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"Affordable" clothes are wack
The blessed beauty of M.I.N.D.S.E.T. Mindset
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— Jonah & Erin
The other day I (Jonah) made a solemn promise on Twitter: We will never recommend anything “affordable” at Blackbird Spyplane.
The quotation marks are crucial, because of course we f**k with steals & deals on gems, and of course we love getting a line on high-quality jawns at a nice price. But we’re also the No. 1 wise anti-consumerist dope-joints sletter across all media — and circa 2023, “affordable” feels like some truly hollowed-out & corny s**t when it comes to clothes … A degraded concept that, while seemingly useful, has been drained of virtually all meaningfulness by people whose mission, knowingly or not, is to make you buy clothes you don’t actually want and won’t actually love.
“Best Affordable [insert jawn here]”-type roundups, cranked out at scale, are lousy with clothes that no one involved in making the roundups thinks are particularly special, slappy or otherwise worth your attention. They’re there primarily because they cost less than other clothes, there are page-view quotas to hit and affiliate fees to rack up, and someone trawled a few e-comm sites sorting “price: low to high”…
This is because the term “affordable” has been almost totally co-opted into just another dull and swagless shopping category. When we see style sites & influencers drop “affordable” these days, it’s usually as torched SEO bait (see the collage below)… not to mention a smokescreen, as we’ve written elsewhere, meant to keep you alienated from and deluded about what’s actually tight about clothes and how their production is structured under the dominant economic order, baby!!
Whereas the blessed Blackbird Spyplane 3-pronged approach — contradiction-rich, but dope at the end of the d*mn day — is to 1) talk about charming, beautiful, sick and/or ingenious clothes with the angels of Spy Nation, 2) explore the swag semiotics and “sauce chemistry” that go into combining those clothes into popping outfits, and 3) analyze the ways that enchantment, memory, discernment and desire can transform an object — whether it’s $10 or $10,000 — into a cherished talisman.
And so we never lead with the metric of quote-unquote “affordability” when we share fire s**t … that’s the kind of mindset that will have otherwise-well-meaning style outlets pretending that anyone should be psyched about, like, “these Supergas currently on sale” (no shots at Superga, just the first totally-fine-totally-unexciting shoe that came to mind), putative “The Row alternatives under $100” (as if!!), the numbing bloat of never-ending Ssense discounts, and so on …
Clothing recommendations should be like movie, book, art & music recommendations: At their best, they’re about finding things you love, chopping it up with people whose enthusiasms & expertise you respect and admire, broadening your horizons, developing your taste … and, in the process, growing your sense of self. At a certain point, actually buying the thing recommended is less important than just knowing it rips (and if you’re inclined, thinking & talking through why). “Affordable,” in that light, becomes a manipulative consumer-culture designation that threatens to substitute the empty and fleeting allure of FORM (“I spent less than $50 on this”) for the deeper and more lasting pleasure of CONTENT (“this is dope and bussin’”).*
*(Incidentally, “luxury” is a manipulative consumer-culture designation in the exact same way, except there the empty alluring form is “I dropped a ton of bread for this.”)
But Spyfriends are not “consumers,” they’re Mach 3+ bon vivant clothes-rockers. And Blackbird Spyplane is not some budget-balancing service for your wardrobe: We aren’t “Quicken®”, buddy, we are the mf-ing top sletter in the game !!
To give credit where it’s due, people in the business of rounding up “The Best ___ Under $50” do have a place: Gift guides, where you’re engaging in a substantially rote exercise of obligatory commerce, i.e. you “need” to buy somebody something nice, but not too expensive, not because you found a beautiful cool thing and thought it would be perfect for them, but because it’s a holiday, you’re not trying to splash out too crazy, and you have to get something in the mail tomorrow.
That’s fine, gifts can be tough. But now imagine buying yourself clothes — clothes that you are gonna wear in public as you move thru your precious life !! — in that same rote, meaning-depleted, “gift guide” spirit … That’s grim to consider.
The bigger point I’m making is, necessarily, about money — but also it isn’t. Case in point: Since Erin was a kid she’s spent hours reading fashion magazines … turning them sideways to peep the credits in the gutters … memorizing names … learning about cool clothes and how cool designers approached their making … and, until she was well into her twenties, she did all of this with zero intention (much less ability) to buy ~99.9999% of what she saw, but rather on some “student and enthusiast” s**t …
Then and now, she gets a kick out of hitting thrift stores, vintage shops & resale platforms and excavating dresses from their depths that, e.g., “look just like SS09 Miu Miu,” except they’re from no-name ‘70s designers and cost ~$11.
