Monkeying Around with Bonobos

Words by: Grant Harris

Bonobos Guide Shop Georgetown Introduction

Bonobos is an online technology-driven clothing brand launched in 2007 by Andy Dunn based on the need for better-fitting men’s pants.  Bonobos is now the largest web based apparel brand in the US. In 2011 Bonobos extended offline, launching e-commerce showrooms called Guideshops to bring personalized, one-to-one service to those wanting to experience the brand in-person.  In 2012, Bonobos expanded its distribution to a partnership with Nordstrom, offering Bonobos apparel at select doors nationwide and to

The Bonobos Guideshop is an e-commerce showroom designed as the answer to the traditional retail experience.  Currently, the company has e-commerce showrooms in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Palo Alto and San Francisco with plans to introduce the concept in additional domestic cities throughout the year.  The Bonobos Guideshop in Washington, DC in the affluent neighborhood of Georgetown is a physical space serving as an extension of Bonobos’ comprehensive customer service for those who want to see and try on the clothing in person before placing an order on the popular retail website.

Bonobos Guide Shop Georgetown Entrance

Assisting visitors in the Guideshop are ‘Bonobos Guides’ who walk customers through the unique range of Bonobos items from suits and denim to button-down shirts and washed chinos.  Bonobos Guides provide the hybrid service of a fit expert and style advisor in a relaxed, one-on-one environment without the stress of a traditional retail store.

Bonobos Chinos

The concept of the guideshops are to display a range of products in limited size runs in order for the customer to get an idea of the fit and feel of the product with the convenience of being able to purchase online.  The high touch concept walks men who may not be familiar with their own body type and/or desired fit through a hand-holding process initiated by young ladies who may be educated on Bonobos product itself but may be lacking in overall knowledge of men’s body types and the psychology of the male shopper in general.

Bonobos Guide Shop Showroom

Bonobos Cotton Shirting

As a DC style enthusiast I was afforded a personal shopping trip to the new shop before it opened this week.  With no previous experience with the fit and feel of the product and not knowing anyone in my personal network online or offline who patronizes the brand regularly, I had a less than clear picture of what the brand would offer in terms of fit, fabric, and function.  Upon entering the guideshop I was readily met by one of several young ladies who are bubbly and energetic about the product and service they are providing.  Albeit this visit was a special one, I imagine the process is very much the same for a customer who makes an appointment for the first time.  Being walked through each of the offerings in chinos, denim, and suit trousers.  Then to jackets, shirts, shoes, outerwear etc.  My tour may have been more general as I had no specific needs, but since the company was built on pants this is where the fitting started.

Bonobos is famed for its curved waistband which supposedly eliminates the “diaper butt” phenomenon in which the trousers sag in the buttocks.  Admittedly, the pants do feel much more contoured than straight waistband trousers.  However, the rest of the fit is lacking.  Being a former athlete I have more contours in my lower body then the average male even after being 15 pounds less than my playing weight.  The Bonobos slim fit in my normal waist size of 30 was so tight they couldn’t be zipped much less buttoned.  A short rise, hip hugging waistband and out-of -proportionate bulging thighs were the result.

The worst part about the fit wasn’t the actual pants themselves, but that the pack of four women waiting for me to emerge from the dressing room who all had the same reaction.  “Those look great!”  I politely mentioned the fact that I couldn’t zip nor button them and they recommended that I go a size up instead of moving on to a different type of trouser.  This type of reaction is common in retail even in the intimate environment which Bonobos is hosting.  While the average man will appreciate a compliment from a women and especially one whom he is shopping with, the blatant concurrence with any and everything that one puts on even if it doesn’t fit his physical body shape nor his emotional capabilities left the experience lacking.

Several other pieces were tried on including shirts and suit jackets.  Throughout the process not one of the “guides” ever commented that their fit just wasn’t right for me or that we move onto other pieces of apparel that may compensate for the fact that their trousers are built for young men who want a skinny and/or slim trouser that sits on their hips and barely allows one’s lower extremities to breath properly.

Bonobos Alma Mater Blazer with Gingham Crooby Slim Fit shirt

As a thank you Bonobos gifted an Alma Mater Blazer and Ging Crosby slim fit shirt.  The blazer is their standard fit in a wool/cashmere mix woven in Italy although it doesn’t say where it was actually assembled.  The blazer has a natural shoulder with minimal padding, gold buttons, slim notch lapels, shallow center vent and non functional buttons.  The fit in the shoulders, under the arms, across the back, the arms and chest is actually quite nice.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Unfortunately, my elation was undone by the fact the jacket is so short that nearly my entire rear end is on display.  The disheartening fact past that the jacket is a regular length.  One can only image the hem length on a short model.  On first glance the shirt looks identical to anything that can be found at J. Crew.  A short button down collar with neck button in a navy Gingham made in Malaysia while most of J. Crew’s shirting is made in Mauritius.  Having owned and tried dozens of made-to-measure shirts over the years this off the rack shirt does fit quite nicely across the chest, shoulders, waist, and even in the sleeves which is a common pain point for me in the past.  Between the blazer and the shirt, hit and miss was the general reaction.

However, all is not lost.  Bonobos has come a long way from their roots and have partnered with several of the most reputable names in the menswear business.  The Harris Tweed blazers, BillyKirk bags, Cone denim, and Grenson shoe offerings were stellar.  Other collaborations with Hunter boots and Riviera’s are also part of the equation.  A lovely purple Harris Tweed was on display.  Unfortunately, sizes were limited.  These types of pieces may be more intriguing for the experienced and even beginning sartorialist over the ill-fitting pants.

Overall the concept is one which holds merit – presenting a close knit group of products in an intimate setting on a one on one level.  On the other hand being placated to by young peppy sales girls who throw out compliments for commission is not the recommended route for a man to expand his wardrobe properly and sensibly.

Guideshop appointments can be scheduled by visiting Appointments are always complimentary.