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Men's Style Gets an Upgrade With the Arrival of Sixteen Tons

Daniel Wylie, owner of 16 Tons men's apparel in Hampden - Arianne Teeple
Daniel Wylie, owner of 16 Tons men's apparel in Hampden - Arianne Teeple
Baltimore, whatever one might say about it, is not a town that lacks for style.

From the MICA kids to the club scene, from the independent galleries and performance spaces to the Glimpsed section over in the Sun, the city's diverse blend of sartorial self-expression is part of what makes it great.

So where do the looks come from?

The style-conscious woman has choices. There's Doubledutch in Hampden and Form right around the corner at Clipper Mill. Multiple options dot the landscape up north in Greenspring Station. There's Holly G in Mount Washington, Whimsy in Federal Hill...the list goes on.

The outlook's not nearly as bright, however, for men. While area malls provide a handful of basic options and there's always a JoS A. Bank here or a Men's Wearhouse there, Baltimore lacks a true men's shop in the personalized, curated tradition that makes the various women's boutiques so appealing (and successful).

Daniel Wylie is about to change that.

Later this fall (exact date TBD, but he's targeting late October) he'll launch Sixteen Tons at 1100 W 36th St. on Hampden's noted Avenue, in the building that once housed Atomic Books and, more recently, Squidfire.

Although the former carpenter doesn't have a formal background in retail (outside of a few years working out West at a vintage clothing store), style entrepreneurship comes naturally enough. His wife, Lesley Jennings, is the co-founder of the aforementioned Doubledutch boutique.

Almost immediately after launching that venture, she started hearing questions. "Why isn't there a version of this for men?" proved a common refrain. Wylie -- who has long nurtured his own love of style -- wondered the same thing. So despite the long odds that challenge any nascent small business venture, he decided to make it happen.

WIth Sixteen Tons he's setting out to provide, in his words, a "well-stocked shop where one can purchase clothing, outerwear, hats, accessories, select grooming products, and a variety of other gentlemanly needs and wants."

There's no question that, if done right, a shop fitting that bill will fill a need. In some ways, though, that's the easy part. Motive and opportunity alone don't automatically translate into a successful business venture. That's a fact that Wylie -- a slim 41-year old with a gregarious, down-to-earth demeanor -- keeps in mind.

"I can give you the history up to a point," he says over a few beers one recent evening, fresh off a day of building out the shop. "But as of fifteen minutes ago, when I was still laying down floor, it's all theoretical after that."

The theory hinges on a vision of an approachable retail destination ("I can't create some kind of specialty shop," he notes) stocked with a selection of stylish, wearable items that mostly can't be found elsewhere in the area. The aesthetic is manly but not macho, steeped in menswear traditions with a nod to timeless looks.

Such a vision may be new to Baltimore, but the template for success exists. Shops such as Blackbird and Hickoree's and style/culture sites like A Continuous Lean, The Selvedge Yard, and One Trip Pass have all found success mining much the same turf that Wylie seeks to claim with Sixteen Tons. For men's fashion as a whole, recent years have seen a marked shift towards classic (or, so-called "heritage") goods and an unpretentious, unfussy feel.

In other words, the core philosophy behind Sixteen Tons already works. It just hasn't come to Baltimore before now. The question at hand, then, is simple: will it work here?

"I think Baltimore is ripe for it," Wylie says. He's not, however, only taking an existing concept and transplanting it. He's fully aware of the need to tailor his efforts to the Baltimore audience. To that end he's keeping affordability in mind -- calling the $100 price point a kind of "magic number" -- and looking for a selection of pieces that offer both quality and long-term value.

In terms of the eventual in-store experience, he notes that customer service will be a top priority and that he feels it's important for men to find the environment comfortable. It's important, he says, that customers "not feel weird being there." Plans are also in the works to get the shop online.

Wherever the venture ends up, it's safe to say that any hiccups Wylie might encounter won't be due to a lack of passion. His excitement is palpable in conversation. He makes only passing mention of any difficulties he's faced in getting up and running, and any hint of negativity is fleeting at best. His belief in what he's doing is manifest. Perhaps most importantly, he's also keenly aware of the need to learn and adapt on the fly.

"It evolves over time," he says, "and that keeps it fresh."

The market will have the final word on whether Wylie's idea is a successful one, but for now, at least, all the ingredients are there.

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Photos by Arianne Teeple

- Daniel Wylie, owner of Sixteen Tons men's apparel in Hampden
- Jeans at Sixteen Tons men's apparel in Hampden
- A jacket at Sixteen Tons men's apparel in Hampden
- The Sixteen Tons men's apparel logo
- The Sixteen Tons men's apparel store in Hampden
- Sixteen Tons men's apparel on the corner of the Avenue (36th St.) and Hickory Ave. in Hampden
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