Some stains are your friends, some are your enemies
Know the difference! A "Swag Patina" Investigation
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— Jonah & Erin
Back in 2021 we dropped one of the most important Spyplane Mental Frameworks of all time — and, with it, rewired millions of minds forever. We called it “Life Well Lived” (L.W.L.) Mindset, which is where you come to see stains, snags, rips and other blemishes incurred during robust and rewarding activities NOT as clothes-ruining flaws but as clothes-enriching markers of a Life Well Lived.
“The point isn’t to get stains on jawns willy-nilly,” we wrote. “It’s to live a life full of Mach 3+ stain-generating moments that are WORTH the stains!!”
Our go-to example is, say you’re out with good friends having a blast. The conversation is cracking, the joviality is high, the drinks are flowing, the bucatini is bussin’ — and at some point you glance down and see an errant splash of pinot noir and/or arrabbiata seeping into the fibers of your white jeans…
Rather than wig out and run off cryin’ into your pillow on some simpleminded & prim s**t, you happily realize that your jeans were a blank diary page, and those stains are BON-VIVANT HIEROGLYPHS that, if they don’t wash out, will record for posterity the beautiful truth that “Last night was a movie.”
HOWEVER, Erin and I have been forced to test the limits of our faith in L.W.L. mindset many times since then, because we’re both in the habit of 1) wearing mad cool-looking clothes all the d*mn time, as you would expect from the creators of Blackbird Spyplane, and 2) getting loose / clumsy with it while socializing, and thus constantly dropping and spilling s**t on ourselves …
We’ve realized that there are levels, nuances and subtleties to actually achieving & enjoying L.W.L. Mindset. Because, yes, one stain might read as “insouciantly swaggy” but another one will read as “uncool and grody,” and the difference between the two can rest on an AVALANCHE of variables …
Variables that — in a tour de force of Spyplane Overanalysis Mindset Mode— we will explore today…
Of course, you might be the type of well-pressed jawns-rocker who cannot abide any blemishing whatsoever on your s**t — maybe you wear a lot of silks and virgin wools and other delicate baller fabrics that you feel cannot accommodate discolorations, or wrinkles, or pet fur. Personally I think even rarefied fabrics can not only sustain but benefit from certain “characterful blemishes,” albeit not as readily or intuitively as, like, duck-canvas work pants, an old denim button-up or a cotton tee you’ve washed a hundred times.
That’s fine, understood, you do you baby. But know that, despite your inhibitions, today’s sletter may change the way you see things — and SAVE U SOME STRESS down the line, not to mention some $$ on those dry cleaning bills 😉 !!
WHY DO SOME STAINS READILY READ AS DOPE??
Here is the simplest way to summarize the shift into L.W.L. Mindset: Don’t think of stains as “stains,” think of them as “patina” — that is, natural, inadvertent, beauty-deepening decorations.
Paint is the ur-example of a sick, “inadvertently decorative” stain. Paint on your shoes, paint on your pants, paint on a sweatshirt — f**k it, paint on a chunky knit sweater: You get a little paint on pretty much anything and 9 times out of 10 you’ve made yourself look cooler.
Sometimes, of course, paint can read as “cool” to the point of parody / “get a load of Jasper Johns over here” cosplay. But all things being equal, paint communicates two swag-compounding things about you at once:
You’ve been in the lab getting some fly s**t done (whether it’s whipping out these still-lifes or “rolling up your sleeves” on some honest-labor house-painting type s**t), and
You aren’t overly precious about your presentation. We’ve written here about how flambéeing and pan-searing a jawn in this exact spirit is a great way to assert ownership over, e.g., a hyped pair of sneakers you love but don’t feel quite yourself in when they’re box fresh.
This is why all kinds of fashion designers — Margiela, Junya and Visvim leap to mind — sell signature pre-paint-splattered pieces. As with pre-distressed denim, such clothes tend to strike me & Erin as palpably fugazi and unrockably “extra” (it’s wild how well the eye can tell the difference between paint splatter actually incurred in the line of duty and artful facsimiles!!) but that only buttresses the underlying case for paint’s power.
This also helps us understand, by extension, why wine and tomato-sauce stains can also read as mad chill and cool. As with paint, these kinds of stains communicate un-preciousness on behalf of the wearer while simultaneously indicating that you have been busy doing fun, interesting s**t: imbuing clothes with stories and putting them to your own JOIE DE VIVRED-out purposes, rather than “letting them wear you.”
These stains conjure up an ambiance of romance, where your clothes serve as a visual index of an INVIGORATED LIFE. You’d have to be a fusty buzzkill to deny that that’s tight!!
WHY DO OTHER STAINS READ AS IRRETRIEVABLY GRODY??
Here’s where things start to get murky, though, because a major part of what’s going on here is that wine and arrabbiata sauce tend to code as just the right patina-boosting degree of, like, “Continental” and “refined.”
The implicit message is that you probably dropped some $$$ in the process of accumulating those stains, and you did so in “good taste.” This is why, even though you have literally spilled food on yourself, the wine or tomato-sauce stain in question does not communicate sloppiness the way, say, a mustard stain does.
