The Great Kefir Clean-Up

When we planned our ad spot for Lifeway Kefir, we expected to find some clothes for me to wear at a thrift shop, or maybe at Uniqlo. We figured we could afford to drop a hundred bucks, maybe two hundred, to make the commercial memorable, then discard the ruined clothes afterward. It was a decent plan.

It turned out that we were so busy shooting, we didn’t have time to buy me a set of clothes, and I couldn’t bear to pour kefir over one of the three coats I’d brought with me on the trip. Luckily, I’m the same size as our director, Ben, and he swore up and down that this blue Dolce & Gabbana suit was one he basically never wore. He even brought his girlfriend in as a witness to confirm that he never wore it. So I suited up, and doused myself in kefir. We only got one shot, but we made it count, and then we got a bunch of towels and cleaned up Ben’s apartment’s floor.

When we were done, the suit was soaked in kefir. Like a wet rag.

That’s when I had an idea. Stu Bloom runs Rave Fabricare, which I guess you might call an artisanal dry cleaner. My friend Will from A Suitable Wardrobe had recommended them, and Stu’s always inserting himself into conversations about cleaning on the big menswear boards. A few months ago, my mom bought some Hermes scarves with some nasty soil, and I sent her to Stu - who got them clean post-haste. My mom considered it a miracle, and she made good money on the scarves. I emailed Stu: was he up to the challenge of a kefir-soaked suit?

His answer was: “Absolutely.”

We put the suit in a garbage bag, and stuffed it in a Priority Mail box, and sent it off to Arizona. Well, to be honest, we let it sit on Ben’s kitchen floor for a week, because we forgot to give Ben’s girlfriend Rave’s address. Then she sent it off to Arizona.

By the time it got there, as you can see, it was absolutely foul. Since it had been balled up in a garbage bag in a cool dark place for a week, it was rife with fungus. Absolutely rank and nasty. Even Stu wasn’t sure if there was anything he could do, but he got to work.

Then, about a week ago, a package showed up at Ben’s door. He emailed me immediately: “HOLY COW! JESSE! IT LOOKS BETTER THAN IT DID BEFORE WE RUINED IT!”

Stu’s service is expensive - he took this one as a personal challenge, but the average price for a dry-cleaned item using their highest level of service is about $20, so I’m guessing he might have charged us $40 or $50 for what he did for Ben’s suit. A hand-finished laundered shirt is $6.75. That said, the dry cleaning business is such a disaster that I dry clean my suits and coats about once a season at most. It’s nearly impossible to find someone who will do it with any care at all. Stu’s passionate about cleaning, and in many circumstances (like when $300 worth of suit is on the line) that’s worth the cost.

You can check out even more pictures of the grizzly situation and the remarkable result at Rave’s blog.

Learn to Speak the Language:

Why the ‘Lo Heads are Masters of Sartorial Discourse

Would I wear a sweater with a picture of a teddy bear wearing Polo business clothes? Or a Polo Golf tie with an illustration of a golfer on it? Or a black leather Polo suit? No way. A jacket that says “SNOW BEACH” on it? Absolutely not.

So why did we feature ‘Lo Heads in our first episode? Wearing clothes that I wouldn’t wear myself, in ways I wouldn’t wear them?

Dressing is a fundamentally discursive act. The most sophisticated dressers are engaged in a three-way conversation - between the creator of their clothing, themselves, and the people they interact with while dressed. This happens in the context of a broad set of only semi-shared cultural values. The designer intends one meaning, the wearer recombines it, recontextualizes it, and gives it new meaning, and then that meaning is interpreted by the people the wearer interacts with in ways that the wearer could never have conceived.

I think that these guys, deeply immersed in this ‘Lo Heads culture, are incredibly fluent at this discourse. They’re living it. Any of us, no matter what our personal sense of aesthetics, or our personal goals for can learn from their example.

So let’s break it down a little.

