San Francisco is a more dressed-down city than its East Coast counterparts (Levi's and Gap are both based here, after all), but it has a lot more to offer than jeans and jackets. Though Union Square has become a hotbed of designer brands—Alexander McQueen, Carolina Herrera, Vera Wang and Valentino among them—and upscale department stores, it's in San Francisco's indie clothing stores that you'll discover the city’s distinct everyday style. In fashion terms, that translates to year-round scarves, bright prints, locally made jewelry and chambray. For sheer shopping density, three local strips are fashion-packed standouts: Valencia Street in the Mission, Hayes Street in Hayes Valley, and Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights. It's an oft-repeated San Francisco adage—or complaint, depending on who you're talking to—that the men here are better dressed than the women (notwithstanding the enclave of hoodie-clad coders, of course). While that premise may be debatable, it's inarguable that San Francisco has a wealth of well-appointed menswear stores. In fact, the revamped Saint Laurent boutique downtown stocks menswear only. There's a wardrobe-filler (and a wallet-emptier) here for every sensibility, whether you're the type of guy with a closet full of chambray or the sort who appreciates an impeccably tailored three-piece Italian suit.
The sister store of menswear purveyor Unionmade, Mill caters to a particular San Francisco archetype: The sort of woman who prefers her leather totes sans designer logo, who fetishizes indigo, and who favors wood soles over stilettos. The sunny, soothing store is Japanese inspired, all white walls, wood shelving, and deep blue accents. Though the clothes here aren't body-conscious—tunics, long knits, cropped trousers, midi skirts and dresses—they carry casually chic sex appeal. The assortment of labels skews particularly toward Japan and France, but mixes in stateside favorites like Billy Reid, Chance, Lauren Manoogian and Mociun. Defining characteristics on the racks are meticulous construction and luxurious materials, whether linen, raw silk, pima cotton, or alpaca. Don't miss the housewares at the register, including handcrafted ceramics, kitchenware and stationery.
This weirdly, wonderfully San Franciscan store isn't afraid to be irreverent: The best-selling Boob Bag is covered with a black-and-white print of breasts (the pattern is also splashed across tees, tanks and pillowcases). The in-house designed G&G collection often draws upon the talents of local illustrators, painters and designers, but never skews twee or kitsch. If you're not a fan of over-the-top prints, fear not—the store also stocks understated striped tanks, dresses and tees galore. Many of the shop clerks are also designers and artists themselves. Look out for leather sandals by sometime-shopgirl Rachel Corry, Jenny Pennywood bags and clutches by local fine artist Jen Garrido, and Ursa Major jewelry by recent New York transplant Kate Jones. The shop also doubles as a community hub for the surrounding Mission, regularly hosting art openings, launch parties and design workshops.
In a city where the fashion sensibility can seem to swing between schlubby fleece zip-ups and unabashed label flaunting, Rand + Statler finds middle ground. The third store launched by entrepreneurs Corina Nurimba-Hambali and Cathy Chow (the others are Azalea and Welcome Stranger), this spot is the most upscale of the bunch. R+S feels decadently roomy, with store-spanning racks flanked by accessory-packed tables. The shelves are laden with womenswear and menswear by New York designers like Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang, complemented by an influx of French and Japanese labels. (Call the look Kitsuné-meets-Comme des Garçons.) The focus is on quality staples: little black dresses, leather jackets, dark denim and oversized leather bags. The curated accessories cases bear jewelry both dainty and bold by designers like Gabriela Artigas and Catbird, and a gift-ready table near the entrance is stacked with products by culty Aussie skincare line Aesop.
Acrimony owner and buyer Jenny Chung has a distinct point of view—you're not going to walk into her store and find yet another iteration of the A-line floral dresses and chambray button-downs that are de rigueur at every other store. She relishes being the first to introduce her fashion-savvy regulars to a brand. That means annual trips to Scandinavia and the Netherlands to scout the latest collections from labels like Second Female, Ann-Sofie Back, and Henrik Vibskov. You'll find all the perennial runway trends with a twist here, whether playful prints, color blocking, or cutouts. The accessories are worth the trip alone, including Super sunglasses and standout, stackable jewelry. (If you're a fan of the baubles, check out Chung's Russian Hill sister store, No. 3.)
Situated just off Valencia's main shopping drag, this narrow store doubles as a local hangout and stopover for fashion emergencies. Owner Mira Pickett buys with an eye for the season's trends in a way that feels current, but not fleeting. You'll find flattering rompers, cutouts even a non-model can pull off, cheeky prints, and boho-cool jewelry. Though Pickett is an unabashed proponent of prints and color, you'll never be a fashion victim here: She's her shoppers' best stylist, often posting shots of her favorite looks on Instagram and the store blog, and relishes matching women with the ideal, occasion-appropriate dress.
