Store Review: Ball and Buck

Boston’s Newbury Street is well known for being the high-end shopping district of the city, with polished storefronts from Italian clothiers, fashion-houses , and other cosmopolitan department stores throughout. What you might not expect however, is that Boston is also home to Ball and Buck, a men’s outfitter with a penchant for Made-in-USA goods.

Stepping through the doors and down a few steps into the store, you will feel as if you’ve left the bustling streets of the city behind and walked in to a Maine hunting lodge, complete with trophy stags and antique fixtures. Ball and Buck takes aim at traditional clothing, adding in their hunting inspired flair, and best of all, practically everything in the store is Made in USA. Perhaps likened to Orvis with a bit more youthfulness and attitude, I imagine their target audience as the 20-35 year old guy who may sit it an office in the Financial District Monday-Friday, but longs for the duck blind or the trails on the weekends. Just how many of those guys there are in reality, is yet to be determined, but here’s my take on the shop based on a visit a couple weeks ago.

Ball and Buck – Boston Outfitters

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Wares are merchandised on a few long tables in the center of the store, with various racks and cubbies around the perimeter. Credit where credit is due: The associate who greeted me was both friendly, approachable, and helpful, answering questions and more than willing to show me products in the cases, happily providing me with a detailed backstory on the couple I was interested in. The staff was great all around, which is in my opinion, more important than anything when it comes to building a loyal customer base who will want to come back.

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To my surprise, Ball and Buck also houses a full-service barbershop in the rear of the store.

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If there wasn’t already proof that Ball and Buck gets it, this right here would be your evidence. Beef roll penny loafers, made in collaboration with Maine shoemaker Rancourt & Co, with a hunting-orange insole. Also available in (beef roll!) bit loafer variety, moccasin, and boat shoes. You’ll also find a selection of USA sourced selvage denim, made in North Carolina.

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Stacks of oxford shirts, all made in USA, in a pleasing variety of color combinations.

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Ball and Bucks take on the OCBD, called The Hunters Shirt, introduces a shooting shoulder- a rather unusual detail for a shirt outside of specialty hunting stores. I’d classify these as a novelty akin to Brooks Brothers’ infamous “Fun-shirt”, although more subtly done without use of contrasting color or anything too over-the-top.

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Ginghams and plaids are also offered. The lifestyle tie-in is visible through piles of clay skeet targets, fishing, hunting and outdoor magazines, and various field-guide style books scattered around the store.

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Outerwear emblazoned with hunting orange and camo. Ball and Buck also sells a waxed jacket fairly reminiscent of a Barbour.

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A selection of made-in-USA watches from Throne, sold on distinctive Horween leather bands.

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Cuff links fashioned from USA made shotgun shells, as well as fly fishing lures and pheasant feathers cast in enamel made for some truly unique gift ideas.

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American flags adorn most of the walls, but unlike most retailers who use this marketing tactic, Ball and Buck can actually back it up with a dedication to Made in USA products…

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…and by having far more bears than the average store.

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Ball and Bucks offerings extend into the formal spectrum with a hopsack 2-button jacket dubbed The Sportsmans Blazer, with such details as a tartan interior lining and  orange-blaze  felt undercollar.

IMG_0090The offerings didn’t end at clothing, as they had an entire corner of the store dedicated to grooming supplies, soaps, colognes, small leather goods, and even candles with aromas such as teakwood, tobacco or my favorite, dark rum. The store also carries a pretty extensive line of sunglasses, including those from American-made Randolph Engineering.

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A nice collaboration with Boston-based shoemaker New Balance on display, featuring several of their Made in USA offerings.

 

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Ball and Buck products, are said to be guaranteed (against manufacturing defects) for life. Their website spells this out fairly clearly – and it is their mission to attempt to repair any Ball and Buck item free of charge. If a repair is impossible, they will replace it.

 

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Chinos and corduroys are offered with camouflage interior waistband lining. The materials used from the fabric, buttons, zippers, and stitching, all show signs of quality and plenty of heft. Even the shorts seemed like they were up to the task of a weekend in the Ozarks.

 

Final thoughts: 

A lot of brands try for the look Ball and Buck is selling, but more than a few fall short when they peddle more to the fashion side rather than the function (as after all, that’s where the profit lies). Ball and Buck evidently achieves both, while offering products that are designed to stand up to a little more wear and tear than elevator rides and your 11am coffee break. Can they ascend to levels of LL Bean and Orvis legendary? Time will tell – they are a fairly new company, starting in 2008 and as of now, Boston remains their sole brick and mortar location, with a strong online presence.

The competition may be stiff, but I believe Charleston SC, along with Atlanta, and several other cities south of the Mason-Dixon line would be key markets for Ball and Buck to expand in the future, as despite Boston’s love for the concept of being outdoors, it’s hard to find an environment that properly matches the context of the hunter aesthetic without venturing north to New Hampshire or Vermont, or to Western MA or upstate NY, and these are not areas particularly known for their sense of fashion.

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A few items may be pushing it – a formal spread collar shirt with a shooting shoulder seems off, save for the most literal of shotgun weddings, but overall, remaining consistent with their branding and image at this stage seems to be a smart move. Keep making the Hunters Shirt for the weekend warrior, but produce a line of regular oxfords for the workday grind and take on granddaddy Brooks Brothers down the street (Hint: The Ball and Buck USA made OCBD is priced lower than the latest Brooks Brothers iteration).

My advice to Ball and Buck would be to embrace the trad-friendly New England market you reside in and expand beyond the initial niche appeal, to become a primary source for men seeking USA sourced items, while maintaining your dedication to the image you have cultivated thus far.

The Verdict:  Unique concept, great product quality, and friendly staff make this a must-visit store in the Boston area. 

Aaron Doucett
Aaron is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and works as a cartographer in Cambridge, MA. Outside of work, he enjoys rowing, cycling, and hunting for vintage ties at thrift stores.

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