The first level: there’s an interesting statement made, of course, when a black or Puerto Rican guy from the hood wears clothes that are self-consciously associated with activities (yachting, skiing, golf) that have powerful ties to whiteness and richness. The guy from the hood is subverting those values. His act is a thumb in the eye to the rich (and white) that says that not only can those symbols of privilege be appropriated by the downtrodden, the downtrodden can rock that shit better.

Dallas describes the Polo-obsessed culture as a function of “Aspirational Apparel.” I think that’s part of it. When you’re “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” as one guy put it, you want to represent something for yourself that’s more than that. But here’s the limitation of that description: this is not a literal act. These are not poor people striving to be as much like rich people as possible. This is a symbolic act.

We asked person after person, “would you get on a yacht?” “Have you ever been skiing?” “Do you like golf?” and to a man, the answer was a laughing “HELL no.”

In other words: these folks don’t aspire to be the rich. They aspire to success, sure, like any of us, but they aren’t supplicating themselves before upper-class white culture, asking to be let in. They don’t aspire to join the club. They aspire to take the symbols of privilege and give them new meaning. To rock them better.

In fact, if the clothes are worn in new ways - think of Dallas’ tie-outside-sweater look - all the better. Like hip-hop slang, the goal is to create an insider’s argot, a way of recombining these symbols of privilege into something with one meaning for people who “get it” and one meaning for people who don’t. Alienating the outsiders is part of creating an insider culture.

There’s also something fascinating to me about the specific preferences that Polo collectors demonstrate. I was wearing a corduroy Polo blazer the night we recorded at Lo Goose on the Deuce (“all eras, all styles welcome,” it said on the invite). Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of other guys there rocking corduroy blazers - despite the fact that corduroy has a rich sporting heritage.

Polo collectors like stuff with graphic and textual representations of the abstract class ideas they’re pursuing. Abstractions of abstractions. Ties with pictures of golfers. Jackets with pictures of skiiers. The Polo Bear.

The Polo Bear is the perfect collectible for Lo Heads. He’s a brand icon who appears mostly on annually-released sweaters. A teddy bear who wears Polo clothes. That makes the Polo Bear sweater a representation of a representation of class, through an icon (a teddy bear) that’s completely non-human, for maximum abstraction.

The reason the Polo fans love Ralph Lauren is that while he has always admired the aesthetics of English schools and Great-Gatsby Americana, he himself was a poor, Jewish New York kid. His name and brand were made up from whole cloth. His creations are fundamentally (and shamelessly) inauthentic. Their value is in how perfectly they celebrate an idea of Americanness that is both tied to race and class and somehow self-consciously cut off from it. The premise of his work is that he’s going to grab the symbols and aesthetics and rock them better.

I don’t want to get too semiotic on you, but our clothes have very limited inherent values. Warm/not-warm and keeps the sun off are pretty much it. Maybe some portion of our aesthetic values are in-born, that’s an argument for a different day. Everything else about getting dressed is symbolic. You’re participating in a conversation. Learn to speak the language.

One of the forefathers of the Lo Heads movement is Thirstin Howl III, aka the Polo Rican, a veteran MC and longtime Lo Life. Here’s his most recent single, “What It Iz Brother Lo,” featuring the late Professor X from X Clan.

Here he is showing off his all-Polo table service on his web series How Lo Can You Go?

Our sincere thanks to our first sponsor for S2, Lifeway Kefir. They really just let us do whatever we wanted, and we had a blast shooting this in our director Ben’s apartment. We only got one take, of course.

Thanks to their marketing man, Derek, for holding the mic boom during the shoot, too. That’s how we roll. VIP treatment. It turns out that kefir stings your eyes a little, and also makes you look like a creepy ghost when you pour it over your head.

By the way: the suit belongs to Ben, too (he and I wear the same size). He was prepared to lose it forever, but we sent it to a mail-order dry cleaner that we’ve heard is the best around. We told them that if they could clean it, they would be our all-time heroes. Oh, and we accidentally left it in the mailer, wet, for like a week before we mailed it. So it was super moldy when it got there. It’s supposed to get back to us on Thursday, so we’ll post pictures of the results.

