Occasionally I lament the passing of Daffy’s, the discount store specializing in European fashions of questionable taste. Of course, there was plenty of actually good stuff there, but the Northeastern chain was mostly replete with odd, sometimes contradictory items. Reflective sweaters or embellished denim or bright orange tailoring and the like were commonplace. But the store, to me, was vital to my personal stylistic development.
Back when I was younger, before the advent of the blogosphere, young men were usually encouraged to dress in alignment with their subculture, or the subculture they aspired to be a part of. I was no skater, no goth, no prep. Honestly, I wasn’t much of anything, so when I entered adolescence, I was directionless with clothes. A Daffy’s opened up near me, and I checked it out, hearing it was cheap. In the reams – and I mean it, the place was always overstuffed with product – I found clothes that weren’t necessarily one thing or the other. They were different enough from Gap basics but odd enough to have personality. Plus, it was where I bought my first pair of Supergas, and I’ve purchased a new white pair basically every year since.
Sure, I bought some duds, like a hooded sweater that made me look like a try-hard wizard, but they were cheap enough to avoid most consumer guilt, and it was in that experimentation, those hits and misses, that I found more of what I was actually about. There was also the thrill of the hunt, a shopping experience I hadn’t had before, which came with stopping by regularly to sift through their ever-changing merchandise for possible gems. Daffy’s opened me up to concepts in clothing, especially tailoring, that I wanted to know more about, and I began my pursuit of the (I hate to speak ill of the dead here) good versions of what Daffy’s had. In turn, I learned more about me as my tastes developed.
We find ourselves now amid a global pandemic with no clear end of the tunnel. The desire to go to a store or any non-essential business is at an all-time low. More people are at home, financially insecure, and with little reason to dress, not just up but at all. So it shouldn’t be surprising that retailers left and right, big and small, are shuttering. The writing was on the wall as more men began to favor online shopping, but the coronavirus considerably sped up the timeline. It’s a shame because by losing these stores, we lose the chance to explore style in person and by action, not just by scouring the internet for advice and comparisons. Yes, I realize this is a menswear blog with, among other things, online shopping tips and tricks. No matter the word count of an article, often the best advice no matter your problem is “go to a store, try some stuff on, and see what feels right.”
That bit of wisdom is tough to do online, and the lack of places to see and experience new things will inevitably send people back to what they already know. Daffy’s was massive and random. It was its own sort of fun that’d be familiar to the thrift shopper, but even the curated small shops with a more limited aesthetic are still vital. At their best, they can help expose brands to people who may otherwise not pay attention to things just outside thier line of sight. While a website might have great pictures, merchandising, and return policies, it’s still much more natural to tunnel in on your needs than explore an online catalog.
I’m waxing nostalgic in this article, for sure. Most people are probably having their own wistful “before times” memories as we hit month X of quarantine. But I’m thinking of my habits with online shopping, basically buying the same tees and the same jeans I already own since I know they’ll fit. Clothing is visual but also tactile. Without that initial introduction to clothing Daffy’s provided, I wouldn’t know the feel, the weight, the flattery of new, stranger clothes. As we become more isolated than ever, and with these storefronts losing ground, I encourage you to make wild, bold choices that don’t always have to make sense or be justified or are even wise (within financial reason, of course). Exploration and experimentation are about fun, and virtual fun is an imperfect replacement. So go forth and get weird with yourself!
Oh, and shop small in these times. We don’t have to lose everyone.