There isn’t much about “Dapper” DanMichael Batista that’s understated — including his self-styled nickname.
When the 37-year-old opened his gentlemen’s clothing shop — the Hidden Haberdashery — last spring, he stood on the sidewalk just off Nicollet Avenue S., waving a giant American flag to capture the attention of passersby. Dressed in tailored trousers, a crisp dress shirt, vest and pocket watch, Batista looked like he’d stepped right out of the 1920s Prohibition Era.
“I drove by and saw the rack of clothes and the mannequin,” said Pleasant Radford Jr., 32, of Minneapolis. “Then I saw him and knew I had to come up here and see what this guy was all about.”
Inside his second-story shop, located in the Blaisdell Mansion, Batista is trying to revolutionize the American male shopping experience with private appointments, personal styling, on-the-spot tailoring, even life coaching, among a curated selection of upcycled clothing inspired by the period that stretches from the 1870s to the 1930s.
“Men hate to shop,” Batista said. “Your clothes are the conversation you’re having with the world. Men have stopped putting energy into this part of their conversation. The way things were done, they can be done again with a new, modern twist.”
Plush couches, sparkling water and a fireplace give the 700-square-foot Hidden Haberdashery a salon ambience — a far cry from the mall’s J. Crew. In a culture where casual is still king, it’s a risky business model, but Batista believes men’s fashion is on the cusp of a renaissance.
“There’s a resurgence for sure,” he said. “American men are wanting more.”
Before meeting with a new client one recent morning, Batista adjusted his pink and purple floral-print tie in the mirror and slipped a blue tailor’s tape measure around his neck.
Batista wears the clothes, not the other way around. On this day he was clad in a pair of gray patterned trousers, plaid purple button-up, navy blue pinstripe vest and charcoal blazer.
Then there are the accessories: a tweed newsboy cap, pocket watch, showy belt buckle, colorful striped socks, leather saddle shoes and two brooches — one for the vest (a peacock) and one for the jacket (a silver flower).
With Batista’s confidence, somehow it all works.
He tidied the shop’s racks; the display tables neatly organized with items he’s found at secondhand and consignment stores, plus estate sales. The large Apple computer display next to his 1950s Necchi sewing machine is the only sign that the Hidden Haberdashery belongs in 2015 and not the home of a master tailor from yesteryear. Batista has attempted to breathe new life into the shop’s clothes by infusing them with new details — from the subtle fur collars he added to a collection of wool peacoats to the velvet kelly-green collar and elbow patches adorning a tweed blazer.
“This is the peacock,” he said referring to the green popped jacket collar. “In every other animal species, the men are these bright, bold creatures. American men are so drab and monotone.”
To help men “show their colors,” Batista talks to them about why their personal style matters. He likes to say he’s in the business of creating gentlemen. Here, Batista offers customers a sip of tea and lessons in the history of men’s fashion, plus referrals to a cadre of tailors, shoe shiners and barbers.
Anton Schieffer, 34, stopped by the shop recently in search of something to wear to a wedding. The Minneapolis man found a three-piece tweed suit, but the pants needed to be hemmed and Schieffer was afraid he’d miss his bus and be late to the wedding. Batista hemmed the pants, then drove Schieffer to the wedding himself.
“Normally I shop at Marshalls or the discount rack at Macy’s, but things never seem to fit very well — and you certainly don’t get that level of service,” Schieffer said. “I got a lot of compliments at the wedding and that felt really good.”
Second thoughts, first impressions
Batista isn’t alone in embracing suspenders and bow ties over hoodies and sneakers. A broader interest in fashion among men has led to increased spending. The U.S. menswear market reached $60.8 billion in 2013, up more than 5 percent from 2012, while women’s clothing trailed with a 4 percent growth.
Even so, Batista isn’t sure men are looking any better. Many guys continue to wear dress shirts that billow at the sides and pants that twist and tug in unflattering ways.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Curtis Webb, 57, a longtime Minneapolis tailor and custom clothier who has been teaching Batista the skill of tailoring.
“He is bringing a much needed service to our community,” Webb said. “So many of the younger generation has to be taught to dress for success. A shirt is just a shirt unless you wear it proper.”
While custom men’s clothing shops are growing, the price point can be a barrier to entry. Batista wants to get around that.
While working as a social worker in Syracuse, N.Y., he learned that you don’t need to spend a lot to make an impression. He used to help men ages 18 to 21 prepare for job interviews by dressing them in secondhand suits.
“Something amazing happened,” he said. “They began to transform right before my eyes. All of a sudden, people were saying hello and nodding at them.”
Soon afterward, Batista started his image consulting business in New York. In 2013, he moved the business to Minnesota with his wife to start a family.
Last month, Batista began a new mentoring program. He will partner with local nonprofits to mentor one young man each month and buy them a new wardrobe, including tailoring and a haircut.
“My dream is to have no barrier to entry for creating a dynamic wardrobe,” he said. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
A personalized experience
Customers shouldn’t assume they’ll leave the Hidden Haberdashery dressed like a gent from the Edwardian Era — unless they want to, of course. Batista tries to personalize each interaction, whether his clients are high-powered stockbrokers, struggling artists or grooms who want to feel just as special as the bride does.
“I prefer a subtle classiness rather than in-your-face style,” said client Matt Horstman, who recently met with Batista to start the process for a custom upcycled suit for his wedding in July. “I wore a colored vest to my prom in the ’90s and that kind of ruined it for me.”
Horstman, who works for the Minnesota Historical Society, doesn’t want to outshine his bride. But, he said, it’s the most important day in his life, too, and he should be dressed appropriately. “We always hear that the bride is the center of attention the entire evening and the groom is just kind of there,” Horstman said. “If we’re really equal, we should look good together.”
The “Dapper DanMichael” experience seems to give men an air of aplomb.
“My confidence has grown since I started coming here,” said Radford, who’s made several trips to the Haberdashery since he first saw Batista waving that American flag. “I definitely get a lot more compliments. I feel great.”
That’s what it’s all about, Batista said, as he rose from his sewing machine to show off his latest custom upcycled creation. An old Dayton’s tweed cricketeer blazer was brought to life with a bright burgundy quilted recoil pad sewn by Batista himself.
“Gentlemen used to dress up for everything, even hunting and football,” he said. “There was no time that a gentleman wasn’t a gentleman. It might be a little extreme, but I think we can extract some richness from that way of life.”