Put This On Season 2, Episode 1: The Melting Pot

Q & Answer: How to Fold and Pack a Suit

In our Q & Answer segment, find out how to pack your suit for travel. We’ll show you a fold to keep it neat inside a rolling carry-on or suitcase, and we’ll show you how to keep your trousers on the hanger inside a garment bag.

Put This On Season 2, Episode 1: The Melting Pot

The ‘Lo Heads

Meet the ‘Lo Heads. With roots in 1980s street gangs, these Polo Ralph Lauren enthusiasts have made “aspirational apparel” a lifestyle. They once had to boost their Polo from stores and fight to keep it on the streets. Today, their culture is worldwide, promulgated by hip-hop. Their hero is Ralph Lauren - a working class New Yorker who understood that the fantastical power of style can be transformative. Dallas Penn from The Internets Celebrities, a dedicated Lo Head with a collection of over 1000 pieces of Polo apparel (and former member of the Decepts crew) takes us on a tour of this remarkable fashion subculture.

Watch the Full Episode

Put This On Season 2, Episode 1: The Melting Pot

PTO Place: Worth & Worth

Visit Worth & Worth hat shop, a New York institution with roots going back to 1922. In recent memory, Orlando Palacios has made the shop a home for rockers as well as traditionalists, turning hundred-year-old machines to the task of reinterpreting hundred-year-old styles.

Watch the full episode.

Put This On Season 2, Episode 1: The Melting Pot

PTO Man: Jason Marshall

Meet Jason Marshall, a jazz saxaphonist with a classic style. He plays with bands ranging from traditional bop to hip-hop fusion to Aretha Franklin, but he prefers to wear tailored clothes when he does it, and explains why.

Watch The Full Episode

Put This On Season Two, Episode 1: The Melting Pot

Put This On, a web series about dressing like a grownup, visits New York City, a place where style is defined and redefined through interpretation and reinterpretation.

Meet the ‘Lo Heads. With roots in 1980s street gangs, these Polo Ralph Lauren enthusiasts have made “aspirational apparel” a lifestyle. They once had to boost their Polo from stores and fight to keep it on the streets. Today, their culture is worldwide, promulgated by hip-hop. Their hero is Ralph Lauren - a working class New Yorker who understood that the fantastical power of style can be transformative. Dallas Penn from The Internets Celebrities, a dedicated Lo Head with a collection of over 1000 pieces of Polo apparel (and former member of the Decepts crew) takes us on a tour of this remarkable fashion subculture.

Visit Worth & Worth hat shop, a New York institution with roots going back to 1922. In recent memory, Orlando Palacios has made the shop a home for rockers as well as traditionalists, turning hundred-year-old machines to the task of reinterpreting hundred-year-old styles.

Meet Jason Marshall, a jazz saxaphonist with a classic style. He plays with bands ranging from traditional bop to hip-hop fusion to Aretha Franklin, but he prefers to wear tailored clothes when he does it, and explains why.

And in our Q & Answer segment, find out how to pack your suit for travel. We’ll show you a fold to keep it neat inside a rolling carry-on or suitcase, and we’ll show you how to keep your trousers on the hanger inside a garment bag.

This is the first episode in our six-episode second season. We’ll visit the three greatest men’s style cities in the world, as chosen by our readers - New York, Milan and London. Stay tuned for our next New York episode, coming soon to putthison.com.



This episode was supported by our viewers and by Lifeway Kefir.

Executive Producers: Jesse Thorn & Adam Lisagor

Director: Benjamin Ahr Harrison

Host / Writer / Producer: Jesse Thorn

Producer: Andrew Yamato

Director of Photography: Ryan Samul

Sound: Andrew J. Reardon

Production Assistance: Zach Linder, Derek Miller