Wednesday, July 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Fashion and history meet at Feather & Oar

The opening of new museums and businesses has encouraged grand visions of downtown Tacoma’s renaissance. Local figures anticipate a cultural and economic flowering that will place the city among the greatest of the West Coast. But this surge of vitality need not come at the expense of history. The new Tacoma will not be a gaudy, temporary city. It will not be an outdated embarrassment in a decade’s time. Its institutions should honor the beauty and worth of the past while planning the future.

Feather & Oar embodies such useful retrospection. The men’s clothing store came to Tacoma in November 2012 with the goal of bringing time-tested fashion to the modern age. The shop offers clothing from the 1940s to the early 1960s, eschewing fleeting trends and embracing classic, modestly priced styles.

The clothing collection’s aesthetic can be summarized as “East Coast Ivy League meets Pacific Northwest fashion,” said J.D. Elquist, 25, who owns Feather & Oar along with Drew Collier and Travis Pranger. Smart blazers share racks with sturdy wool jackets; patterned ties face a line of stylish-but-tough shoes. Every piece echoes Elquist’s theory of fashion. “Clothing should be two things: beautiful and functional.”

The three owners often advise customers before purchases, ensuring that the clothing is proper for the intended wearer. They make recommendations based on vocation, supplying outdoorsmen with light, breathable shirts and office workers with reinforced elbows. “I try to find what’s best for the customer, whether he’s a fashion-pro or a novice,” said Elquist.

Commitment to customers extends beyond the shop windows. Elquist wanted to know more about how to approach retail in Tacoma, so he met with Griselda “Babe” Lehrer, the founder of Lyon’s Apparel. “There is so much to be learned from someone who went from nothing to 15 stores,” Elquist noted. Lehrer touted community outreach as vital to a business’ survival. Taking her advice, Elquist brings Feather & Oar to as many events as possible. He is currently seeking a stand at Tacoma’s Farmers Market.

Feather & Oar displays only part of its collection. Pieces are sold according to the season, so the current dearth of lighter wear will vanish in March as spring/summer clothes claim the racks. A staircase along one wall descends into storage space, where the complete inventory rests. Elquist assures that the store possesses a large number of items, and more will be seen in the coming months.

Though Feather & Oar previously rented space from Tacoma Spaceworks, the trio of owners opened a new Market Street location on Jan. 22. The space is as much an honor to local history as is the store’s name. (“Feather” is a tribute to Native Americans; “Oar” a nod to European settlers.)

The shop’s 759 Market St. location used to house Scottfree Bail Bonds. The previous décor could not have been more different from the current. “It had a four-foot lower ceiling,” Elquist said of Scottfree. “The walls had six to eight feet of sheet rock.”

The previous appearance offended anyone with an eye for style, and Elquist felt that renovations must return the 102-year old space to its original state. (It began as a machine shop.) “We had a vision for the store and wanted to get it back to its bare bones.”

Elquist’s love of history informed his decision. Before moving to Tacoma about a year ago, he lived in New York City. The storied past of one of North America’s oldest settlements captivated him. He now is a member of the Tacoma Historical Society’s Board of Directors and hopes the store will encourage others to look beyond our time. “I’m trying to get younger people interested in our history,” he said.

Elquist’s ideal shop would have likely been unobtainable without the help of Tom and Debbie Pitzer. Elquist searched in vain for affordable contractors but had no luck until the Pitzers walked through the shop’s door. Elquist credits them with reshaping the store and is very grateful that the Pitzers allowed Feather & Oar’s ideal expression of the American past.

The store now inhabits a handsome space. Dark wooden floors and exposed brick walls predominate, lending the establishment a warm shadow of the industrial past. After renovation, Feather & Oar’s setting perfectly complements its clothing. The store has achieved a commendable synthesis of classic men’s fashion and historical importance. Elquist, Collier and Pranger promise to shape the future with a keen sense of the past. If their vision spreads, Tacoma will be timeless – a city to emulate and remember.

Feather & Oar is located at 759 Market St. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit or call (253) 448-9911.

Henry DeMarais is a junior at Tacoma School of the Arts. He is fascinated by literature, politics, and culture and hopes to write and speak professionally about the three.