On Style with Bruce Julian: Son of clothier finds own style

Antique toys in the pocket have become a trademark for Julian.
Antique toys in the pocket have become a trademark for Julian.

Bruce Julian joined his father’s clothing store staff in 1969, when Milton’s Clothing Cupboard was in Charlottetown Mall. The middle of seven children, Julian grew up in Chapel Hill, where his father opened the first Milton’s on West Franklin Street in 1948. The interior of Bruce Julian Clothiers on Selwyn Avenue is adorned with black and white photos of his family’s stores. His penchant for pocket squares is evidenced by their use as ornaments on a Christmas tree. In addition to clothing brands from around the world, Julian sells his own Bloody Mary Mix and gourmet bites. He lives in Charlotte with his wife, Bonnie.

Q. Did being the son of a clothier affect your childhood?

A. When Dad would make a buying mistake … once he bought too many Jams, a brightly colored, knee-length, drawstring cross between shorts and a swim suit. He bought like 200. I wore a lot of Jams. It was so embarrassing.

Q. Do you have an early fashion memory?

A. The first suit that I picked out myself was an olive green corduroy from Cortefiel of Spain. It was so cool. The lining was swirly and bright, and sort of Hermes looking. They called corduroy the cloth of the kings. Now you can’t give it away.

Q. How did your parents affect your style?

A. My mom was always pretty outgoing. She had that glamorous ’50s style. Dad had a couple stores in Atlanta and she’d go there to get her hair done, and we’d stay at the Copa Cabana, and us kids would terrorize the pool. When I was 9 and she was 42 we both took up horseback riding, and from there she dropped her elegance and became an amazing horsewoman.

Q. What does style mean to you?

A. There’s something worth saying about your environment, and when you are dressed in accordance with your environment I think things go smoother, or classier or better.

Q. Can you help people find their own style?

A. Yes, by giving them options and opinions. And it works in a thousand different ways. The way I like the best is custom because it is going to fit them perfectly, and they can add details, such as putting on five buttons instead of four, or choosing a personal lining. These are small things that are just for you.

Q. What is your signature look?

A. I use a good thought process to put it together. I’m pretty much a player. If you think about it a little bit, then you own it.

Q. Your store is teeming with antique toys. How did this start?

A. I was in New York and went to B. Shackman Company in Midtown, and they did reproductions, like duck on bike, and the boxes are bright. I thought if I put the boxes in my display it would get people’s attention. Then I started going to flea markets and getting the real ones.

Q. Do you always wear a watch?

A. Yes. When I don’t, I don’t know when to eat lunch, I don’t know when to go home. It grounds me a little bit.

Q. What’s a common fashion mistake you come across?

A. A while ago a man came into the store with his 12-year-old son. He kept adjusting the waist of his pants upward. And his son looked at him and said, ‘If you wear your pants any higher you won’t need a shirt!’ I keep laughing about that. But really, I don’t think there is such a thing as a fashion mistake.

Q. Why is that?

A. The mistake is not being involved in your fashion at all. Like all the people at the airport who put on something they found in a pile on the floor. If someone tries and misses, I am fine with that. They are trying.

Q. What piece of clothing was a game changer for you?

A. Jeans have changed the business. They have taken over the world. I’m working with it. It took a lot of people out, but then people started wearing jeans with a jacket, and now you can wear jeans with everything. Now jeans are more expensive than dress pants.

Q. Do you have a favorite designer?

A. I always like my cousin Alexander Julian’s designs. He’s a super guy. He puts his heart into it. He came about it organically. His father and my father had a business together before they moved across the street from each other.

Q. Do you favor certain colors?

A. I like orange and I like purple, but I like them done in a jewel-tone sort of a way. I think you get stuff from that from the past. Alex’s dad wore the most beautiful jewel-toned sport coats.

Q. Tell me a staple in your wardrobe.

A. I’ve an alligator Western belt in both black and brown, with a smaller Western buckle and the silver tip. They are thin, and I can shake it up with them. Every boy really just wants to be a cowboy.

Q. When are jeans not appropriate to wear?

A. When you wear them with a sweatshirt and you go out to a nice meal at an expensive restaurant. Other than that you can rock them anywhere.

Q. What does your hair say about you?

A. Oh, my gosh, it is so unkempt. I’m right next to a barbershop, and the guy said, “You need to come see me.” I’d probably cut it off, but my wife likes it.

Q. What scent do you wear?

A. I don’t believe in it. I’ve never gone there. I love the smell of my wife’s perfume. She wears that old school Halston that comes in the curved bottle. I don’t want to interfere with that.

Q. How do you organize your closet?

A. Boy, is that a bone of contention. You know, the Europeans do it right: They have a small closet and they change it out every season. Their closet size dictates their clothing purchases.

Q. Tell me about your bag.

A. I can’t give it up. It is so worn out. It is a classic Ghurka. Its predecessor was the same bag but in canvas. I bought it from my friend who carried the line, Ben Belton; he has a store in Morganton.

Q. What’s in it?

A. A tape measure; a 6-inch rule; straight pins and chalk, so if I run into someone who needs a custom suit I can measure them up and write my notes; the “Uncommon Goods” catalog that I’m going to use to buy Christmas presents.

Q. Do you have a theory as to why fashion has trended toward the more casual?

A. Back in our day, going casual was anti-establishment. And as we grew up I think we still kind of dug that revolutionary thing. So now we take the casual and make it cool.

Q. What’s your first choice in flowers?

A. I go for the 20-dollar bunch at the farmers market and it pleases everyone.

Q. What’s your dream car?

A. I used to have a 1956 DeSoto for years and loved it. But the one that got away was a ’62 red Chrysler. I was driving on Park Road and got T-boned. I sold it for parts to a guy in Burlington, and he put it back together and now it’s a $65,000 show car.

Q. What’s your drink of choice?

A. Bloody marys. I have always loved them, and 20 years ago I went to every bartender I was getting a bloody mary from and asked how they made them, and I came up with my own mix. Now we are in 300 stores up and down the East Coast. We’re killing it in Jersey.

Q. What’s a recent change in men’s fashion?

A. Things are worn a little tighter these days, and I like that. There’s a smaller leg on the pants, and the jackets are a little shorter. I think the guys who are into dressing are working out in the gym and are into making themselves look fabulous. And now clothes are following that. Although I’ve never met a dumbbell that I like.