Or take the pics of designer Minjae Kim and musician James Ferraro below — their fits capture low-key thrift-store-vibed sauce in full effect… Kim is rocking cheap London Fog boots (ID’d in our Master Jawn Index under shoes) and Ferraro is rocking cheap murdered-out Skechers !! (ID’d here.)
It’s a near-certainty that no “Coolest Affordable Kicks” roundup would ever include these two shoes. But these dudes have great eyes & know how to wear clothes (look at Ferraro’s effortlessly on-point tonal harmony, mamma mia) and so both were equipped to find “affordable” slappers that no one else was checking for, on their own terms.
That’s the thing. If you have Mad Interesting Naturally Developed Swag, Enthusiasm and Taste — a.k.a. “M.I.N.D.S.E.T. Mindset” — you can freak a Goodwill or a DSW outlet and come out looking incredible. (Even if good thrifting is under threat.)
And if you lack those qualities?? Then it doesn’t matter how much money you saved on the bulls**t “affordable” pieces you copped after someone told you they were “the best ___ below $100,” because chances are great that:
you’re not going to look ill in those clothes,
you’re not going to love them, and
most chillingly — you are not gonna know why.
By the way, this absolutely runs in the other direction, too: Absent M.I.N.D.S.E.T. Mindset, someone can spend a ton of money on, say, a by-the-lookbook head-to-toe Lemaire fit and, no matter how fantastic the garments are, they will clang and thud awkwardly against that person’s frame like a dope foreign body rejecting the sauce-deficient host 😜 !!
The upside is that mad interesting swag, enthusiasm and taste can all be naturally developed through exposure to cool s**t and smart ideas about it. Equipped with M.I.N.D.S.E.T., and confronted with an alluring high-priced slapper, you can either make an extravagant splurge OR use your big beautiful eye to hunt down a different dope piece that costs much less but shines way brighter for the hunt than the big-dollar item ever could.
This is patently superior to Googling “best affordable ___” and then lamely smashing the cop on a lesser version of the thing you really wanted.
And it’s patently superior to getting in, say, the Menswear Guy’s mentions and haranguing him for “affordable recs,” which people seem to do constantly — sometimes with intense hostility! — pressuring bruv to the point that he loses all perspective & recommends weird discount “New Balance RC30s” (??) that no one should ever wear at any price 😜!
Even the nicest of these people are falling prey to “shortcut mentality” a.k.a. “give me a fish don’t teach me to fish” mentality — and the long-term sauce & satisfaction dividends when you take that route are scant.
Seeing how heated some people get when the subject of pricey jawns comes up, though, I think it’s a case of justified but displaced anger. Very reasonably, we don’t like one of the chief implications of being told to buy expensive cool clothes only, which is that we should feel bad about ourselves if we can’t afford them. This is a valid reaction: Marketing functions in large part by making you feel bad about yourself, and that’s wack…
But the solution is NOT to demand “affordable alternatives” — not in any straightforward way that shopping sites would have you think, anyway. Because then you risk just copping a lesser thing, rather than addressing the fundamental “bad feeling” mechanism at work… Replacing one input with a pale-shadow version of itself… (Relatedly, we’ve taken a SKEPTICAL look at the concept of “democratizing” fashion via high-low collabs, etc.)
Think about it in terms of hanging art at the cribbo. You can develop your taste by reading art magazines and visiting galleries where nothing on display is remotely within your price range, then you can decorate your place beautifully with entirely different things you find that have their own charm & character — not with lesser / disenchanted / fugazi “affordable” s**t that you found by Googling “Best Affordable Art.” You accept that you will probably never own that Stephen Shore, Tauba Auerbach, Henry Taylor or Carrie Mae Weems you love, but you also trust you have the eye to accumulate other, less-expensive, characterful slappers.
The art market is wild, and so is the fire-clothes market. We’ve had the occasional misguided fool angrily inform us that not celebrating cheap clothes produced in unaccountable factories by immiserated workers is “classist” … Clearly there’s a lot of mystification & smooth-brained thinking on this score. But costly jawns — though they do sit downstream from obscene inequality — are not the frontlines of the class war.
I’m not sure the answer is to remove beautifully made “unnecessary” things like clothes from market competition outright (though I’m open to arguments??) but I do know that removing necessities like housing and healthcare from market competition would be profoundly blessed — and highly relevant to this entire conversation because, if we had social housing and universal healthcare, you would have more money to spend on clothes, and clothesmakers wouldn’t have to charge as much as they do for slappers.
☭🇺🇸SPYPLANE 2024🇺🇸☭ let’s get it !
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