If you’ve lived in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or Detroit in the last few years, you know the cities are in a bit of a Rust Belt renaissance. Having grown up in Western Pennsylvania, it’s been surprising to see once depressed-looking cities take on a new life as entrepreneurial and tech hubs fueled by an economic injection from Silicon Valley, hospitality groups, and 30-somethings looking for more wallet-friendly real estate. This, in turn, has put cities like Pittsburgh back into the national cultural conversation in ways that haven’t happened since the oil and steel boom of the 20th century. And that modern conversation includes Rust Belt men’s fashion.
Defining Rust Belt Menswear
There are certain assumptions about what menswear looks like across the Rust Belt. Having grown up here, I can say that many of those assumptions are correct. Before the spread of the internet, many of these communities were relatively culturally isolated. Television ideals showed an unattainable lifestyle that depressed more than excited many of my peers. Here, many men lean toward a utilitarian style of clothing worn by their factory-working grandfathers for durability and warmth. Simply put, it’s harder to justify the high price of a cashmere sweater or wool blazer, especially when limited by hard economic realities.
And then there’s the status quo. Conservative areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan make it hard for many men to explore any outward expression of style. This expression, for many, is seen as a signifier of being gay, which automatically becomes a deterrent for adventurous style.
These, among other, factors mean that fashion in the area is often relegated to the most basic of pieces: hoodies, denim, flannels, and boots. A Steelers or Browns jersey probably is in a guy’s closet too (these are very sports-centric cities, and fanfare often dictates fashion).
Yet the menswear that defines the modern Rust Belt is changing. Whether it’s the influx of newcomers, an overall economic boost in the area, or if the Rust Belt is just the last terra incognita of menswear, who knows? Regardless of why, I’m happy to see places like these three stores take on the mantle of offering new options and opportunities for men to dress and express themselves a little better.
It’s not often one can find a single brick-and-mortar store that stocks brands ranging from Beams Plus to Harago, or Howlin’ to Gitman Vintage. But Vestis, a shop in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, has a bit of everything. Owner Phil Romagni’s international taste and discerning eye make it easy to find something on every visit, and its online shop gives a flavor of Vestis’s offerings that can’t even be found in larger markets like New York.
My pick from this shop is most definitely the car coat in collaboration with Blluemade. A generously cut garment in Belgian tweed, I love the vibrant blue that still feels totally versatile for most cold weather occasions.
Mello and Sons
Right down the street from Vestis you’ll find a haven of vintage denim and other great finds at Mello and Sons from owner Neal Mello. This option hits that perfect balance of the old and new demographics that seem to be flooding Pittsburgh these days, with options for people who are just looking for that perfect 501 like their dad had alongside things for the menswear nuts who are deep-diving into the trove of vintage RRL that Mello stocks.
I particularly love this vintage Sears chore coat. It shows the cyclical nature of fashion (chore coats are everywhere these days) while still having a rugged edge that can only be achieved through years of wearing and loving a garment.
William Frederick is based in Cleveland and designs, develops, and manufactures its garments there with a studio space for customers to shop. Instead of stocking other brands, WF creates workwear-inspired garments that pay homage to the Rust Belt while putting a decidedly fashionable spin on its collections. With pieces that can be worn as separates or a set, either dressed up or dressed down, William Frederick understands the idea that utility fashion doesn’t have to be boring or poorly made.
I really love the black and tan gingham jacket and house pant set that could carry me through any occasion to wear a suit, but with an interesting silhouette that plays with form and function beautifully.