Bob Mitchell, CEO of Odyssey Early Schools Inc. & Father
Written and styled by Tracy James
Photography by Chuck St. John
When it comes to style, Bob Mitchell and his family can often be found donning athletic duds—son Hughes in his Mountain Brook baseball pitcher’s uniform; daughter Sara Chandler in varsity volleyball gear (until she graduated in May); and Mom and Dad dressed for boot camp at D1. A passion for sports bonds the entire family, but especially Mitchell and Hughes, a rising high school junior. The two have a goal to together visit every Major League Baseball stadium in the country. Right now their count stands at six out of 30, but this summer one more ballpark will be added to the list when they visit Arlington Park in Texas. Considering their athletic proclivities, it is no surprise that the Mitchells’ wardrobes lean preppy. After all, key elements of the preppy look have their roots in sporting endeavors. (Think 1920s tennis champion Rene Lacoste mass-producing his signature court attire, and John Brooks of Brooks Brothers bringing across the pond the button-down collars of British polo players.)
Mitchell is one of those Southern men whose traditional-meets-preppy look seems to exist organically. He doesn’t overanalyze his wardrobe or follow trends. The ability to keep things laid-back but still look polished every day is a quality he downplays, but one that makes him stylish. “Most male celebrities my age look like they’re trying too hard to look young,” Mitchell says, adding, “I don’t want to wear what someone in New York claims to be the latest thing. Plus, from what I’ve seen, most of the more fashion-oriented labels tend to fall apart faster, and all you’ve done is spend extra money to get their label.” The preppy aspect of Mitchell’s style manifests itself in color preference. Blue is a default choice, less because of it being a bastion of traditional dressing and more because his wife thinks he looks handsome in the shade. But Mitchell will also wear pink, coral, lavender, and various shades of green. “And you can never go wrong with white, especially in the summer.”
Most preppy clothing aficionados shy away from malls, instead favoring small, locally owned boutiques, and Mitchell is no exception. The vast majority of his wardrobe comes from the men’s store The Locker Room in Tuscaloosa, a loyalty Mitchell has honored almost his entire life. While fitting that, with his athletic interests, Mitchell would patronize such an aptly named institution, the impetus is more nostalgic. Mitchell’s family moved from Tuscaloosa to Washington state when he was 3, but coming home to Alabama twice a year always involved Mitchell and his father visiting The Locker Room, owned by family friend Alex Gatewood. The store stocks iconic traditional clothing brands such as Barbour, Peter Millar, Ralph Lauren, and Robert Talbott, along with Alden shoes. Speaking of honoring tradition, Alden is the only original New England shoe and bootmaker remaining of the hundreds that began so long ago (Alden began in 1884.) Still a family-owned business, Alden carries forward a tradition of quality genuine-welted shoemaking that is exceptional. In addition to their chukka boots, Mitchell has several pairs of their dress shell cordovans, including the pair he wore in his wedding 23 years ago. “They look basically brand new!” he says. “Alden shoes ever go out of style and simply can’t be worn out.”
When Mitchell was a teenager, Gatewood told him that if he ever attended the University of Alabama, there was a job waiting for him. After transferring from the University of Virginia to be closer to his sweetheart (and now wife), Mitchell did just that, working part-time in college and then four more years during graduate school. “Over the years, I almost certainly spent more on clothes than I received in paychecks, even with the discount,” Mitchell confesses. Today, every suit and sport coat he owns was purchased at one of their trunk shows, which allows him to select from a variety of fabrics and to be custom-fit. “I wouldn’t buy a suit anywhere else,” says Mitchell. Upon thinking about his style in a general sense, Mitchell realizes, “My time in The Locker Room over my nearly 50 years has had probably had as much to do with my wardrobe choices as anything.” The same seems to be trending for Hughes, who is also growing up with visits to the store. Father and son visit The Locker Room before every Alabama football game, even if just to say hello to Gatewood. The store now carries lines such as Southern Proper, Southern Tide, and State Traditions to cater to the younger generation of traditional dressers.
Hopefully Hughes can also inherit his father’s personal style confidence. Says Mitchell, “I know what I like and I’m comfortable in it, so there’s not much need to change.”