How to Dress for Fall, According to SF’s Welcome Stranger

The woman behind one of the city's best men's stores on the trends — and classics — you should be stocking up on

Welcome Stranger
Welcome Stranger

S.F. is a funny beast, sartorially speaking. It’s historically synonymous with denim-clad gold-miners and bellbottomed hippies — not a Zegna suit among them. It’s now dominated by an industry that birthed two separate but equally deleterious fashion philosophies: “I’m so good at my job I can show up to my meetings in shower sandals” or the “It’s not a hoodie, it’s a $2,400 cashmere hoodie.”

And then there’s the perpetually unavoidable climatological issues, says Catherine Chow, co-owner of Azalea and Welcome Stranger, a pair of high-end casualwear shops in Hayes Valley.  “The thought process behind getting dressed in the morning is a lot different in San Francisco versus New York or L.A. We live in very extreme microclimates: in the morning, the sky can be filled with fog. Then, once the fog breaks, the sun comes out — but by the late afternoon, it gets windy. You kind of have to be prepared for anything.” 

So — how to upgrade your style for fall, despite all this? Chow had some suggestions. 

What should a man upgrade? 

32″ Lean Dean Jean and Petit Standard Jean

A nice fitting pair of denim. That’s our number-one upgrade. If you’ve never invested in premium denim — or you’ve been wearing the same jeans and they’ve lost their form — it might be time to update to a pair of new jeans, which can be dressed up or down. 

Number two would definitely be shoes. And then underwear. That’s the foundation of how you start your day, a good pair of underwear that fits well. An ill-fitting pair might bunch over or it might create too much material in the pants. It’s true for everybody, men and women in general. We have underwear with a really well-fitted elastic band in a super-soft buttery fabric. Guys come in and then come back for it. 

Getting the right fit in jeans can be so tricky. How do you do it? 

Talk to someone who really specializes in denim. We know, just from your body type, what’ll work best. There’s a range of fabrics available — 100% cotton, 98% cotton with some Spandex, jeans with some stretch versus no stretch. A lot of our clients are wearing button-downs with jeans, or T-shirts with jeans — the only hard part is getting the fit right. 

What’s your favorite T-shirt in the shop? 

OD Bison Pocket T-Shirt

We love our OD Bison tees — it’s an 8-ounce cotton, the heaviest-weight cotton on the market. The cotton’s overdyed, so it won’t fade, and they come in a rainbow of colors. 

What are you paying for when you spend money on chinos, for example? 

Overdyed Chino

Higher quality of the fabric, which wears better and lasts longer. Quality rivets. The best quality zipper. 

What’s your favorite piece of style advice for guys? 

I think a lot of guys don’t know what confidence feels like. When we’re having guys get dressed, it looks great, but they’ll look at themselves in the mirror and they’re like, “I need to get a second opinion.” Sometimes you don’t know what makes you feel confident. You might feel good in something that doesn’t make you feel confident. And you might feel good — comfortable — in something that doesn’t make you feel confident. It’s really about learning to feel comfortable in what makes you look great, too. 

Tell me about five trends for fall. 

  • After several seasons of destruction and lighter summer washes, we’re seeing a return to cleaner, darker washes for fall
  • Look for faded blacks and dark grays
  • Brands like Naked & Famous, Hudson, and Neuw featuring twill materials in five-pocket denim fits
  • Twills in earth-tone colors
  • The emergence of wider-leg jeans for men, too. A wider leg and cropped shape continues to be on trend — skinny fits are slowly disappearing.

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