Interview

In Todd Snyder We Trust

The beloved designer is not here to change men’s style or the way we feel about clothes. He’s already done that — and has more in store for men who just want to dress better.

Todd Snyder, the deeply influential style icon, is not necessarily trying to make clothes for Todd Snyder. Even at his most dadcore — from slim fit stretch dungarees to Timex collaborations, Champion sweatshirts to low-fuss suiting — the New York-based menswear designer and father of three doesn’t make clothing for dads. That’s not how it works.

“Dad style works if you’re not a dad. Dad style works great on a teenager or a 20-year-old. And that’s always the misnomer,” says Snyder, whose denim, suits, and sweats all have become modern staples and could easily earn the dad-style nomenclature. “They go, ‘Oh, dad style is in. I guess I’m in.’ No, it’s different for a dad. If you’re in mid-40s, mid-50s, you can’t wear the dad jeans and the dad sneakers. It is a misnomer.”

So who does Todd Snyder make clothing for?

Men who care about clothes. The veteran of both Ralph Lauren and J.Crew is 11 years and five storefronts into his own journey aiming to make high quality, smartly cut clothing with a propensity for inspiring confidence in their wearer, whether a 20-something runway model or you, the dad who is not so much a dad trying to improve his style as he is a man wearing handsome clothing he enjoys.

“Style gets overlooked. And that’s the challenge,” Snyder says. “I’m here to really help tear down the barriers and make it easier for guys to dress better and to trust what we do. And that’s a bigger reason why we have stores: to give that opportunity for the customer to come in and ask questions, try things on, feel like they have a guide really to help them get through whatever it is and make it easier for them.”

Snyder spoke to Fatherly on a Wednesday from the work space attached to his flagship store off Madison Square Park in Manhattan. He took a break from planning the Fall 2023 line to chat. In the background his staff buzzed around, sometimes stopping to see what the boss was up to.

Tell me about your father.

Todd Snyder: My dad was a civil engineer in Iowa. I was born when he was in college. So I always tagged along with him whenever he went golfing and would always help him out in the garage.

He loved doing all kind of projects. He studied industrial design when he was in college, and he was always very good with his hands; he built a lot of things. He actually built part of our home and would do a lot of handy work. So he was always in the garage tinkering. So I would always ride along for that and just be his sidekick.

The tinkering, designing, building that you watched your father undertake — how do you think that relates to what you’re doing now? Seems like those two things aren’t too dissimilar, at least in spirit.

Snyder: Yeah, they’re very similar. I was always helping him out. From that, I started doing it more and more on my own. I started learning how to work with wood and work with different materials and equipment — hammers and saws and all that stuff. Making something from scratch was exciting.

I remember the first time I made a footstool. And we had this kind of style of furniture down in the basement that all of us, meaning the family, my dad included, was like, “God, I wish I had a footstool that went with the furniture.” I made that my project for the summer. I made a footstool in the same design that the sofa was in, and it looked really nice. But I was always intrigued that you could actually make something on your own versus going to a store and buying it.

When I got older, I worked at my dad’s civil engineering firm. I was a drafts person, and so I would draw a lot of things, and then I would actually work in the field to set it up. I was a surveyor as well, and I would set up the layout of it. And so I always had that kind of ability to think designing it and then executing it.

When it came to designing clothing, how did your dad feed, encourage, support those ideas? That pursuit?

Snyder: Aesthetically, my dad was always very much a traditional kind of gentleman, I would say. And he prided himself on dressing the occasion, and he always felt that it was a sign of respect to wherever you’re going. If you’re going to somebody’s house for dinner or if you’re going to a family celebration — dress the part and dress up for the occasion and not just show up in your shorts and flip flops. I remember that kind of constant encouragement from him to dress your best and make sure that you show that respect for whoever it is that you’re seeing. And that resonated and still does to this day. I have kids and they seem never to want to dress up ever, but it’s important to do that.

My wife and I have decided we need to make rules about dress. My 13-year-old son dresses like every day is gym class.

Snyder: My dad wore a suit and tie every day. He was the president and founder of his company. And he always felt it was important to portray that and not just to show up schlumpy.

I have worked since I was 14 years old, whether it was for him in his company or I used to work at a menswear store, and I really started understanding and appreciating more clothes and just how to present yourself even better.

How are you talking about teaching or teaching your own kids about dressing and style? I mean, it seems like you’ve got a vast library to work with, but...

Snyder: Well, I think similar to how dad taught it is just really getting them to understand and appreciate somebody else who’s maybe cooking dinner for them or spending a lot of time on having you in their home or having you to dinner or coming to an event. Somebody really spent a lot of time and a lot of money. It’s important for you to come in and really it’s a great gesture to show that like “No, we were really want to be here.”

