That there is a decent amount of overlap in how these kind of independent stores operate makes it interesting when one stands out above the rest. End Clothing originally opened its doors in Newcastle in 2005 but is now arguably the most prominent UK boutique in the world. This is online though, it’s not yet singlehandedly turned Newcastle in to an international shopping Mecca.

The list of stockists at End is so long, and I mean long, that each defined style is catered for from Japanese streetwear to Italian tailoring to post apocalyptic outerwear from Germany. They cover most bases and they have an internet wide renown. The store seemed to have bought every option from German jacket merchants Acronym and were one of the first to stock cult Japanese label Visvim.

If you compare this to London’s LN-CC then End seems (from the outside) to blow it out of the water in terms of range of product and sell through. Having said that though whilst End Clothing isn’t mainstream LN-CC does typically stock newer and lesser know designers. It has also changed hands a few times and the sales at LN-CC seem extensive which could be down to this but also down to their more limited online presence and the higher competition in London.

Another renowned northern store is Manchester’s Oi Polloi. Their success has not been through expansion, although they did open a London location in 2015, but rather through branding.

Oi Polloi sell clothes through making their communication tasteful, aspirational and distinctly Mancunian. The tone of voice that is used in their marketing communication feels northern, sarcastic and interesting. Each cool guy menswear store regularly updates a part of their site that shows new product on shot on a model. Oi Polloi’s is the called the Deck Out and features captions that start “On Sunday afternoon, in a distant parallel world, ITV2 will no doubt be showing the classic hit musical, Fleece.”

Oi Polloi has been so successful in peddling this particular brand of northern good taste that Oi Polloi is a popular search term on eBay. ‘Pica Post’ is the title of their print magazine which regularly creates aspirational content inline with the aesthetic; expect to read about Italian brand Iceberg being worn by football fans in Blackburn, the subculture of B-boying or Battenwear’s Shinya Hasegawa interviewing Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments.

Smaller cities can have a cool guy store too but note the correlation between a smaller population and a smaller number of cool guys. Let us take the bastion of the east midlands that is Derby. Having grown up there I can attest to the number of cool guys, not very many, and the number of standard blokes that you’d find in the pub, many, who would laugh at anything outlandish you might be wearing. To put this in to context: floral trousers no, Superdry yes. Canopy Menswear is the cool guy store in Derby and it is great. Well selected product and a slightly country outfitters feel to it; I’m always tempted when I visit. The website however isn’t all that great; a trick has been missed.

Clicking through the new in or sale sections of any of the online versions of these cool guys stores can instantly connect you to somewhere you may have no intention of visiting in the near future. Cases in point: Bureau Belfast and Aberdeen’s Kafka. Without the internet these stores would be completely unknown to me, with the internet they have provided me with a point of reference for each of these places that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. If I was in either place then I would be sure to visit.

Whilst the internet maybe creating reference points and enabling commerce there are still some real world points of interest to cover; Birmingham has a different feel to the other larger cities. Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester’s stores have less in common with Autograph in Birmingham. The Liqour Store on the other side of the city has much similar vibe but it’s Autograph that has been there longer and stocks more high fashion brands and less rugged outerwear type clothing. It’s smart gear with a capital S at times and it makes me wonder if the store serve the demand or does the demand serve the store? Does Birmingham dress that differently to Manchester? Assumedly so.

What this all comes back to though is that each of these stores, whether you walk through the door or visit the website (even more so if there is no door to walk through at all) they make the whole experience of buying clothes cooler. Even if you don’t end up buying something an atmosphere that makes you want to is created. It’s the atmosphere, essentially the branding which creates the differences.