Discover more from Blackbird Spyplane
What makes skaters so swaggy?
Sauce inspiration from very fitted rippers
Welcome to Blackbird Spyplane.
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— Jonah & Erin
Skaters — does any other segment of the population dress as tight per capita as they do? Probably not. When I asked Mike Mills about what it was like skating in the late-’70s/early-’80s, he said that, back then, “I got beat up at Santa Barbara Junior High School because I was wearing Vans.” That’s wild to imagine now because, since at least ~1994, skater style has been widely saluted, and relentlessly swaggerjacked. There’s tons of connections between the skate world and the world of popping clothes, not only via fully mainstreamed behemoths like Vans and Stüssy and Supreme, but also smaller lines & designers like 18 East, Lady White, Evan Kinori, Satta, Cee Blues, Chris Fireoved of Lauren Manoogian, Faces of Another, and Henry’s, to name a few…
If I was gonna try and explain the allure of skate style, I’d point to a powerful contradiction at the core of skaters’ self-presentation. On one hand, they tend to carry themselves like they don’t care at all about what they’re wearing. Their whole s**t, athletically speaking, is about coming off chill and effortless while attempting extremely difficult things — and that attitude extends to how they dress. Their clothes are typically well-worn, which is always dope, and feel purpose-driven: chosen for comfort, freedom of motion, and the expectation of constantly eating s**t.
On the other hand, most skaters clearly do care a lot about how they look, because 1) they’re in the business of sharing videos they obviously don’t wanna look wack in, and 2) if you roll up to a skatepark looking goofy — even / especially in microscopic ways perceptible only to the well-trained insider eye — you risk inviting mad sidelong glances, if not getting clowned on and shunned outright. All of which creates strong social incentives for rocking dope s**t and, on the flipside, strong penalties against rocking lame s**t.
That combination — effortlessness and intensity — is unbeatable, so no wonder non-skaters try to tap into it and siphon off some sauce.
But Erin and I wanted to learn more from someone who knows way more than we do. So the other day we hit up the Big Homie Spyfriend Wes Allen, a kindvibed king based here in the Bay who knows a lot about clothes and skating & has Mach 3+ taste in both. Wes runs the excellent GORP shop Understory, carrying lines like And Wander, Klättermusen, and Snow Peak. He also writes a (currently dormant) skating <~> clothing newsletter called Skatelier, has been skating since he was a kid, and he posts funny & astute s**t about clothes & skaters on Twitter here…
Wes is a young scholar to boot, with “this old JVC tube-TV that’s heavy as h*ll, but I’ve held on to it because I have a ton of skate DVDs shot on Vx1000s” — a vintage Sony camcorder with “the same aspect ratio as the tube TV, so it just looks special on that television. I’ll sit on the couch for like 10 hours, drink some beers and just watch videos.” He adds that “one thing that’s so cool about the skating/clothes connection is you get to see all the stuff in motion. Big pants flying around in the lens.”
A regular-a** fit pic could never!!
I asked Wes to share some of his deep intel on “Sk8r swag excellence,” and to put Spy Nation on to some of the skaters who are rocking especially cool s**t right now. As expected, he came through with nuff heat …
“Bobby De Keyzer is the easy choice for ‘best dressed skateboarder’ as far as I'm concerned,” Wes says. “He was sponsored by Noah for a bit but hasn't pursued another clothing sponsor since — probably because he’s very discerning about what he wears.
“He’s always got cool color-combos going, skates a lot of Chuck 70s, and I’m pretty sure he’s out there getting clips in Henry’s and James Coward pants. I might be wrong but I think he has a clip in this newer part wearing this Evan Kinori Striped Collar Sweater, too:
“He’s always wearing fire flowy button-ups and even when he’s wearing a plain tee you gotta figure it’s some kind of elevated $120 jumpoff. He also has his own clothing company that he started with a couple friends, Faces of Another, and they make some pretty sick darted sweaters and boxy overshirts from Japanese combed cotton.”
