The way men dress is often less a product of choice than of proximity. That's not a problem in a city (think: Portland, New York, and Austin) that offers choices, but it can lead to less than spectacular results. Until a few months ago, Sioux Falls had little to offer men beside Jos. A Banks, Men's Warehouses, and other box stores full of boxy suits. You could find a pair of stonewashed jeans at Buckle in the Empire Mall, but until Gabrielle Spangler opened South Dakota's first true menswear boutique on stately South Phillips Avenue that was about the size of it. Now Spangler, a 22-year-old entrepreneur, is hoping to blur the line between casual and formal while saving the city's best-dressed men a lot of money on gas.
"We would make it a point to travel to Omaha or Minneapolis, neither of which we would describe as fashion capitals," says Bobby George, a local tech entrepreneur of the days before Man Code. "Over the past few months, I've literally had handfuls of friends, colleagues and acquaintances ask me where I travelled to find such a cool shirt, or jacket. Needless to say – and often to their surprise – I tell them I found it at Man Code."
George can now proudly announce that he shops in downtown Sioux Falls (with his brother-in-law so they don't match). He says he's impressed with the store's curation – Spangler is big on Grayers, Rodd & Gunn, and Buffalo David Bitton – and that it makes sense that style has arrived with the economic boom that has seen the city grow by almost 100,000 over the last several years. George says the city, which he grew up in and abandoned for London, no longer feels as "outdated" as it once did: "There are so many things that haven't been done in Sioux Falls, and that are being done for the first time."
"The brands I carry we're accessible online and in other cities, but now they can get them close to home," says Spangler. "There are a lot of women bringing men in and a lot of men asking for permission to buy stuff. These guys just aren't used to shopping."
As the sole Man Code employee (aside from her dog Macy), Spangler spends at least 40 hours a week behind and in front of the counter, helping men choose outfits and women choose outfits for men. She tries to point them in the right direction, toward more fitted shirts and age-appropriate leather bags, but she says she ultimately spends a lot of time assure guys that it's okay to spend money on themselves and to care what they look like. Having spent summers working in her mother's boutique on a nearby lake, she's used to taking a delicate approach. Still, she's found an audience and she expects it to grow – maybe not tomorrow, but soon.
"Hopefully I get to expand," she says. "I'm just waiting for those good spots."