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Get into fights with your clothes
When comfort is the enemy of swag
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— Jonah & Erin
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When we talk about our relationships with clothes, we often invoke comfort as a concrete, objective standard that exists meaningfully apart from concepts we might find more abstract & vexing, like fashion. You hear this all the time from people who claim to not care much about which clothes they wear: “I don’t pay attention to fashion,” they say, “I just wanna be comfortable.”
Other people who do explicitly care about clothes but still feel fidgety about the perceived frivolity and excesses of that interest will sometimes mount a pre-emptive defense of a new jawn they copped but are not fully comfortable with by touting its comfort. “Yeah, I know it’s [crazy-looking / $600 / hyped to death / swagless],” this person will tell you. “But honestly? It’s so comfortable.”
It’s a reasonable reflex… Clothes can feel intimidating, and we often buy them for largely irrational, emotional, unclear reasons. Amid those vagaries, the thinking goes, who can argue with comfort??
Obviously if something is physically uncomfortable you’re probably not going to wear it much, and that’s that. But with clothes there’s the more prevalent, more fluid and more interesting problem of conceptual discomfort — i.e., a garment feels fine physically, but we just don’t feel right wearing it. Along these lines, the more-adventurous clothes rocker sees comfort as a totem: They will tell you that deferring absolutely and unbudgingly to comfort is an impediment to growth, discovery and the development of Mach 3+ swag — all of which involve periods of experimentation, re-calibration and, yes, discomfort. What about the virtues, this person might ask you, of “getting out of your comfort zone”??
A couple months back I (Jonah) got into a fight with a new shirt. It was an oversize, drop-shoulder Casey Casey button-up in a lovely shade of gray-green that, in some music-to-my-ears s**t, the label calls “lichen.”
When it showed up at HQ, though, I realized that “oversize” was putting it mildly… This s**t was substantially wider and longer than any other button-up I own, and the experience of first pulling it on was of being — uncomfortably — engulfed.
My brain was, like, “King, chill — this is not a shirt, it’s not a shirt-jacket, it is defying the previously established categories in a way I can’t make immediate sense of, so enjoy this hit of cortisol whereby you will wonder if you look like a huge fit-bricking weirdo in this s**t.”
And yet… The color was beautiful, the papery, densely woven cotton texture was special, and real talk, the outsize drape was carefully and SUMPTUOUSLY considered in its proportions all the same, baby !!
When I describe this encounter as a fight, what I mean is that the shirt seemed to want different things than I did; to force a reconsideration of my assumptions about how a button-up should fit; to shove me out of my comfort zone. In response, I was split between one impulse, to “hear the shirt out,” and a contrary impulse, to resist its demands.
I tried wearing it on its own, with only the top button unbuttoned, the way I would rock a “normal button-up.” It didn’t look right like that. I showed Erin, telling her, ‘I think I gotta return this.’ But the shirt was a formidable opponent. She squinted at it, cocked her head, and was like, ‘No, I think I like it… It’s kind of like a cool lab coat??’
With that phrase, something clicked, and I returned to the SKIRMISH in a newly armed, more-game frame of mind: This shirt was 😤 fitting like a d*mn lab coat 😤 — I could work with that. I tried it mostly buttoned over another button-up; mostly unbuttoned over a crewneck sweatshirt; hanging fully open over a tucked t-shirt; hinting out from a just-slightly-more oversize jacket; letting the sleeves unfurl; giving them a cuff … trying, with each variation, to get a clearer grasp of which of the shirt’s demands were persuasive, which were non-starters, and whether we could ever find peace.
In the end, we did, and not only has it become a unique & highly respected, fit-elevating member of the rotation, it has recalibrated my sense of how big a “big shirt” can be…
Obviously it’s very tight when you try something on and immediately feel at home in it — no scuffle, just instant amity. And if you adhere to a straightforward ethos of comfort above all, you’d probably argue that any garment that puts up the kind of fight that button-up did is not worth the trouble.
I do gotta concede that there are always going to be garments whose assertions and demands strike you as so wildly out of pocket that you do not even consider fighting with them. To choose an example that just happens to be top of mind, I love a bunch of the clothes I saw IRL in Tokyo a couple weeks back from the small label RDV O Globe — but when it comes to several pants they sell??
I’m on my neutral Switzerland flow, lovers… I seek no quarrel with these trousers !!
But all of us disagree, argue and fight with clothes that we eventually come to love, all the time, in ways that can be extremely routine. If a pair of pants feels too long at first, you either let them pool and readjust your sense of ideal break; or you cop a pair with a smaller inseam; or you cuff them; or you “fight back” with even more ammunition and get the s**ts hemmed. If a jacket’s sleeves feel longer than you’re accustomed to, you either let the cuffs swallow more of your hands than you’ve previously allowed, or you hike them up your arm, give the sleeves a couple rolls… Tussling with a garment in these little ways is part of making it feel like it’s yours.
Trend cycles heighten our fights with clothes, constantly drawing and re-drawing the borders and physics of different jawn battlefields. During a “fitted-silhouettes era” you may put a pair of beloved relaxed-fit chinos on ice, only to bust them back out — and maybe even expand them with hand-sewn inserts on your ‘90s-raver s**t — when BIG CHINOS come back into vogue and slim joints start to look like leggings you can’t believe you ever wore, etc., etc.
In the most-ideal cases, fighting with a garment is synonymous with “freaking” it — honoring its uncommon attributes and unusual demands while putting your own spin on it, deciding where to beat back its unreasonable advances, where to give ground, and how to ultimately integrate it into, and let it alter, yr style. That’s a big part of what it means to look like you are wearing a jawn vs. the jawn wearing you. The latter, of course, represents rank defeat. But there are noble defeats where a challenging jawn “makes you cry uncle,” and as a result your horizons shift and yr swag is increased.
For this to work, you’ve got to be willing to trust a designer’s vision and submit to their will — to not only accept but get excited about the fact that there are brilliant designers capable of unconventional ideas about how clothes should interact with your body, and that these ideas are not always primarily about catering to your pre-existing sense of comfort. Women probably tend to grasp this more readily than men, because there’s a longer, broader and more-varied modern history of adventurous design in women’s fashion than is true for men’s fashion, which tends toward the tamer and more risk-averse.
But Spy Nation, don’t get it twisted. When you get into a fight with a garment, you’ve got to be confident A) that you have a good idea what your body wants and B) that you can call it when designers have flubbed their vision and are trying to pass their Ls on to you in the form of a f**ked-up jawn.
Sometimes they’ve simply cut the armholes too close on an otherwise voluminous jacket, so the s**t looks great on a model but goofy as h*ll on you. Sometimes the materials or colors they’ve chosen are just straight-up nasty. Sometimes they misfire with some creative darting detail so that, rather than looking elegantly structured, the s**t just comes off lumpy anywhere but a carefully posed lookbook. There is no winning here, just Ls for everybody who steps in the arena!!
But other times? A talented jawnsmith thought long & hard about a garment, reinterpreted its shape, proportions and/or structure in some cool but challenging way, and in turn they challenged you to surrender to their vision. Rocking a garment like this, you aren’t just “getting out of your comfort zone” in the sense of taking a wild swing in the dark. You’re expanding yr sense of comfort — losing a small battle that you’re ultimately happy to have lost, because it led you to a bigger W in the greater campaign for sauce.
Blackbird Spyplane is a 100% reader-supported achievement. Paying for great things feels amazing and we keep fire s**t behind the paywall. Come rock with us to the fullest — Jonah & Erin
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