“Gilbert Crockett is probably the most clothing-obsessed pro skater out there. 10 or so years ago he moved from California back to his hometown of Richmond, VA, and has been on a wild clothing journey since then. He did the heritage thing, then went into dressing like a full-on wobbly or something. He was one of the first people I saw wearing Lady White tees, and I remember tripping on seeing someone skating in a $50 shirt. He even shared a video part with Lady White's owner, Phillip Proyce:
“Around 2015, though, he came out with a part called ‘Salt Life,’ wearing these giant pants that took the skateboard industry by storm. People couldn’t stop talking about them. I remember him saying in an interview that around this time he went from being straightedge to smoking weed and also started listening to rap. I sleuthed out that the pants in question were from Old Hands Japan. They don’t actually look that crazy now, but in 2015 people were tripping out. This is my favorite Gil era:
“I think it was shortly after this that he got into finding vintage stuff and started his own small-batch clothing operation, Cee Blues. He has a vintage clothing store with his mom, and runs the brand out of that.
“These days he’s running a kinda crisp, tightened-up Americana thing that feels pretty modern. Also he just came out with this new part where they covered a car in denim for the intro.”
“Jahmir Brown is part of this early ‘00s Philly revival thing where they skate period-correct shoes (huge and puffy) and boards (extremely small.) He skates for Palace and Bronze, and he gets stuff from 18 East.
“A lot of people get boxes of free stuff and put together decent outfits but I feel like he goes above and beyond, always wearing something cool, from crazy color-coordinated fits to more toned-down stuff…
“Also he gets clips in some of the more-insane Palace collab stuff, like the full North Face Purple Label kit, which is always fun to see.”
Alexis Sablone rocks sick flambéed workwear off of the board and “has really good skate fits (Yankee Fitteds, chains, sick jeans) too. Also, she has a masters in architecture or something like that... and they just named her the coach of the women’s Olympic team? Super accomplished.” Spyfriend Noah Johnson profiled her for GQ, here.
“Andrew Allen (no relation) is cool ‘cause you can tell he’s kind of obsessed with thrifting. Always has some kind of interesting shirt/polo/button up and/or hat. It seems like he finds something cool and gets one clip in it before moving on. He also has a Depop page where he sells all the stuff.
“The last few years it seems like he's settled into more of a uniform...he started running Wranglers at a time when everybody else’s pants were getting bigger and bigger, which is kinda cool.”
“Aidan Mackey and Ben Kadow ride for Supreme, but don’t always seem particularly interested in wearing the clothing. They’re constantly modifying their stuff and both have a collection of obscure band shirts. Ben works a nice sense of humor into the fits as well.”
Mackey gets special props as a “visible mending” king: Wes did a deep investigation here into a pair of Dickie’s that dude kept ripping, mending and patching in cool ways, rocking them over several videos.
“Stephen Ostrowski always has off-the-wall color/pattern combos, is a rad artist, and runs one of the premier queer skate companies, Glue. He has the first part in this:
“Jim Greco has gone through more fashion phases than anybody in skateboarding, including a weird glam-rock era. For the past few years he’s settled into this kinda Vincent Gallo/Mobster type thing (he even designed skateable loafers/dress shoes) and has been making these films loosely based around being a recovering addict skating LA.:
“Nora Vasconcellos runs sick lavender pants and cropped jerseys and stuff. One of the woman skaters with more interesting clothing choices for sure”
“Ryan Barlow is homies with Evan Kinori (and maybe worked with him at some point?) and skates SF hills in full EK fits, which is pretty rad. One fall and your Elastic Pants are ruined. His part starts at 7:13:
“And it’s hard to pick one skater from this Tightbooth video, out of Japan, but I wanted to shout it out — they all have billowy pants, swanging belts, cool buckets, etc.:
“The Japanese scene, as you’d expect, has a lot going on clothing-wise. Tightbooth’s video Lenz III is kind of overwhelming with the outfits. Lots of crazy loose gear combined with the dynamic camera work looks rad. Everyone involved goes crazy, but Shinpei Ueno, who runs the program, is especially fun to watch. His clips are in the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ section of the video.”
All the fits in Lenz III look mental, a truly Mach 7+ note to go out on.