How Coffee Became the Hottest Accessory (Literally) in Men’s Fashion

A new age of caffeinated consumerism is bringing fair-trade and fashion under one roof—are you ready for your #dailycortado selfie?

The hypebeasts at Supreme and a freshly pulled espresso at Gregory's Coffee (photos: Greg Babcock, Gregory's Coffee)

The hypebeasts at Supreme and a freshly pulled espresso at Gregory's Coffee (photos: Greg Babcock, Gregory's Coffee)

Philadelphia coffee roaster La Colombe must have known something when it set up shop at 270 Lafayette Street in April 2009. Anyone who’s been into the streetwear, sneaker, or skate scene long enough knows that the coffee shop’s second Manhattan location is directly next door to Supreme—a cornerstone of NYC streetwear culture that attracts long lines of dedicated hypebeasts who line the block for each one of the brand’s limited releases. Here was a captive audience who do a lot of standing around and like well-made things—prime consumers for La Colombe’s ethically sourced, small-batch coffees.

When Saturdays, another New York City-based clothing brand, launched its Soho flagship store in 2009, it took this connection to the next level: Instead of being next to a La Colombe, it brought the coffee roaster inside its shop, selling skillfully crafted lattes and allowing customers to enjoy them on a spacious, rustic patio in the back. Designed by Sean Ennis and Angus McIntosh, the space combines the relaxed feel of a surf shop with just enough coffee-shop modernism. Expensive clothes from the brand’s in-house line share shelf space with affordable Vans sneakers, Sex Wax, and yes, surfboards. It wasn’t long before a similar shop—the nearly identical Lost Weekend—cropped up in the Lower East Side in 2011.

coffee saturdays How Coffee Became the Hottest Accessory (Literally) in Mens Fashion

Photo: Saturdays

Saturdays isn’t the first time that artisan coffee merged with the world of fashionable men’s clothing—and it certainly isn’t the last. In the past few years, the emergence of coffee in the men’s lifestyle realm has boomed. When guys started to embrace the whole “made in America” aesthetic of selvedge jeans, work boots, flannel shirts, and denim jackets in the mid-2000s, it was only natural that they’d gravitate towards the kinds of things that round out that lifestyle. The movement opened their minds to the idea that they deserved “better” things. That included batch-made whiskey, vintage cars and motorcycles, cast-iron kitchenware, and especially coffee.

In the past few years, the emergence of coffee in the men’s lifestyle realm has boomed.

In May 2009, when the trendy Ace Hotel opened in a refurbished Hotel Breslin, it brought Portland’s cultish Stumptown Coffee Roasters in tow, along with its affected baristas with groomed mustaches and penchant for waistcoats. In fact, the whole place is a confluence of cool: If Ace Hotel guests feel more like shopping than sipping, they can choose between the minimalist-luxe Project No. 8, or Opening Ceremony, a New York boutique known for bold colors and maximalist fashion.

coffee jane How Coffee Became the Hottest Accessory (Literally) in Mens FashionCoffee and men’s lifestyle aren’t such strange bedfellows; the café racers of yore donned sick leather jackets and sped from espresso joint to espresso joint on bare bones motorcycles. Now, that same spirit is given a hipster spin at Jane Motorcycles in Williamsburg, which sells locally made selvedge jeans and hardy Lewis Leathers motorcycle jackets alongside cups of Parlor Coffee. “Come in for a cup of JANE,” reads the signage outside the shop, which opened in 2013. Inside, the minimalist aesthetic channels gallerists more than grease monkeys, but Jane does, in fact, sell choppers. If you buy one of the souped-up vintage bikes, you even get a free espresso to sweeten the deal.

When the Second Stop Cafe closed on Lorimer Street earlier this year, the gents behind Blind Barber took over the space, turning the back into an old school barbershop, but keeping the café façade in front. The new shop is a mirror of Blind Barber’s East Village location, where the two barber chairs in the front give way to a fully stocked bar and lounge hidden behind a sliding door.

“I think there were two reasons why we felt pairing the barbershop with a coffee shop worked,” says co-founder Jeff Laub. “To us, a barbershop wasn’t just a spot to get a cut. Meeting up with some friends and kicking around some ideas is just as natural while sipping an espresso as it is while sitting in the chair and getting a fade.” That idea of hanging out seems to be crucial to the intersection of menswear and coffee; new-school boutiques and barber shops yearn to be places of culture rather than mere commerce, and Blue Bottle lattes can help keep customers engaged even when they’re not getting a shape-up or shopping for a shirt.

coffee handsome How Coffee Became the Hottest Accessory (Literally) in Mens FashionToby’s Estate Coffee sits on one of Williamsburg’s busiest blocks, right next to Gentry, a boutique that caters to the type of discerning menswear nerd who’s intimately familiar with brands like Engineered Garments, Our Legacy, and Junya Watanabe. Just across Berry Street is GANT Rugger’s North 6th Street outpost, with an interior made to look more like a food’s kitchen than a haberdasher. It’s not uncommon to see well-dressed Brooklynites smoking cigarettes on the benches outside while nursing cold brews—a scene you could probably find floating around a hundred Tumblrs. That’s why the Brooklyn roaster doesn’t look so out of place in its new Flatiron location, within Club Monaco’s newest flagship store. Should you wish to buy an entire lifestyle with your latte, there’s a Strand bookstore and florist right behind the coffee shop, and of course, multiple floors of clothing.