It’s like if you cook this beautiful dinner and all of a sudden everybody comes in like they’re going to the gym or wearing your flip flops or going to the beach, you’d be a little disappointed. And I think it’s important to put yourself in their shoes. So it’s always trying to constantly remind them this isn’t just your kitchen table. This is somebody else who’s put a lot of effort into doing something for you.

Who taught you how to sew?

Snyder: Because I’ve always been very crafty, I took a home ec course in high school, so I got a little bit of sewing experience there. But then I didn’t really learn how to sew well until I took a sewing course at Iowa State. You have to learn garment construction. So you learn all of the parts, whether it’s pattern making or actually construction, how it goes together. So I learned how to really sew there.

And that was a lightning bolt went off. I was just like, “Oh, man, this is me.” I mean, I loved it because I had all these ideas in my head and I was able to make things come alive very quickly, because I could buy fabric and make a pattern and then make a garment. And within three or four days, I’d have something, a finished product. And it was a lot easier to get people to understand what you’re thinking by showing that. But also selfishly, I had something to wear that was really interesting.

After I learned how to sew, I wanted to better myself so I could come to New York. And I started working as a tailor assistant at a men’s store in Des Moines, Iowa, called Badowers. It’s no longer there, but it taught me how to sew and even more so how to interact with customers. That was just awesome because you could see the look on somebody’s face when they would come to you with a suit that doesn't fit that they’re buying. They’re kind of like a little like “eh.” Over time as you’re starting to pin up the sleeves and the pants and making it look better, all of a sudden you can see them stand up a little straighter. It’s an awesome experience because you’re really helping someone feel more confident in the way they look.

I'm sure all of us have the same anxiety. It's like when you're getting ready to go to an event or a party or just even going out, there's a lot of anxiety you have to deal with. And the last thing you want to worry about is how you look. And it's a nice feeling when you can make someone feel better just about a simple thing like that.

I first became aware of your work because of your collaboration with Champion.

Snyder: Back around 2008 I headed up J.Crew Men’s. We tried to figure out how to get attention and marketing, driving customers to menswear because at the time J.Crew was very much a women's destination and men occasionally shopped there, but it wasn't like a go-to.

Part of the reason why we started in collaborations was because it brought new people into the brand. They may know who Alden is or they've heard of Levi's obviously, and they've heard of Timex. And we wanted to get those people into our brand, but do something interesting and new that would change the perception of both brands.

As I left J.Crew, I took that same philosophy into my own brand. I always look for heritage brands that have been relatively untouched as far as collaborations. When I launched, I wanted to work with Champion. Brands had done small little things here and there, like Supreme, but no one had ever built an entire sub-brand beneath their brand. And we're still doing it. It's about eight years later.

Why sweatshirts?

Snyder: The sweatshirt was traditionally worn on field or in the locker room. It was a piece of sporting goods. It was equipment almost. It'd keep you warm.

And now that everything's very technical and very performance driven, the sweatshirt's become what the denim jean has become. Denim was originally meant for work wear and farm wear, and it evolved into a fashion item. The same thing has happened with the sweatshirt. The sweatshirt has really progressed and transcended and has now become a staple of a man's wardrobe.

It's a layering piece. You can wear it to the beach. You can wear it under a suit. You can wear it on its own. You can even wear it to the gym. But it's much more of a style piece than it is more of a functional piece.

The big reason I wanted to work with Champion is because they've been around since 1919. They have a patent on the reverse weave, which is their sweatshirt, that's from 1920 something. I wanted that authenticity because for me Champion had been around well before Nike, Adidas, you name it. They are the originators of the sweatshirt.

I’m really interested in hunting as a mode of shopping. Don’t you have a collection 6,000-something Champion sweatshirts?

Snyder: [laughs] It's like 2,000. Champion was originally from Rochester, New York, and as they grew and grew and then went through restructuring and what have you, they changed hands a few times. So there's no real archive per se. But I have a collection that I would say actually beats Champion's own collection.

I love vintage. For me, it is about the hunting. It's the discovery.

After becoming a dad, what changed for you in style, but also in outlook?

Snyder: Your timeline shortens in a lot of ways. Whereas you're thinking about the immediate and trying to think about making your family happy and thinking about what's necessary. You're not thinking about the future as much, but although that is something that you're thinking about, like “OK, I'm here to provide for this person.”

You take a little bit of focus off yourself, where it used to be just about you and friends and going out and family or whatever. And now all of a sudden, you have this person and that you've got to provide for them.

Sometimes style gets overlooked, I would say stereotypically. And that's the challenge. And that's truly why I'm here. I want to help tear down the barriers and make it easier for guys to dress better and to trust what we do. And that's a bigger reason why we have stores: to give that opportunity for the customer to come in and ask questions, try things on, feel like they have a guide really to help them get through whatever it is and make it easier for them.

Photographer: Spencer Heyfron