Put This On Season Two: So Far
Above: Episode 4
Below: Episodes 3, 2 and 1
Put This On Season Two: So Far
Above: Episode 4
Below: Episodes 3, 2 and 1
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.
A couple of snapshots by Zach Linder from our shoot tonight with Dallas Penn at Lo Goose on the Deuce, a meetup for Lo Heads, Lo Lifes and other Polo Ralph Lauren enthusiasts.
Senor Lifshitz with the sock monkey shawl collar.
Something meets something is almost always awful, especially in the world of fashion.
This, though, I’m having trouble resisting.
If you’re a big guy, like me, this is a time to think about wider lapels like those Polo has introduced this year. More than fashion, this is about proportionality. Put very skinny lapels on a big man and they start to look like a goofy costume. Here, the high notch on wider lapels emphasize the shape of the suit.
Q and Answer: Outlet Malls
Michael writes: I was wondering if you could post some tips on outlet shopping. Do you think they are worth shopping at? I know that a lot of companies that have outlet stores have specific lines, that they only sell at their outlets, of lower end merchandise that they can sell for less. Any tips for what to avoid or what is worth looking at? Or should they just be avoided all together? Thanks!
Sounds like you’re on the right track, Michael.
Most factory outlets aren’t really factory outlets anymore. Most sell at least some merchandise that was never in a traditional retail store (and was never intended for one). Some don’t sell any “real” merchandise at all.
Here’s what I’ve got experience with (and do email if you have inside info on stuff we don’t have out here in Southern California):
Saw this photo in an advertisement in this month’s Esquire.
After a few years of Mad-Men-ish narrow ties and lapels, it’s refreshing to see Polo’s lapels blossoming outward. It recalls their heyday, in the mid-to-late 1970s, and to my eye, it looks decadent and luxurious and just great.
Of course, everything else has to be on point to rock a look like this - and it’s interesting that they’re blending some traditional American elements in with this very louche Euro 70s look. I just love the lines of this thing. The shoulders are slightly broad, but not extraordinarily so, and the body remains tightly tailored, but not in the too-small-my-buttons-are-straining way that you see on a lot of guys these days. The two-button front functions to lengthen the whole look, as well, which is quite flattering. The combination of big lapels and tailored elegance reminds me of 70s Saville Row - Michael Caine in Get Carter for example. But like all RL, it’s also very American, with the button-down collar and fake-heraldic graphic tie.
I’m not prepared to trade in all my suits for big lapels and long lines, but it’s certainly an inspirational idea, and it’s exciting to see as big a ship as Polo sailing against the current.
All I Want For Christmas: Ask Andy
In our series All I Want For Christmas, we ask men we like what they’d like to get for Christmas. Our final subject Andy Gilchrist is the proprietor of Ask Andy About Clothes. The site features both his book (on CD), “The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes,” and a popular men’s style forum. He’s a classicist, and his site is the unofficial home of the “trads,” who espouse the principles of traditional American style. So what does the man who gives advice want?
It’s on the luxurious list, but why not treat yourself to a cashmere* sweater! Go with a cable knit for more interest and a tan color (neutral) for maximum versatility. Neutral colors go with everything.
You can choose a V-neck, which will show more shirt and attract attention to your face or the classic crew neck.
*Cashmere is very soft, and luxurious yarn spun from the wool obtained from the soft fleecy underbelly of the Kashmir (Capra Hircus) goat of the Kashmir Valley, northwestern India. For many centuries Kashmir was the only place the fiber could be woven, according to treaties that gave the Maharaja of Kashmir exclusive rights to the cashmere supply, but now the Kashmir goat is raised in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Iran, Iraq, and India.