If you're an aficionado of outerwear, you've probably noticed jackets by Golden Bear Sportswear popping up in department stores and some of your favorite menswear boutiques. With a spike in special collaborations and a bump from some of the world's biggest retailers, a Golden Bear piece will probably find its way into your closet some time in 2014 – which is pretty remarkable, since the San Francisco-based brand has been making classic, Americana-inspired jackets for almost a century.
Schirley Zisman, the owner of Golden Bear, has a theory about what's made the brand so appealing over time: "San Francisco has a certain sophistication, yet it's also edgy. We're not flashy at all, like some other cities might be. I think that's like our garments." Admittedly, San Francisco's style has been in Golden Bear's lifeblood since the beginning: Back in the 1920s when the company first started, it made specialized, durable jackets for the Bay's dock workers and longshoremen; since then, Golden Bear has had the distinction of both inventing and perfecting some of the most classic American outerwear styles, from varsity and motorcycle jackets to classic bombers.
Golden Bear has also made a wide variety of custom jackets for some seriously high-profile clients. "We made a ton of wonderful things in the '70s," says Zisman. "Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Doobie Brothers, Hell's Angels – all the rock groups and their entourages would come to the factory and get custom jackets." Their wares have also been worn by Bill Clinton, San Francisco legend Willie Brown, and countless sports teams.
But now Golden Bear has really started to enter the mainstream market as well, hanging on the racks at Club Monaco, Barneys New York, and J.Crew. They've also done – and continue to do – special collaborations with smaller stores like British online shop Oi Polloi, San Francisco-based boutiques Black Scale and Unionmade, and chic Toronto concept store Nomad.
So if you happen upon a Golden Bear baseball or bomber jacket while you're shopping, we recommend you try it on. Think of it as your own slice of classic Americana, and hey, you'll be in good company.