In six short years, Epaulet New York has become one of the essential men’s shops, driven by its excellent in-house lines of casual wear and suiting, plus impeccably chosen (and frequent) collaborations with sites and brands such as Alden, Mark McNairy and Styleforum. The Epaulet line is entirely USA-made, mashing up artisanal Americana (denim, army jackets) with British tailoring. Mike Kuhle, 37, is the founder, and we spoke with him about how social media is reshaping menswear, the one wardrobe piece that will always make a good impression, and more.
Residence: Brooklyn, New York
Hometown: Hicksville, Long Island. It’s a pretty standard suburban town with a lot of strip malls and small parks. My parents owned a video store there, so I had a very early start in the retail business. Hicksville is Billy Joel’s hometown as well. I heard a lot of Billy Joel growing up.
Describe your style in three words.
Clean, modern and tailored. Clean: I like clothing to be somewhat minimal, with only one or two key features doing all of the talking. Modern: We update our styles to move along with what our customers are looking for. We’re always working to see new pieces through our lens. Tailored: Fit is really crucial for me, and everything should be shaped in a flattering and intentional way.
Looks from Epaulet New York’s Fall 2014 lines
Are there any style combinations that you dislike?
[Laughs] Yeah, there’s plenty. 1) Bootcut jeans worn with anything; 2) really formal suit jackets worn with jeans; and 3) French-cuff shirts worn untucked and paired with casual trousers.
Who had the biggest influence on your style?
Music was my early source of style inspiration. I was addicted to MTV as teen, so I emulated the styles of many of the early ’90s groups. I wanted to dress like Pearl Jam one year, and then Public Enemy the next, and then Biohazard after that. Eventually I joined a ska band and found my calling in mod and rude boy fashion, which has been pretty much my thing for most of my adult life. That said, lately I draw most of my influence from social media. And really, I get a lot of it from our customers. I follow them on Instagram and Styleforum, and it’s incredible to see how many of these guys wear and combine the things that they buy from us. I find myself emulating their fits all of the time. Social media has made our corner of the menswear world really dynamic.
If you could reclaim one piece of clothing from your childhood, what would it be?
I never bought a high school jacket. I also didn’t play sports in high school, so buying a varsity jacket at the time didn’t make much sense, but I wish that I had one. I remember that the leather was really fantastic quality.
Name a celebrity whose style you admire.
Paul Weller, the “Modfather” of the Jam and the Style Council will always be the man that I admire most for his personal style. Other standout guys: Justin Theroux, Jimmy Fallon, A$AP Rocky, Nick Kroll and Aziz Ansari.
What are three pieces that every man should have in his closet?
A perfectly fitted navy sportcoat, grey worsted trousers and an automatic watch.
What is one thing guys can do to improve their style?
Forge a relationship with a local tailor. I can’t stress this enough. I meet so many guys who would rather get a root canal than have an alteration done. If you want to be well-dressed, quality clothing is a must. Fast fashion and cheap fashion is crap, and we all know it. The clothes are designed to look good on a hanger, and they stretch out, wear out and age horribly. But not everyone has the funds to buy higher-end items at full price. Here’s where your tailor comes in. You can shop for quality secondhand or off-price items on eBay, Styleforum or Reddit. And if they don’t fit perfectly—they probably won’t—a tailor can work their magic on them. Right after you meet a tailor, go looking for a good cobbler.
What stores and websites do you frequent?
For menswear-related things, I’ll look at Styleforum.net, Reddit (/r/mensfashionadvice), Selectism, Complex, Die Workwear and Instagram. In terms of stores: Brooklyn Circus, Unionmade, Paul Stuart, Leffot, Reed Space, Extra Butter and Mohawk General Store.
What is one thing that’s always worth splurging on?
Good footwear. I wish that I could tell the 22-year-old Mike Kuhle not to buy all of the garbage shoes that I did back then. Only buy quality shoes and boots. They’re more comfortable, better looking, longer wearing, and absolutely worth the money. After that, a good leather jacket.
What trend would you like to see disappear?
Huge, enormous, garish watches. Every year I think to myself, “This has got the be the LAST year for this.” And every year some dude is wearing a watch the size of small pancake and trying to fit it under his shirt cuff. This has to run out of steam sooner or later!
When you want to make a good impression, what do you wear?
I like to say that a well-fitted sportcoat is the “Little Black Dress” for men. There aren’t many items that can absolutely transform your appearance like that. As much as I admire great jeans or a really cool shirt, only a tailored jacket will bring a man into a perfect state of presentation. Just like a flattering and beautiful Little Black Dress can do for a woman. Wear a well-fitted sportcoat and you will impress people, guaranteed. And you can tailor the other pieces (shirt, trousers or jeans, shoes or boots) to be more casual or formal as needed.