Discovering Vintage San Francisco

Goodbye to a Real Standup Guy

Wilkes Bashford store, Union Square, San Francisco, 2015

When you write about old things, whether people or places, you accept the risk that they may go away. Before or after publishing or a few years down the line. Memorializing the old makes one keenly aware of the “memorial” and “in memoriam” potential of their character.

And it has happened with this book. Places have closed their doors forever (Roosevelt Tamale Parlor) or gone to new owners, leaving the family stewardship they’ve known for decades (Alfred’s). And one person, one remarkable character, a legend in his time and in the fashion fabric of the city, has died.

Two months ago today Wilkes Bashford departed this world after a reportedly short bout with prostate cancer. Wonderful articles have been written about his life and legacy (the New Yorker, SFGate, the Chronicle, the New York Times, his best friend and former mayor Willie Brown even penned his thoughts…); all recommended reading. When I met him for the book, a year and a half ago, I was extremely pregnant, and extremely grateful for his kindness and warmth – the offering of water and a private place to eat my lunch by his staff; the way he led me through the bowels of his eponymous and fancy store in Union Square down to his cozy, simple office in the basement, introducing me to his latest dachshund Duchess – and impressed that Duchie immediately welcomed me into the fold. “She didn’t even bark at you!”

I will forever remember the tall stack of invitations that sat on his desk – to the city’s greatest social gatherings and philanthropic events, from the super elite to the more modest – him touching the stack proudly and humbly, saying he tries to go to everything. The way that their central presence on his desk (and sheer volume) spoke to his character, to his connections, and to his genuine passion for causes quite touched me. I will remember his style, his class that felt from another era but represented the height of the best-dressed today. And I will remember how excited he was for me to be writing this book, eager to connect me with his friends in the industry to help fill out the story of the city.

My essay in the book refers to him as a “real standup guy,” because he struck me as exactly the kind of consummate tailor in a mafia movie, but without any sinister connections or negativity attached – a man of ultimate distinction and high regard, someone you loved immediately no matter who you were. A man I will always admire for the way he brought style to the city and for his fervent loyalty to good friends. I’d like to believe now he’s surrounded somewhere by all of his beloved former pups, and long deceased icons of style that inspired him as a young man, one who would one day make a name for himself.

Cheers to the classics. Cheers to Wilkes.