Discover more from Blackbird Spyplane
If you live in a “Sauce Desert,” can you get off fits?
How to wear cool clothes in unpopping places
Welcome to Blackbird Spyplane.
The B.L.I.S.S. List — our comprehensive guide to Beautiful Life-Improving Spyplane Staples — is here.
The Global Intel Travel Chat Room is here, featuring earth-spanning GOAT-locale recommendations.
Peep our list of the world’s 35 slappiest shops, where Spyfriends have added a ton of gems in the comments.
Our Profound Essays, Mindsets and “Unbeatably Spicy Takes” are here.
— Jonah & Erin
For the first time since 2021, we’re dropping a new capsule of Spyplane souvenirs next week, devised & designed here at HQ by yours truly.
Yes! There’s embroidered caps, a screenprinted tee and a screenprinted tote bag. All of it is ecru. All of it is made from high-quality recycled cotton in Los Angeles, via the Spyfriends at Everybody.World…
And all of it is even slappier than you’d expect from The No. 1 Source Across All Media for “Unbeatable Recon” — !
These will launch via the newsletter next Tuesday, October 31.
A fundamental question of our time is, How much of “you” exists online, and how much of “you” exists in the three-dimensional space your physical form occupies?
It’s a question sci-fi authors, prominent among them Spyfriend William Gibson, have been exploring for decades. Circa 2023 it’s only gotten blurrier, pertaining not to some outré or novel experience of “cyberspace,” but to the daily existence of billions of people with social-media accounts. This is why there’s so much anxiety around the concept of “performative” online behavior, a concept deployed these days more or less synonymously with going “fugazi-fradulent-cornball” mode.
But of course it’s not that simple, because nobody can point to any firm line that separates the real self from the performed self. We perform ourselves into being every day via our utterances and our actions, online and off, and you could call me Jawn Updike the way I’ll tell you that not only does “the mask eat the face” — “the avi eats the face” too.
One arena where this question manifests VEXINGLY, of course, is in the radically bifurcated life of the contemporary aspiring Mach 3+ clothes-rocker, whose relationship to getting off fits, and then generating photographic documentation of those fits, spans a messy patchwork of physical and virtual realms.
Recently we got two Personal Spylane reader questions that speak to this bifurcation.
“How can I reconcile a desire to wear nice jawns with the fact that I don’t see a lot of people in my day-to-day life? I WFH and when I go into the office there’s only 2 or 3 people there. I live in a small beach town with a ton of great nature, but with older folks who don’t care about clothing in the slightest. If you were in this scenario, would you just be okay with the fact that you truly are dressing for yourself only? Or should I make an effort to be around larger groups of people more often?” — andrewincontext
“can u be popping in a city that is undoubtedly not popping? or are u only as good as the place u inhabit?” gweeb_goble
These are, at root, questions about a mismatch between your sense of style, on one hand, and the place where you actually wear your clothes, on the other.
The contemporary internet has heightened this mismatch to an acute, sometimes crazymaking degree. When it comes to feeding, informing, and shaping your style, that is, there’s thousands and thousands of pictures of cool people getting off fits in other places for you to consult — but, depending on where you live, actually implementing that “inspo” I.R.L. might feel awkward and wrong, if not flat-out goofy.
Besides subscribing to Blackbird Spyplane and feeling your brain get larger and craggier with each profound post we publish, “how can you reconcile” this mismatch indeed!?
Let’s start with a straightforward, uncontroversial truism: When you wear something, you want to feel like you look good in it.
That satisfying feeling of “Sheesh I killed this s**t,” however, is anything but straightforward. Because clothing is a kind of communication, implying an exchange with other people, and so feeling good in a garment emerges both internally and externally, from the experience of being beheld and reacted to by others.
Right now I (Jonah) am reading Sofi Thanhauser’s incredible 2022 book, Worn: A People’s History of Clothing, which Spyfriend Dylan Lewis from Never Cursed recommended to me earlier this year. It’s a monumental work of deeply researched anti-capitalist jawn counterhistory, and I want to write more about it after I finish it. But one of the phrases of Thanhauser’s I’ve jotted down is her succinct description of garment-making as “a trade based on fantasy as much as it is on necessity.”
Fantasy and necessity go together like oil and water. And yet in clothes they’ve long been made to inhabit the same threads, in ways that can be beautiful, powerful, insidious and uncomfortable.
The necessity part is obvious — clothing offers warmth and other kinds of protection against the elements, and it can be an aid in the execution of specific tasks.
The fantasy part of wearing clothes boils down to a more nebulous desire to use clothing to transform yourself — to, e.g., present as a more-attractive or more-glamorous you, and to announce your affinity with some social group whose attributes and interests you deem resonant with your values, and/or flattering to your image. (Shout out here as well to Spyfriend W. David Marx, whose Status and Culture gets deep into these dynamics.)
This means that, when you wear something you think is sick, you aren’t just dressing for yourself, you’re also sending out a message about yourself. By definition, you want this message to be intelligible to people whom you deem likeminded / simpatico / dope.
And you probably wouldn’t say so out loud, but this means there’s some part of you that wants “the right people” to recognize your outfit’s coolness — to speak the dialect you’re speaking. This might sound cringe as hell, and it definitely can be, but at bottom I think it’s a similar impulse to a musician hoping a song they made finds an audience.
But if you live in a Sauce Desert, you might find that your “swag phonemes” fall frustratingly, and isolatingly, on uninterested and uncomprehending ears!!
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One solution to this is to follow the time-honored tradition of misfits who band together to carve out their own vibrant bulwarks on seemingly inhospitable soil. A classic example is kids in boring conservative exurbs organizing all-ages hardcore shows in basements and at amenable local businesses, putting up a beacon to the likeminded and creating the contours of a community where there wasn’t one before. These tend to be scenes where one uniting interest — in this case, music — is enriched by other interests in art, identity, ethics, spirituality, politics, etc.
