Paul usually writes about technology, but he writes about travel too. He’s currently on a year-long road trip around the states. While on the road, he’s keeping an eye on the style of the places he visits. Read his previous dispatches from Boston, Phoenix, Wisconsin, and Southern California. Follow his other adventures on drivinginertia.com.
Charleston, South Carolina, the Crown Jewel of the South, the Holy City, the city where the Civil War began, is a stylish city. But it felt a lot like Cape Cod to me, just a few degrees of latitude south. I talked with two locals to get the inside scoop – Brigman, a Dappered reader, and Adam, a downtown resident.
The style of dress I saw in Charleston reminded me a lot of Cape Cod (Vineyard Vines polo shirts, Ralph Lauren, etc.). What sets Charleston apart? Is there a specific item of clothing or brand or look that is unique to Charleston?
Brigman: On any given summer day on Broad Street (the traditional line of demarcation between old-money Charleston and the “common folk” in the rest of the city) you can expect to see several lawyers and doctors going to lunch in seersucker suits or at least suit separates made of seersucker and another light fabric like linen. Bow ties are also commonplace in Charleston. Here, Southern Tide is a more popular brand of polo than either Ralph Lauren or Vineyard Vines – most of their polos feature various trophy fish as an embroidered logo.
Adam: Charleston definitely has a coastal prep feel, but once you start to peel back the layers, you see a range of styles from traditional to urban hipster. I think the College of Charleston being right in the heart of downtown sets the city apart. It is a liberal arts college with a lot of creative young adults and that helps bring a positive and more progressive vibe to what can be a very traditional city. A look that you’ll see a lot of in Charleston is seersucker and bow ties.
How does the Folly Beach surf scene influence fashion?
Brigman: Folly Beach is an anomaly in Charleston. Of the three Charleston beaches (Folly, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms) Folly is the only place that allows alcohol on the beach. It also has the best surf breaks of the three. There is an element of hippie and hipster style in Charleston, mostly College of Charleston students, and the atmosphere on Folly attracts many of that vein. I surf, and usually dress the part when I go to Folly with board shorts and a t-shirt. However, I’d never go out downtown in the same clothes, like I’ve seen in San Diego.
Adam: The Folly Beach scene brings a more informal and freestyle approach to fashion here in Charleston. The surfer vibe is a bit more low key than in California, because the waves here aren’t as constant and reliable as Cali. There is a pretty strong Kiteboarding scene here.
Does the college scene make Charleston a more casual city or is there something else at play? In Savannah, I saw a lot of lightweight suits and more formal attire … but the population felt a lot older. I didn’t see that level of formal dress in Charleston as prevalent.
Brigman: Tourists often cling to King and Meeting Streets in the area between Marion Square and Market Street … which also happens to be where the College of Charleston is located. In that area, formal attire is less commonplace as most stores/restaurants cater to students and tourists. With the exception of the fraternity/sorority scene, CofC students have typical casual college style. On the upper end of King Street, there’s a rapidly growing number of bars and restaurants that attract more of the young professional group.
Adam: Yes, I would say that the CofC does help make Charleston more of a causal city. Although, Savannah does have SCAD there, but I’m not sure how integrated they are into the city. Also, there are probably more young professionals working right in the heart of Savannah. In Charleston, downtown is mostly retail and restaurants so the young professionals mainly work in the surrounding cities and not right downtown.
If you’re going out with friends on a Friday, what do you wear?
Brigman: If I go downtown, I almost always wear long sleeves unless it’s the middle of summer, in which case I’ll wear a polo. Ralph Lauren Oxfords and pleated shorts with boat shoes is a common look during the day, and I prefer coupling an Oxford with dark rinse jeans and driving loafers at night. In the winter, l’ll throw on a tweed jacket and knit tie. Suits aren’t extremely common outside of the fine dining establishments downtown. I attribute this to the heat.
Adam: I don’t get out as much as I would like since I’m in the process of getting our company (an industrial design firm) off the ground. I prefer to dress up rather than down. You can’t go wrong with a pair of chinos, solid polo and shoes that have a pop of color.
If you visit, don’t miss: Ben Silver’s only North American location, Billy Reid, and Berlin’s, a locally-owned men’s store that has been at the corner of King and Broad since 1883.
What do you think? Will bow-ties spread throughout the Union after their 100+ year incubation? Do Charleston surfers need to nut up and grab some Uggs? Leave a comment. Seersucker Photo Credit.