The more people fell into a k-hole of artfully made denim and fair-trade beans, the more they started to care about both.

The more people fell into a k-hole of artfully made denim and fair-trade beans, the more they started to care about both. Before, it was hard to find a pair of raw selvedge denim under $150—now you can buy them freely at the Gap or Uniqlo. Looking for a great single-origin coffee brewed via Bee House Dipper? You can now find it at several locations in Midtown. As The New York Times recently pointed out, independent chains like Gregory’s Coffee have combined the mass appeal of Starbucks with the artisanal approach of small roasters. Accessible clothing and accessible coffee developed parallel to each other, but now both worlds are actively trying to breach that gap.

coffee gregorys How Coffee Became the Hottest Accessory (Literally) in Mens Fashion

Gregory Zamfotis of Gregory’s Coffee (photo: Jace Lumley for GQ)

TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie pounced on this new wave of democratized fashion and coffee, making a line of beans that carries on the brand’s “one for one” mythos. When you buy a pair of TOMS shoes, you give a pair to someone in need; purchasing a pair of sunglasses helps subsidize charities that focus in vision services; and now, getting one of these “premium coffees” provides clean water through “sustainable, community-owned water systems.” Gregory Zamfotis of Gregory’s Coffee enlisted downtown denim brand 3×1 to make selvedge aprons for some of his stores, and also served coffee at the Pop-Up Flea, an event put on by menswear blog pioneer Michael Williams that gathers brands and boutiques that cater to casual clothing nerds and men’s style editors alike. And since no hip trend is truly mainstream until Urban Outfitters brings it to the masses, coffee-as-lifestyle’s latest coup is undoubtedly the Intelligentsia Coffee poised to open up inside a “three-story mega Urban” in Herald Square.
coffee blindbarber2 How Coffee Became the Hottest Accessory (Literally) in Mens Fashion

Photo: Blind Barber

As with all things in the #menswear world, blogs and social media play a key role in fueling the trend. Sites like Coffee N Clothes ask users to post their best selfies combining stylish outfits with cups of coffee—a caffeinated analogue to the long-running Tumblr Coffee & The Newspaper, which juxtaposes covetable clothing with food and drink photos worth drooling over. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, the country’s eminent authority on all things fashion, even bestowed its first-ever award for the “Instagrammer of the Year” to Patrick Janelle, who prides himself so much on his daily cortado that he created a hashtag for it. A bigger indicator that specialty coffee is cooler than ever is Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s BAR ZINGARO, a project with the theme of “COFFEE, DRINKS, and ART” made in collaboration with Norwegian café Fuglen.

Patrick Janelle, the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s “Instagrammer of the Year,” has popularized the #dailycortado hashtag.

New York City provides the fertile ground for the coffee-as-lifestyle boom. For better or worse, it’s a place where what you wear, eat, and drink become shorthand for who you are in a densely populated, uncaring metropolis. “People, who care about how they dress and presents themselves also care about the type of things that they eat and drink during the day,” says Zamfotis. Coffee can also be tailored to any lifestyle, too. It’s a malleable vice that Soul Cycling health nuts, chain-smoking street style stars, and anyone who isn’t a morning person can all agree on. “It’s a no-strings-attached experience,” Zamfotis continues. “You don’t have to worry about being drunk. It’s very comfortable and social, and now the cultures are intertwining.”

Thinking about how to take your coffee isn’t as simple as adding cream or sugar anymore—now, you have to consider what to wear while drinking it. If you can afford to wear Acne button-down shirts and Common Projects sneakers, shouldn’t you also upgrade your Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to an equally luxe “Kyoto” iced coffee from Blue Bottle? As more and more brands bank on the fact that you will, it’s clear there’s a new age of caffeinated consumerism upon us. 

coffee gregorys2 How Coffee Became the Hottest Accessory (Literally) in Mens Fashion

Photo: Gregory’s Coffee

Jian DeLeon is Deputy Style Editor at Complex. You can find him drinking cold brews at Gentry, and tweeting about it here.

RELATED: Exploring the Uneasy Convergence of Food and Fashion

  • Cafe ear

    I usually just splash a little coffee on my tie and call it a day.

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