That kind of intersection is especially crucial when it comes to jawns enthusiasm, because it’s a core Spyplane Belief that having cool interests in addition to cool clothes tends to make you look much flyer — and on a certain level, any community of chill, curious, open-minded people should be a pretty fertile and supportive context for getting off fits.
But obviously a lot of misfits in exurbs still ultimately feel stifled by what they perceive as a provincial local culture: On a binary, some places rock and some places suck. Since the ~mid-‘90s, hobbyist message-boards, blogs, and now private Discords and sletters have all helped people in far-flung places feel less alone. In the case of jawns enthusiasts, these are places to talk about clothes, share fit pics and, again, ideally talk about things that have nothing to do with clothes, too.
This can be some powerful s**t!
At the same time, there’s a limit on how satisfying virtual relationships alone can be. Chopping it up IRL with the broskis (in the blessed gender-agnostic sense of the term) is a sublime and irreplaceable pleasure. And this is why even in the message-board era, stifled exurban misfits still move to cities where they hopefully won’t feel as isolated. Sometimes that’s what you gotta do, or you’ll suffocate some part of yourself and be miserable.
Many places simply “want” you to dress a certain way, culturally and geographically speaking. An obvious latter example would be scorching-a** Phoenix, Arizona, which does not “want” you to freak a bunch of sick woolen layers, whereas Ross Island, Antarctica, “wants” you to smother yr whole s**t in a bulky 900-fill parka.
Erin and I experienced a subtler version of how a city “wants” you to dress when we moved from NYC (a city with numerous overlapping image industries) to Oakland (a city that hasn’t really had anything resembling an image “industry” since the late-’60s counterculture). In Oakland there’s an ambient aversion to “putting on airs,” whereas in places like L.A. and New York City “putting on airs” is a cherished and time-honored art. There are many artistically inclined and open-minded people here, of course, but generally speaking East Bay heads are not with the “frou-frou” s**t when it comes to clothes. So given our new environs, we had to spend time living, observing, linking and building — and rejiggering which clothes we liked and which ones we felt comfortable wearing.
Since Oakland is mad cool I didn’t find that process unduly stifling or onerous. Quite the contrary, it’s sick when a cool place has distinct local character, and you don’t want to just steamroll over that. It’s only natural to try to figure out what it means to “dress like yourself” with a place’s character in mind — rather than, say, just copying a fit you saw some swagged-out dude in Popeye rocking on the street in Nakameguro and trying to plop down your slavish facsimile in a totally different context, undigested and unaltered.
What you decide a city wants from you can shift over time, too. Back in August I ordered a black calf-length wool-gabardine ‘90s-era Y’s for Men coat from a secondhand shop in Japan for a $200 stealioli. There’s nothing especially extra about its design. But — simply by virtue of being an oversize black coat cut from really nice fabric — it does signify “fashion” to a degree that might feel conspicuous if I wear it just walking around Northern California on a Tuesday.
And so the coat stayed in my closet until our recent trip to NYC, during which I rocked it a bunch, unlocked more confidence in my relationship to it, let it meld to me more, and as a result emboldened myself to keep rocking it when I got back to the East Bay, where I can always “dress it down” as desired, via the other pieces I pair it with.
And here’s the really important point —
Some Northern Californians who see me in the Y’s coat might still say, “Who da f**k is this guy??”
But all I need to do to combat that is lead with love and be a chill positive member of the community, because then the only answer to “Who da f**k is this” that matters is, “O h*ll yeah it’s our neighbor Jonah who gets off tremendous fits and writes NYC’s sickest style & culture newsletter, based in Oakland — and, you know, maybe I wouldn’t wear what he wears, but g-dd*mn it, we gotta salute man’s game.” (That’s a verbatim quote I’ve heard people say a few times.)
This is a very different path from limiting yourself to an insular, jawnscentric, “the sidewalk is my runway”-type mentality about the place you live: a mindset that will risk making you feel out-of-sorts and disconnected from the d*mn streets.
Instead, the paramount ambition when it comes not just to getting dressed in the place you live but doing anything in the place you live is forging meaningful relationships. Copping from the cool local bookshop and hardware store where people are mad nice and knowledgeable instead of from Am*zon; taking photos of “Lost Dog” fliers in case you spot the lost dog in question and can reunite that cutie with their family; showing up at the picket line when the local teachers’ union goes on strike; feeding neighborhood crows peanuts on some Jenny Odell s**t; volunteering at a community garden; going around picking up litter with that swagged-out crew of retirees you see putting in work on the weekends; swiping people through the subway turnstiles, if you’re able, when they ask you; buying food for people, if you’re able, when they ask you for help outside the grocery store; organizing concerts & film screenings & other events in town that have nothing to do with commerce; and generally doing your best to help your neighbors shine & prosper, stable in the knowledge that they will do the same for you.
In other words, “Get fitted globally, act like the MF man locally.” If you’re able to build that kind of a relationship to the place you live, you can rock all the fly s**t you want no matter where you are.
Our interviews with André 3000, Jerry Seinfeld, Tyler, The Creator, Nathan Fielder, Emily Bode, Matty Matheson, James Blake, The Kid Mero, Daniel Arnold, 100 gecs, Salehe Bembury, Andrew Kuo, Oneohtrix Point Never, Michael Stipe, John Wilson, Sandy Liang, Héctor Bellerín, Ezra Koenig, Action Bronson, Mac DeMarco, Evan Kinori, Danielle Haim, Steven Yeun, King Krule, David Grann, and more are here.