Joe Dumas (right) showing a customer his swing, circa mid 1950s.
M. Dumas & Sons celebrates a century in Charleston this year. And the men's retail store isn't just celebrating a Lowcountry anniversary — it's celebrating one on King Street, a prime shopping location if there ever was one. From Mendel Dumas' original spot at 220 King St. (a pawnshop he converted into a clothing store), to the current location at 294 King Street, which Dumas moved into in 1973, the store has kept Charleston locals and visitors alike clothed in preppy Southern classics for 100 years.
"We're continuing to have to evolve. We re-invent ourselves every season," says President and CEO of Dumas, Gary Flynn, who took over his current role last July. "Charleston is growing so fast, people are bringing their taste with them."
The store underwent a two million dollar renovation in 2015, something that Flynn thinks made the spot even more accessible to customers. "We put like brands next to each other to tell a story," he says. "If you like Southern Tide, you may like johnnie-O. We'll tell a blue and pink story — the sweater ties back to the shirt. We're making a whole outfit."
Flynn and his sales associates work together to put a face on their stories — think of the window displays as the cover on a book. "It's a team idea," says Flynn. "I have a guy on the floor who pulls it all together. We think about what's happening in Charleston right now, Father's Day is coming up, we make a Father's Day window."
When you think of M. Dumas you probably think of bow ties and Barbour jackets, and you're not wrong. The store certainly carries enough of both of those items. But the men's clothing store doesn't just want to give the people what they want (and being the number one distributor of Barbour in the U.S., people really want those jackets): It wants to give the people what they didn't even know they want.
"Customers only know what they've seen," says Flynn. With over 30 years of retail experience under his belt, Flynn knows a thing or two about men's fashion. He started at Nordstrom when he finished high school, unloading trucks, picking up hangers in dressing rooms. He worked his way up to a merchandise manager before going to work for Hugo Boss, and later, Samsung.
"I fell in love with the story," says Flynn of M. Dumas & Sons. Part of the store's story is its location — Charleston is the first Southern city Flynn has ever lived in. "It's still something I'm learning," says Flynn of Charleston's style. "The fishing and hunting influence on our products surprised me," he says. "I don't know if they're going to wear their Barbour to hunt, but they want to be wearing it when they go to the gas station in their Land Rover." Flynn seems to be picking up on Charleston style just fine.
"There's a push, still, towards that 'Southern guy,' but there's a shift, too," says Flynn. "We're trying to sniff out the next big brand, get it in early."
Y'all have heard of Tommy Bahama right? Well before that brand made it big, Dumas carried it in the store.
"It wasn't well-distributed," says Flynn. But Dumas knew they had something hot. "It was one of the most expensive things in the store," says Flynn of Bahama's telltale Hawaiian shirts. "Customers saw that Dumas could sell more special, expensive things. So they started layering on more expensive items."
Flynn says David Dumas, Mendel's grandson and the store's current owner, grew Vineyard Vines to what it is in the South today. "And then Vineyard Vines opened a store across the street," says Flynn. Needless to say, M. Dumas & Sons no longer carries Tommy Bahama or Vineyard Vines.
"National brands don't have the pulse of Charleston," says Flynn. M. Dumas, King Street's enduring homegrown store, on the other hand, most certainly does.