Because with a mustard stain, no one sees that s**t and pictures you enjoying a candlelit night of merriment with the homies at some beautiful table dripped down with delicacies. More likely they picture you wolfing down a hot dog in a GLUTTONOUS fugue — and the line between bon vivantism and gluttony might be blurry, but it makes a big difference when it comes to a stain’s swag levels.
This gets us to the core of the matter: stains, as “texts,” are impossible to read outside of the context of deeply ingrained, under-scrutinized cultural prejudices.
Case in point: When it comes to time-honored, borderline-magical, life-improving substances, olive oil and coffee are right up there with wine. And yet if you get some splotches of oil on your hoodie you will look gross and unkempt, whereas a coffee stain on that same hoodie might actually go kind of hard??
This may be because, in our fatphobic culture, oil stains — literally, blotches of fat — read as slovenly and “uncouth.” Whereas coffee stains — the residue of low-calorie, “productivity-boosting” stimulants — strike a more-bewitching balance between looking unprecious and looking on-your-grind.
And yes, another essential part of the equation is that, much like red wine, coffee is a nice, pleasing, earthy color — which is why you can’t buy “olive-oil-dyed” jackets but you can buy sick coffee-dyed clothes.
Relatedly: Cigarette burns and other dart-related blemishes participate in a similarly roguish “stimulant” energy — an energy that our culture tends to privilege, rather than disdain — while adding the seductively primal element of destruction and creation that is fire.
This brings us to a point that might seem obvious but in fact captures a strange irony: For a stain to read as truly swaggy, it helps if it contains a little frisson of roguish transgression.
Without this, you get stains that are not grody yet nonetheless read as SWAGLESS!!
A perfect example is toothpaste stains: Even though they’re the manifestly not-gross evidence of good personal hygiene, they still read as embarrassing. This is partially because we are squeamish about public encounters with bodily fluids.
But it’s also because toothpaste stains announce to the world not that you were off doing some fly s**t with devil-may-care esprit but that your little well-behaved a** was brushing your teeth just like your mommy taught you and yet you couldn’t keep the bristles inside your d*mn mouth. You were “following the rules” and, while doing so, you f**ked up and drooled on yourself.
That’s dorked-out 3x over, and it’s all there in that crusty toothpaste stain on your placket, player 😜 !!
Interestingly, whitening toothpastes can wind up bleaching a garment, and bleach spots themselves often look cool. Whether it’s Clorox spots or the de-pigmented aftereffects of say, a spray of lemon juice, these are the most antiseptic kinds of discolorations you can come across — and while you may want to avoid them because color is beautiful and worth protecting, they do not read as grody, NOR dorky.
Same goes for the GOATED bleachlike effects of sun-fading: The softest, subtlest, most “slow-batch” of all possible jawn patinations, emerging as it does from a holy combination of time’s passage and (speaking of primal forces of destruction and creation) Helios’s mighty rays.
AND THEN THERE’S A DIZZYING ARRAY OF FORENSIC VARIABLES …
Top of the list, being: Where is the stain? What events can we re-create based on its location and appearance, and how might we adjudicate the stain’s swag levels accordingly? Wine stains near your neckline suggest you went to take a sip and drunkenly missed your mouth on some wino s**t: Not cool. Wine stains lower down on a shirt suggest you were sloshing a glass around merrily during spirited conversation and some went overboard: Much cooler.
A stain on your back suggests that someone spilled something on you, or you leaned against some gnarly s**t, in either case communicating an absence of culpability on your part, but also an absence of agency, in a way that makes other people kind of feel bad for you: Not cool, either!
That goes a thousandfold for unidentified stains on the seat of your pants — a classic lose-lose situation where the worst-case scenario is too gnarly to type out and the best-case scenario is that you sat in something and got “got”: Not your “fault,” per se, but not swaggy.
These kinds of examples could spiral out infinitely, with exponentially diminishing utility, so let’s zoom back out and close things with some Omniscience-Level Profundity:
Some people — who have no trouble appreciating & fetishizing “patina” in other zones of jawnoisseurship — nonetheless tend to uncritically classify all stains as nasty, by default. But the wise Mach 3+ clothes-rocker knows that PATINA comes in many forms, and that stains can be a profound source of the stuff.
Accidents are gonna happen when you bring a jawn out into the world. That’s the price of wearing s**t in living, breathing environments as opposed to just fit pics. Some stains will be s**tty and frustrating. But others will, ironically, be opportunities for SAUCE!! The goal, when you are faced with a stain, is to be a Sophisticated Lover of Blemishes — not a slob, but a S.L.O.B.
P☀️E☀️A☀️C☀️E☀️ till next time — J & E
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I’m a huge proponent of wearing shit until it’s dead, and patina is my favorite excuse for doing so. I wore these jeans for 3 years everyday and a friend accidentally poured a whole bottle of mustard on my lap, so your mustard example hit me hard.
Said jeans, which were on display at Self Edge for the last few years: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/e304lnhtne7t4e4/AACB3VXrG7GnhUHS-KNZHdKEa?dl=0
"Dorked out toothpaste stains" had me laughing out loud. Loved this breakdown of all things stains!