Trunk Club helps the uncertain man fashion a wardrobe
BY MIKE THOMAS Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org March 3, 2013 8:53PM
Where: 325 W. Ohio
Info: (866) 406-2235;
Updated: April 5, 2013 6:02AM
Trunk Club, Chicago’s young and growing clothier for men, isn’t really a club at all.
There’s no initiation fee at the company’s three-floor headquarters on West Ohio Street, and monthly dues are nonexistent. Everyone is welcome.
Which doesn’t mean that Trunk Club is for everyone. It’s not.
Sure, Trunk Club team members tout their wide range of prices and client ages (early 20s to 80s, with 36 being the average). They also stress that it’s fine to look and not buy while picking the brain of your assigned style consultant (most are female) and enjoying an array of free booze offerings, from craft beer on-tap to wine and bourbon.
But how much can a person mooch and still be welcome? Likely answer: Not much.
And one more thing about the prices for threads that can either be purchased in-store or handpicked by a knowledgeable stylist and shipped (hence the “trunk”) free of charge to anywhere in the lower 48 states: They aren’t cheap. Think Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s or Haberdash for Men on North State — sans blowout sales. Designer denim starts at around $160. Better shirts hover around $150. Shoes are up there, too, with a pair of top-end, Italian-made di Bianco kicks going for nearly $900.
“It’s not that [other] stores don’t have the right products, it’s that guys don’t know how to navigate them,” says Michael Barkin, Trunk Club’s director of sales. All around him, in various nooks decorated by different apparel designers in exchange for advertising signage, stylists tell clients what looks good and what doesn’t. Millions of dollars in inventory is stashed on stainless steel racks in back and elsewhere on the property.
The middle of a sprawling seventh-floor working/shopping space, made from repurposed vintage bowling alley planks, is abuzz with sales associates communicating with potential members who’ve submitted online profiles (who they are, what they do, where they go). When guys can’t navigate correctly, Barkin continues, “they touch, they feel, they pull four things off the rack, they go to the dressing room and try it on, nothing fits, they leave frustrated.”
Trunk Club — begun in 2010, with $11 million in venture capital cash — aims to eliminate that frustration. The company hasn’t turned a profit yet, Barkin says, but hopes to, soon, via a combination of sales earnings and location/rent savings. Being tucked away in a relatively low-traffic area and well away from high-rent districts such as Michigan Avenue is a big part of how Trunk Club remains retail-competitive.
“I’m not very casually well-dressed, and they hook me up,” says Chicago-based international banker Casey Ryan, who’s in his mid-30s. He’s in the process of trying on a charcoal-colored cashmere blazer with side vents and plaid lining. His style consultants, he says, even convinced him to buy red sneakers.
“I come in, they have five different brands [ready]. I don’t have to go to Nordstrom. The prices are competitive, and they have all my sizes. It’s easy. I get out in an hour with everything I need for the whole season.”
At the opposite end of the budget spectrum is Max Kaufman, a student at Northwestern.
“I’m on a college budget, so I’m going to make it work somehow,” he says, wearing a colorful Gant sweater like one might spy in a ski lodge.
“We try to mix if up a little bit,” says stylist Jan Seale, “so guys don’t walk around wearing the same thing as everyone else.”
Personal trainers Sarah Ashenden, 30, and Tom Feeney, 36, won’t be dropping a bundle, either, whether on the $500 deep-crimson cashmere sweater under glass up front or on a pricey custom suit like the one Barkin is wearing. A couple of outfits is all they’re after today.
“They dress me better than I would dress myself,” Feeney says. Ashenden sits on a nearby sofa sipping white wine.
“Tom just doesn’t like to shop,” she says. “He said, ‘I wish I could just overhaul my entire wardrobe.’ So this is perfect.”