This Castro mainstay is credited with creating the daily uniform of the San Francisco man—not entirely in jest. Its racks are filled with everything a casually stylish guy needs, including twill and waxed cotton jackets, nautical-stripe tees, hardy leather boots, jeans, and plaid and chambray button-downs. Everything is selected with an eye for craftsmanship and quality, from the Golden Bear blazers and Hillside ties to weekend-wear like Chimala terry cloth tees and Todd Snyder sweatshirts. The store is divided into two rooms, one side bearing denim, button-downs, shoes, and giftables, the other devoted to outerwear and accessories. A midpoint of sorts between the Castro and the Mission, it draws regulars from both neighborhoods, many who pop in to browse the book and zine selection, which includes aspirational lifestyle pubs like Inventory, Man of the World, Kinfolk, and Fantastic Man.
If Unionmade is the gold standard for the stylish SF guy, Welcome Stranger is a little more rugged. It's a store for the outdoorsy guy that wants to look put-together, but not like he's trying too hard. The clothes are scattered among vintage trunks and camping equipment, adding to the urban woodsman feel. The emphasis is on fit and functionality, with finds like Jungmaven T-shirts, APC jeans, Zig-Zag shoes, and Barbour waxed canvas jackets—plus accoutrements like Otter Wax to make your leather and suede last. This is a great spot for affordable eyewear from brands like Capital and Westward Leaning, especially since the demise of Warby Parker in nearby NoPa. The store clerks are unobtrusive—more of a friendly “hey, man,” greeting than a “what are you looking for?” pounce—but are knowledgeable about fabric, fit and styling. The shoppers here may not care about capital-F Fashion, but they still look stylish as hell.
Co-owners Michael Maher, Michael Armenta, and Barrett Purdum set up shop in 2008 focusing on one menswear staple—the button-down shirt—and set out to do it really well. Nowadays, you'll find their brand everywhere from indie stores in Oakland to New York (they did a shirting collab with Banana Republic a few years back), and the trio has made forays into small-batch collections of blazers, trousers, tees and jeans as well. But the small Mission store (which is conveniently situated beside coffee-lover's hangout, Sightglass) still churns out the best new iterations of the basic button-down. You'll find them in “sun-bleached” Italian denim, chambray cotton, rugged woven canvas, and lightweight gingham. These aren't flashy shirts with contrasting cuffs and dizzying prints: The versatile button-downs stick largely to tried-and-true dots, checks, stripes and solids. The brand's loyal client base may be its one downside: Sizes tend to sell out quick with each new release. Buy in-store, or risk things selling out online.
This store offers a mash-up of styles: a little bit nautical, a little bit surf, slightly buttoned-up, but with a dash of Mission plaid. If you're looking for solid basics, you'll find button-downs, henleys, wool coats, and jeans from brands like General Assembly, Alternative Apparel, Fidelity, and Scotch & Soda. (The selection of coats, jackets, and knitwear is particularly strong here.) But owner Robert Patterson. who also runs Voyager SF in the Mission, prides himself on importing high-quality international brands you won't find anywhere else in the city. Those looking to stretch themselves sartorially can get into printed shirts and knits by Parisian label Etudes, bomber jackets by Aussie brand Zanerobe, and Yuketen mocs and suede lace-ups by the Japanese-born Yuki Matsuda. Don't skip the tiny back room, packed with sale racks and gifts like handmade ceramics, alpaca throws, and cedar sake cups.
This is not the store for guys who live in jeans and T-shirts. It's a men's boutique for adventurous dressers and fashion followers (more L'Uomo than GQ) with disposable income to spend. Luckily, San Francisco has never been short on those. The white-walled shop is clean and modernist, with black and white photos of the current collections posted along the wall. The racks are draped with over 30 Japanese, Italian, German and American designers, many of whom are exclusive to the Archive in the Bay Area. That translates to finds like asymmetrical button-downs and crinkled leather jackets by Boris Bidjan Saberi, white calf-leather sneaker boots by Song for the Mute, luminescent parkas by Devoa, and charred acetate eyewear with mirrored lenses by Kuboraum. But the real specialty here is leather. Moto jackets, coats, and luxe hoodies come in reindeer hide, vegetable-tanned buck, crinkled lambskin, calf, and more.