Don't let "mystery boxes" fool you
But here's a blessed spin on the concept to help enjoy clothes ANEW
Happy New Year, and welcome to Blackbird Spyplane.
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— Jonah & Erin
Beautiful, fire, slappy clothes — how can we better appreciate the ones we already possess and turn off that itchy part of our brain that wants to Always Be Copping? This should be the simplest proposition imaginable: Wear the sick clothes you own and get satisfaction from looking cool in them. And yet time and again — in no small part since we live in a topsy-turvy hustle-bustle modern world full of highly effective techniques of consumerist predation — we hear from people in Spy Nation who feel stuck in what we’ve named “acquisition mode,” and who want to enter more fully into what we’ve named “enjoyment mode.”
“How do i reappreciate the clothes in my closet without buying anything new?” — @tzaratotalfootball
We feel this ourselves, too. The nice thing about entering into “enjoyment mode” is that it is not about framing anything in the negative and unattractive terms of deprivation… Quite the contrary, entering enjoyment mode is about allowing yourself to experience and exult in a deeper and swaggier form of pleasure than simply smashing the cop could ever equal. Last year we wrote a couple times about great strategies to help you to connect with this pleasure and short-circuit the undead-zombie-copping-dopamine-fiend part of your brain …
Well, here’s a brand-new one:
So, over the holidays, I (Jonah) got the concept of so-called “mystery boxes” lodged in my large & craggy cerebellum. Do you know about these things? It’s basically where a clothing store takes a bunch of s**t that isn’t selling, bundles it together, and peddles it to people at a discounted rate.
There is a certain carnival- / game-show-style “I’ll take what’s behind door no. 4” showmanship to the concept: It’s a sales strategy that combines the allure of “surprise” with the putative allure of “getting a great deal” — and a creative way, at bottom, to mark down unwanted jawns and tempt people into copping them blindly.
A few months back I was curious to read a piece by Spyfriend Sam Hine in GQ about a newly opened 7,000-square-foot clothing shop in NYC that was taking the mystery box concept a step further. It was “backed by a $7 million investment from a group of retail and real-estate investors,” founded by several people behind a separate designer-mystery-box startup, and the new shop’s iteration on this model was essentially, We’re a store that does mystery boxes instead of sales.
That is, come markdown time, the shop would start to offload unsold stock via “boxes tailored to customers’ sizes and brand preference” and priced less than the clothes’ supposed actual value. (Not that “value” has a remotely stable meaning here.) “The word we’ve really stuck to,” one of the founders said, “is ‘discoverability.’”
No shots, at least not necessarily, at store owners who do this. Making your margins as a jawns merchant can be tough. Unsold inventory f**ks up cash flow you need to pay your staff, pay your vendors, pay landlords, etc. And in an ideal scenario, you have great taste and only fill your store with things you love and find cool & beautiful, so ipso facto you will only be lovingly packing mystery boxes with cool & beautiful things you deem to be undiscovered treasure. And, ideally, your clientele, who have come to trust you, enter into the contract in that spirit, and stand a strong chance of contentment when they open the box.
That’s fine! In Japan there’s a New Year tradition known as fukubukuro, which translates roughly to “good fortune bag,” where shops bundle up goods and sell them together, sight unseen, at a cut rate. People often line up outside to get them, which sounds charming in those cases where the shops are cool.
When I was talking about this with Erin she also mentioned that the idea reminds her — in its promise of stumbling serendipitously onto a gem you’d never think to buy otherwise — of copping a big lot of someone else’s miscellaneous s**t for cheap at an estate sale, garage sale, auction site or on eBay, and then rummaging through it for unanticipatable slappers like a happy JAWN TRUFFLE PIG.
AND YET ! The mystery box also strikes me as containing dangerously high potential for some cursed smoke-and-mirrors hogwash whose real purpose is to simply sell more s**t that the bloated-** fashion industry shouldn’t have cranked out in the first place!!
