She is responding to an eBay listing titled: ‘Vintage Leather King Motorcycle Jacket Men’s Black Punk Perfecto Belted’.
“Too on-the-nose,” she writes.
On-the-nose is bad – the antithesis of lower Manhattan’s thrown-together lassitude. The sovereign insouciance of every cool girl existing below Houston is distinctly off-the-nose. (Or, at least pre-COVID, those who could often be found Juul-ing somewhere between Broadway and Clinton, venturing north only for birthday oysters at Lucien.)
As my search for a leather jacket continues (one that isn’t trying so hard to be a leather jacket), I have been thinking about what it means to try and the paradox of trying to not.
Early on in quarantine, I had the short-lived motivation to do the assigned readings from a philosophy of aesthetics class I took six years ago. This initiative started (and stopped) with a handful of pages from Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement: The Analytic of the Beautiful. If nothing else, I gathered that, according to Kant, beauty is “zweckmäßigkeit ohne zweck”. In English: ‘purposive without purpose’. When I read this back in March, I didn’t get it. But as quarantine went on and my relationship with clothes morphed accordingly, I started to get Kant’s point. Or, the beauty of not having one.
Getting dressed in these unsocial times is an existential calculation of finding the point. If a tree falls in the forest and you’re working from home, are you wearing pants? Memes (outfitted for Zoom meetings in blazers and boxers) say no. Think-pieces retort: fashion is more than outward facing optics, clothing changes our orientation to ourselves, “Jeans Make You More Productive”,
“Changing from Night PJs to Day PJs is Self-care”.
On virtual runways, designers acknowledge the shambolism of the moment. Glenn Martens’ spring 2021 collection for Y/\Project plants shirt collars on the torso of sweaters, as if the model started pulling the shirt over their head and gave up. Telfar Clemens’ spring 2020 collection is similarly discombobulated – Vogue describes “a tank top with askew straps; it looks like if you stuck your head out of one of the armholes by mistake, said f—it, and went about your day”. Maryam Nassir Zadeh pairs leather bombers over sheer plaid bikini tops. Ottolinger tops are precariously held together by string.
Subverting conventional standards of dress is nothing new. We’ve subverted (grunge, punk) and we’ve subverted subversion (normcore, dadcore). But quarantine fashion isn’t just a defiance of established norms, it’s a detachment from establishment altogether. The new grunge isn’t a refusal to wash our hair in order to “stick it to the man”, it’s neglecting to shower because we’ll be standing six fit away from the man anyway so who cares?
There is a difference between a cheater and a spoilsport. In Unruly Voices, philosopher Mark Kingwell writes: “the cheat pretends to be playing the game and, on the face of it, still acknowledges the magic circle” but “the spoilsport shatters the play-world itself”. A cheater takes steroids to optimize performance and pays off referees – manipulating circumstances to get an unfair advantage. Cheaters respect the game enough to covertly undermine its rules. But the spoilsport walks out of the stadium, mid-game, ball in hand. Game over.
Like a spoilsport, the pandemic has taken us out of the arena. Getting dressed with nowhere to go and no one to see, precludes performative inclinations. There is no point in getting dressed. Unless, maybe, getting dressed is the point.
The Point! is a 1970s album and film by Harry Nilsson that tells the story of Oblio, the only round-headed person in the Pointed Village, a place where everyone and everything is legally required to have a point. To conceal his pointlessness, Oblio’s mother knits a pointed cap that Oblio wears at all times. Oblio’s hat gives him a point.
Addressing Comme des Garcons Spring 2021 ready-to-wear, Kawakubo said, “the human brain always looks for harmony and logic. When logic is denied, when there is dissonance, a powerful moment is created which leads you to feel an inner turmoil and tension that can lead to finding positive change and progress.”
Addressing something-or-other, Kant said: “The beautiful is that which pleases without requiring a concept.”
Quarantine fashion sheds attachment to logic and cohesion. It’s track shorts with a knit bralette. It’s a peasant blouse tucked into sweatpants tucked into cowboy boots. It doesn’t make sense because there is no sense to be made.
I send my friend a second leather jacket listing.
“Much better,” she texts back. “I like that it’s kind of fugly.”
Fugly is the best kind of off-the-nose – unabashedly not trying.
Before Kant’s Critique, Edmund Burke published his Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, in which he says, “the Beautiful is that which is well-formed and aesthetically pleasing, but the Sublime is that which has the power to compel and destroy us.”
For spring, I’m bidding on the sublime beauty of a fugly, not-so-jackety jacket.
This Era Essentials
No. 12_ The tank top
It's never too early to start stocking your wardrobe with this Spring staple.
Natalie Brown mashes together vintage band tees and puffer jackets to create something wholly new.