sell my shop as a proper British/American haberdashery. I cater to men who enjoy dressing, and, of course, share my passion for fine fabrics and quality. Dressing well can mean a great suit, a sport coat, a cashmere sweater, a fabulous pair of flannels, or a well-fitting pair of jeans with a pair of bench-made chukka boots. I embrace style. I am fortunate, at this level, to deal with businessmen and professionals who appreciate what I do and look to me for a little guidance with their wardrobes. It’s true, many younger men have taken casual a little too far. There’s no shame in wearing a nice sport coat to a restaurant on Saturday night!
BFB: We’ll drink to that! But what are the basic necessities? If someone isn’t ready for a complete overhaul yet, what should they prioritize?
KH: A well-tailored navy blazer, a pair of gray trousers, a nice pair of khakis, one great navy or gray suit, and a half-dozen well-fitting shirts that can be dressed up or down is a great start to building a wardrobe. I’m all about adding a piece or two a season to extend the wardrobe. Of course, a well-fitting pair of jeans is a nice weekend alternative. Dress them up with a nice cashmere sweater and a good-looking sports jacket. I’m a bit of a shoe-freak, so don’t get me started…My style is natural shoulder, but even if you dress more forward-fashion, find a line that suits your image, and always buy quality over quantity.
BFB: Got it. But how do we know quality when we see it? What sort of things should we be looking for? And can the average man afford to prioritize quality?
KH: Quality and style don’t have to break the bank. In my world, quality equals longevity equals good value. I have wonderful shirts that were $125 and I have fine bespoke shirts that sell for $350. A nicely tailored garment, or a great sweater, or a well-made pair of loafers will never embarrass you. You’ll get great return on the investment because you’ll want to wear them often, and they’ll last for many years.
BFB: Who are some of your favorite gentleman fashion icons? Who can we look to for inspiration? And how can women gently encourage the men in our lives to strive more for that?
KH: Clearly, my favorite was Fred Astaire. The man just had style! Cary Grant, Gary Copper, Clark Gable, Bogart. Those guys had their own tailors, and wore their own clothes! Today? Lucianno Barbera, Ralph Lauren, who I’ve known since he sold furnishings at Brook Brothers! I bought his first neckwear collection when I managed Stonehenge! Women play a large part in how men dress. I often see a beautiful woman, hair and nails perfect, great dress , stunning heels…the guy looks like he just came from his kid’s lacrosse game. I wonder why she doesn’t tell him to tuck in his shirt and put on a nice sports jacket?
BFB: Maybe it’s time for us to start demanding that men raise the bar a bit. Any final words of wisdom or advice on how to dress like– and be– a gentleman?
KH: Find a style that makes you comfortable and embrace it. Treat people with respect. Always remember to say “thank you for your business.”
Samuel Parker is located at 6080 Falls Rd. For more information, visit www.samuelparker.com.