Ralph Lauren shuttering its Rugby label may come as a collective sigh of relief for the menswear cognoscenti of guys who are simply too cool for this planet, but for me, it holds a sentimental place in my heart. Growing up in Washington, D.C., I spent the majority of my college years in Georgetown, the city's premier shopping destination. Five years ago, there was no SuitSupply, no rag & bone, no expansive Brooks Brothers store. For me, there was Urban Outfitters, City Sports, J. Crew before it was cool and local chains like Commander Salamander and Up Against The Wall—akin to New York City's Yellow Rat Bastard, places where you could get gear that was very of-the-moment, but fueled by trends rather than actually being cool. There was also Smash!, a retail bastion of DC's ever-present post-punk legacy, where you could readily buy LPs and Bad Brains T-shirts.
Rugby opened in 2007 on Wisconsin Avenue. The short-lived RRL store opened next door, evicting a mom-and-pop vintage jeans store that sold 501s from the '80s and vintage tees for way more than they were worth. What made this Rugby location particularly special was that it had a café next door. And oh man, one of the things I miss about living in D.C. is eating their burger and molten mac and cheese. Across M Street, further up Wisconsin, nestled the Ralph Lauren store proper. It was this weird trifecta of price points and aesthetics, but it was ours. I remember reading an article that Valet's Cory Ohlendorf wrote for The Washington Post essentially divvying up the three different sub-brands. I grew up wearing Ralph Lauren. In sixth grade I wore Polo Pony pocket tees and golf jackets with Levi's SilverTabs and crisp, white Nautica sneakers. I suppose Rugby came into my consciousness around the same time the whole "Americana" thing was starting to take shape, but what drew me to it wasn't blogs or watching trends, it was music.
Around 2008 Vampire Weekend really started blowing up, and to me that signaled a shift towards more buttoned-up and proper styles than the days of The Strokes parading around in toothpick skinny jeans, beat-up leather jackets and dirty white Chuck's. Yes, these trends had all existed before, but this was years before I had ever done my homework on subcultures and everything was so new to me. Right now, rap has returned as the undeniable cultural force driving fashion, but back then indie rock gleaned more towards the rhythmic and danceable rather than today's hypnotic melodies and soft-sighing crooners. (I'm looking at you, The xx and Bon Iver). Before A$AP Rocky was shouting out Raf Simons on "Pe$o," I was amused by references to Louis Vuitton and Benetton in "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa." Their popularity and my own conscious decision to stop wearing T-shirts all the time was a serendipitous moment for my personal style.
It was a very accurate microcosm for the diverse style that D.C. was coming into at that time.
When I think of Rugby, I think of the formative years of when I was learning the in's and out's of menswear. It was a good brand to do that with. It wasn't burdened by years of heritage and tradition. Sure, Brooks Brothers had recently released its Black Fleece collection by Thom Browne, but it'd be another couple of years before they debuted their "extra-slim fit" oxfords and younger, collegiate-themed line. J. Crew had yet to debut its 484 fit jeans. And Ralph Lauren's own custom fit still didn't quite fit me. Rugby kind of became to Washington, D.C. what Polo Sport was in the '90s—trendy, but not really meant to last. You wore it until down the line, something better came along. For many of the city's urban youth, the Georgetown Rugby Store was certainly the spot to shop at. One of my good friends, heavy metal guitarist Tosin Abasi, and I would often just go down there whenever there was a good sale—and there were plenty. Before he worked as Rugby's Concept Designer, Unabashedly Prep blogger F.E. Castleberry often flew there from Texas to shoot street style. The clientele was this weird mix of prep rebels, really well-dressed black dudes and regular college kids.
It's safe to say that eight years after its inception, there's simply other labels and designers doing "anti-prep" better than Rugby ever was, but I can't say I won't miss the Georgetown store. It was a very accurate microcosm for the diverse style that D.C. was coming into at that time. You'd have guys come in wearing oxfords, blazers and bowties, as well as dudes buying polo and rugby shirts to coordinate with their Foamposites and Nats hats. No, it wasn't the pinnacle of high fashion, and no, the world is not losing one of its great brands, but it will always remind me that when it comes to learning how to dress yourself, everybody starts somewhere.