Outside the corner storefront on Brazos Street in downtown Austin, a modern city bustles. Inside however, the pace slows and the attire for sale is decidedly old school.
Here at Bykowski Tailor & Garb (formerly known as Dandy’s), the store is busy with patrons like me who seek to honor the past by dressing in clothes that harken back to a simpler time when men’s clothing was custom made and every man dressed in his best. Bykowski Tailor & Garb is a real life haberdashery that operates in the traditions of old.
While I wait, Chris and his wife Wendy are busy helping the other customers.
“Can I get you something to drink?” asks Wendy in passing. She first offers water but I oblige her when she suggests a rocks glass of whisky. It’s four in the afternoon and the spirit is smooth and appropriate as I browse the store waiting my turn for a fitting. While I browse, old-time music plays and is a perfect companion for the laid-back atmosphere of the store.
This place is how I imagine my grandfather must have shopped. He was born in 1905 and would have been in his suit wearing prime back in the day when some of Bykowski Tailor & Garb’s designs were commonplace. One rack sports hats and I try to imagine which one would look best on me once my custom sack suit is complete. On another rack are bow ties, watch fobs, beard oil, and other accoutrements designed to make men look and feel like men. Peppered throughout the store are mannequins dressed in designs crafted by the pair.
The clothes look great.
When it’s my turn I sit down with Chris and he provides me with a look-book that gives me an idea of styles and fabrics from which to choose. The process is daunting for me as I’ve never done this before. Chris and Wendy however, make it easy and guide me through the selections. For them, this store and the clothing styles in which they produce are a labor of love.
“This store is an extension of our lifestyle and so it started organically from the aesthetics in our home and daily dress, the arts we enjoy, and our values,” says Wendy. “Chris and I are both creatives and we enjoy dressing and creating clothes for our lifestyle and are particular about the process and the end result.”
As Chris takes copious measurements of me, he says that their level of detail is important for a custom suit to fit properly. He knows his stuff as he’s been producing this authentic style of clothing for a while now.
“I’ve been dressing with an Edwardian/Depression/Rustic elegance since 2003,” he says. “I pieced garments and accessories together from thrift stores and would alter them, change out and add buttons and stitches to make them appropriate for the style I wanted.”
Chris says everything came to fruition when he and Wendy were shopping for Edwardian style clothing for their wedding and couldn’t find anything suitable. As natives of Southern California, the two moved to Texas after Chris had visited Austin with his band. When their Southern California wedding was over, they spent some time traveling until they ended up back in Texas.
At first they started displaying their wares from a pop-up shop at festivals and markets before opening up a brick and mortar storefront. After a tremendous response, they soon blossomed into a lifestyle brand that handcrafts everything a gentleman could want from head to toe in formal, business/classic, rustic, and casual wear.
Along the way, things haven’t been easy but they have been rewarding. Being at the forefront of the handcrafted renascence and starting their business during a recession was daunting. Menswear, Chris says, was stagnant until about 2012 when the art of the handcrafted suit began it’s resurgence. Luckily, Bykowski Tailor & Garb have been pioneers in their field and have helped influence the reemergence of the haberdashery.
“We are about helping you look your best on your worst day, not just dressing up for a special occasion,” says Wendy. “Most people aren’t experienced in shopping or having their style figured out for them and their body type.” Style, she says, isn’t just about the fit. It is also about having something with individuality that fits you well and your lifestyle.
That’s exactly why I made the 350 mile trek to be here and get fitted for my own suit.
After 45 minutes of measuring and style selection, I am done and we sit in the corner and get to know each other better. The couple is affable and engaging and this place is comfortable throwback to a simpler time. While the world rages outside, inside it is 1920.
It is abundantly clear to me that the couple loves what they do.
“There have been beads of actual blood, sweat, and tears in our budding empire to not do this for the love,” Chris admits. “We’re about style, not trend. We don’t play dress up, we’re in this garb and mindset every damn day and can’t get enough of it.”