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Tabor And Rethinking The Conventional Wisdom About Male Shoppers

Men hate to shop.

It is one of those truisms that’s so ingrained in our collective consciousness that it’s now the perfunctory stereotype on most bad sitcoms: The bored husband or boyfriend — trapped, uncomfortable and holding a purse while his lady tries on countless outfits and asks for opinions he doesn’t have (or doesn’t want to honestly give). The somewhat clueless guy then wanders off to the men’s section and is talked into a series of ill-conceived fashion choices by a nice-looking but rather unscrupulous female sales associate.

Which has made the era of the Web an excellent time to be a store-phobic male shopper.

When everything can be had online at a click — and anything that doesn’t work out can be sent back with another — the golden age of the American man seemed sure to follow. With luck, an entire gender could opt out of physical retail entirely and never run the risk of missing a game or buying a royal purple silk shirt ever again.

Which is why Laura Vinroot Poole was hesitant to get into the menswear game, despite an impressive track record in boutique fashion. Almost 20 years ago, Poole opened Capitol — her flagship women’s clothing shop in Charlotte, North Carolina — and she’s been drawing rave reviews ever since with her combination of cutting-edge (and rarely known in the U.S.) high fashion labels and a “down home” shopping experience. Poole has been profiled by The New York Times not once but twice — first in 2009 and again earlier this year on a buying trip in Paris.

But despite being recognized as one of the best nationally in boutique retail, she just wasn’t sure she was ready to expand her repertoire to men.

“I was afraid of opening a store for men,” she noted in an interview, “because I didn’t think I could understand them.”

But her regular customers — of which there are thousands — pressed the issue for almost a decade, and Poole began some early experiments with pop-up shops. She decided that selling menswear wasn’t necessarily about converting hordes of males customers.

“In the South, women tend to shop for their husbands,” she says. “So, I was still selling to many of my regular customers. And I understand them very well.”

And so, the concept for Tabor — her clothing store for men, also located in Charlotte — was born. With the help of her husband and architect Perry Poole — who his wife describes as “the best-dressed guy in the room” — she sought to design a new model for a Southern gentlemen’s shop that would be welcoming both to women and to men, even men who are not entirely accustomed to personalized shopping.

“Most men’s stores are so dark and heavy,” noted Perry Poole. “We wanted a place that felt like a beach shack.”

A beach shack, with light wood flooring, bright natural light, a book cafe serving complimentary locally roasted gourmet coffee and an art gallery headed by a local art collector specializing in a rotating assortment of national and local photographers.

OK, so maybe shack isn’t the best description.

But the laid-back but high-end feel of Tabor is having the desired magnetic effect on both women who shop for their men and men who are realizing that there is a lot to be said for shopping for themselves.

Especially when one is going to shop at a place like Tabor during an event which features a pig roast, a beer tasting, a live performance of folk music and a meet and greet with the local designers and artisans behind the goods on display.

Such was the appeal that pulled 31-year-old Kevin Wright into Tabor’s orbit. The investment banking associate hated shopping in-store but was not entirely enamored of the guess-and-check method for clothing purchases the Internet offered him. He discovered Tabor quite by accident, through a friend, and was won over by the Bloody Marys, custom fitting and ability to get what he wanted with minimal time spent.

“Designers know what really fits me with minimal alterations,” he said. “It’s been a godsend.”

Poole noted that though men are widley heralded as anti-apparel shopping, the reality is they want their clothes to fit properly as much as anyone else does.

“Men want to pop the hood,” she said. “They want to understand the provenance, the history.”

Tabor is not alone in the movement to develop a personalized masculine apparel shopping experience nor is the effort the exclusive province of high-end clothiers. Carson Street Clothiers of New York has staged events for a wide range of labels, including ready-to-wear lines featuring cable knit and denim prominently.

The point is not only to create high-end experiences but also to establish specialized contexts wherein shopping is desirable.

“Male shoppers may want efficiency, and part of that is speed. But buying something that fits … is also an important part of the experience. Buying clothes that don’t fit isn’t very efficient,” Poole noted.

And it also isn’t much fun.

But Tabor and an emerging class of retailers building brighter shopping features, even for the perhaps once-reluctant shopper, are trying to make something that accounts for both.

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