“I could play football in my suit,” says Sid Mashburn, owner of the eponymous Atlanta menswear shop. I doubt that, I think to myself, but if anyone can help me understand the allure of the Southern gentleman, it’s him. We’re waiting in line for $3 tacos, which is not what I expect from a man who sells $8,000 suits and owns a third of a stuffed giraffe. (The head and neck are mounted on a wall in his store above a collection of restored vintage timepieces.) He’s wearing a navy suit, his favourite, a made-to-measure wool fresco number that fits just so. A green floral Ferragamo tie is the perfect pop of requisite colour, and his hair looks windswept, even in Atlanta’s still heat.
Mashburn tells me that a friend took him for tacos to introduce him to the area in West Midtown, a former meat-packing centre that’s now a mecca for hip foodies and shoppers. (His wife, a former fashion editor and pillar of the Mashburn empire, opened her own womenswear shop here in 2010.) “We didn’t want to open in a mall or be next to a chain retailer. We wanted to be next to good food and local businesses,” he says. Mashburn chose well: I revisit the neighbourhood several times during my trip, each time discovering something new, including a mini-putt course next to the patio at the Optimist. The restaurant’s playfulness, with its colourful chairs strewn on the green, is part of its Southern charm. “It’s about the surprises,” Mashburn says, as he slides his off-menu favourite, a Mexican custard dessert, toward me.
Mashburn’s store is merchandised like an impeccably kept closet that doubles as a rule book for Southern style. There are basic guidelines, Mashburn reveals, which have mostly to do with tailoring (no one wants to see a man’s curves) and avoiding black (it’s too severe). “Manners play a role; you dress for your surroundings,” he says. Knowing what to wear and how to wear it is an integral part of dressing up without looking like you’re playing dress-up. Mashburn’s double monk-strap shoes remain undone for the duration of my visit, and I spot one of his bronze hand-cast oyster-shell belt buckles on the young man who gives me a tour of the Atlanta History Center.
With a diverse collection of ready-to-wear, made-to-measure and custom-made apparel that bears Mashburn’s own label, there really is something for everyone. “We’ll have André 3000 in the store at the same time as bank CEOs,” he explains. By curating sartorial thoughtfulness that’s accessible for all, he makes it easy for men to build a versatile wardrobe. The blue blazer, he says, is a must. “It’s like your purse. You carry your phone and your wallet in it, and you can wear it to dinner or to a cocktail party at the pool.” And since fit is the key to looking the part, you can watch Mashburn’s expert tailors hem and sew while you shop. Their workspace is a focal point, positioned where men get measured for the perfect suit – what Mashburn calls bringing the heart of the store to the forefront.
As we leave the taqueria, Mashburn nudges me. “Look to your left,” he whispers. “That man has got it together.” Anywhere else, wearing a pinstripe suit with a black and yellow bow tie while tucking into a heaping plate of cheesy burritos would be like wearing a tuxedo to a job interview, but here, it’s Southern flair at its best. “Every day is a special occasion,” says Mashburn.