In Sam’s piece, the co-founders’ “discoverability” quote gets at the heart of what’s so insidious about this model, which is that it targets, debases and “disrupts” a genuinely healthy desire: to discover, to broaden one’s parameters, to be caught pleasantly unaware by a jawn, and maybe even to stretch a bit outside your comfort zone — like hitting shuffle on an unfamiliar playlist rather than just listening to the same albums you always listen to, or asking the chef at the local spot, “surprise me,” rather than just eating the same dishes you always order.
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If there’s a list of Core Spyplane Tenets, high among them is the fact that modernity has mystified much of our relationship to what is truly fire about clothes, and that we will be ultimately happier if we find ways to cultivate more meaningful and less-torched relationships with the slappers we own. (We recently wrote about this in the related context of whether clothes should ever go on sale.)
In that spirit, here’s my big-brained insight on how you can turn a “mystery box” into a blessed technology of ENCHANTMENT & ENJOYMENT !!
The reason I started thinking about all this over the holiday season is that, in the most literal sense of the term, a “mystery box” is actually great way to describe a gift. And part of the simple delight of a great gift, after all, is not merely that someone gave us something, but that they chose it for us and we don’t know what it is.
So think about that simple delight.
Then think about how great off-cycle gifts can be — which is to say, gifts that you get for someone, or that someone gets for you, not because it’s Christmas or your birthday but simply because it’s whatever random day it is and they know you well and saw something they thought would be perfect for you.
And, thirdly, think about how much you would like to rewire the part of your brain that cops a new jawn and immediately gets tired of it, not because it’s mid but because of an itchy consumerist fetish to be copping new s**t all the time.
Is there a way to combine these delights??
I think there is. I’ve been reading the new Tommy Orange novel, Wandering Stars, which comes out later this month, and at one point a mom without much dough celebrates Christmas with her young daughter by simply going around the house and wrapping up simple cool s**t they already have but have stopped really seeing — like clothespins and sponges or whatever — and turning them into presents. The kid gets the pleasure of unwrapping something and, in so doing, experiences the familiar object with fresh eyes.
Friends — even if you are not a child you can do the same d*mn thing with clothes. Go into your closet or your drawers and grab a few jawns. Maybe focus on jawns that have lost a bit of their luster, or jawns that look sick as h*ll but you just don’t wear as much as you could, for no good reason beyond some inchoate mental roadblock. Maybe you wanna avoid jawns you really regret getting… or maybe you wanna roll the dice and toss a couple of those in the mix!!
OK — now wrap them all up nicely. (This Spyfriend in the comments on our Year-End Essay actually uses fabric from his old unwanted clothes as gift wrap, which, done right, is some powerful and beautiful next-level s**t.)
Now — stick these presents back in the closet. Maybe set an alarm on your phone for many months from now. Maybe your birthday, or Christmas 2024, or some arbitrary “off-cycle” date.
Until that alarm goes off, forget about the jawns. Go about your life. They have become presents from current you to a future you, who will see them with fresh eyes thanks to the passage of time and the “gift wrap” conceit.
If you want to make this experience more social / more “blind,” which could be tight, you might also do a version with a good homie or with bae, where they go into your closet and gift-wrap some bangers, and you go into theirs and do the same. (Also there’s a less-involved version of this where you and a friend simply do a temporary jawn swap, so that the piece isn’t on ice the whole time, but getting use, and you still get to see it “through new eyes.”)
Turn the mystery box, in other words, from a dumb trick that you spend money to play on yourself into a sick gift you give yourself and/or a friend !!
And BTW if you still want a tracking number to refresh continually in eager anticipation of when the “new” slapper touches down — here goes:
You can just open up the above image in a browser tab and continually hit refresh on it as you see fit until the alarm goes off and your old jawn becomes yours again, only doper and more meaningful to you than ever.
You’re welcome !!
P📦E📦A📦C📦E til next time — Jonah & Erin
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On the subject of mystery, we’ll jump on any and all pretexts to share one of the greatest songs of our time: