David Pensky and Rick Hindin had this idea. And the idea ultimately became Britches of Georgetown. Britches in its heyday was a Washington Trad institution with what I’ll call an experimental edge. At least when the likes of Pensky, Hindin and Rykken were still on board. And for some reason I can’t separate Clyde’s from Britches. Both Georgetown institutions kinda spawned together and there was a time when you could buy cans of Clyde’s chili at Britches. Clyde’s still holds on. Britches is long gone.
I called Britches the Poor Man’s Polo shop. It wasn’t Georgetown University shop nor was it Adler’s or any of the other slowly steeped patinated Trad shops that many of us recollect and long to see again.
Britches was different. Sure, you could get your fill of Trad-Prep gear at Britches but you could always find things that pushed the Trad-Prep Code to its very outermost limit. And if you know anything about Washington D.C., the Three Button Sack Coat Goofball town that it is sartorially, you know that the outer edge of any style construct is about half an arm’s length away. So the Britches guys were doing cool things in a town full of Sartorial Flatlanders.
So what was it that they did? Pensky-Hindin-Rykken were masters at spotting emerging design talent and showcasing the wares of said up and comers in their Britches stores. Ralph Lauren and a young Alan Flusser come to mind. Britches had Alan’s first ready to wear line in their stores back in the very early 1980’s and the goods were tasty to say the least. I had two or three Flusser rounded collar French cuff dress shirts from that era and they lasted forever. And they were different enough, just fuzzy enough for people to ask you where you got your clothes from. The Britches guys would get in early with a designer and would integrate their offerings in a way that there was always a new look, a design variation or something fresh at Britches. Their offerings swizzle-sticked the standard Trad-Prep cocktail.
And they weren't rip-off artists by any stretch of the imagination. But they did do a great job of offering private label goods that reflected their personal taste level as well as their ability to observe what was emerging and integrate it into their house brand goods. This was also the Britches inventory sweet spot that a starving kid like me could afford—when it was on sale. There was even a suit model at one time called the Rykken, named obviously for the point man who for many years for the guy behind the Britches of Georgetown clothing business…Mark “Puerto” Rykken.
I will never be able to convey this tale like Mark Rykken does. And I’ve asked him like a little kid who admonishes an adult to read the same bedtime story for the eleventh time...to “tell me the Ralph story again, Mark.” But here goes. It was announced to the Britches of Georgetown gang that “We are doing an evening event for Polo and Ralph’s coming.” Now this might have been before Ralph himself became an iconic part of the Polo brand but he was still a God to anyone in the business.
This was early enough in the Ralph ascendancy for people to still be agog at the rise of this man and his oeuvre. This was still the time when High WASPs were steaming, guffawing and chortling over this lifestyle interloper and appropriator from the Bronx. I’ll leave it right here regarding the Ralph electricity because I don’t want to steal the thunder from another story about when the little Trad shop I worked in finally “got permission” from Ralph to carry the Polo line.
So all of the peacock devotees of Ralph who worked at Britches had about two weeks to churn themselves into an absolute lather about what to wear when Ralph comes. I mean think about it. You are a clothes fanatic and you work in an incubator of great sartorial ideas, angles and offerings. You probably already own enough foppish goods to contrive some kind of “hey Ralph, look at me” statement that will surely lure him directly over to your twenty two year old ass as soon as he walks in the door. And you’ve got one change to get it right.
Rykken tells the story about all the guys just obsessing over what to wear for the Ralph event. After all, if Ralph likes you and likes what you have on, he might even recognize your talent from the get-go and hire you. Interestingly, that’s exactly what happened to the Britches employee who was charged with picking Ralph up at the airport and ferrying him over to Georgetown. That would be one Jeffrey Banks.
So the Britches guys preened and posed and coiffed and accessorized and augmented and foppified themselves to the point of caricature. Puerto Rykken shared that the Polo affectation bordered on hilarity. My mind’s eye sees a gaggle of Beau Brummels on steroids standing around the store awaiting Ralph’s entrance.
And enter he did. In an anti-fop contrivance that was riveting in its simplicity. Rykken said that Ralph crossed Britches’ threshold wearing a light gray flannel suit, white, straight point collar with no pin, a black grenadine tie, white linen pocket square and black monogrammed slippers. All of the Britches Preening Peacocks suddenly found themselves stewing in a broth of chagrined self-awareness.
Surveying the foppish sycophant-entreat of “look at me…look at me” …Ralph the Anti-Fop, just smiled. When Ralph came to Britches.
Onward. And yes I know it’s Wednesday. I’m on vacation. Shut the Fop up.