I love clothes. My night-time routine involves plugging music into my ear and muting out all my thoughts because at the end of a long and stressful day of classes, I get to unwind and focus on creating my next day’s outfit. At the end of a long day, what I want to focus on most are the clothes in my closet. I spend a few intimate moments curating what I want to wear and how I want to wear it. I want to look good for me, myself and I.
Today, my fashion inspiration comes from the rappers I listen to, the skateboarders I keep up with, the N.B.A players I imitate and Mexican L.A. street style. Artists like Kanye West, Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean, skaters like Louie Lopez and Sean Pablo and athletes like Kevin Durant put together outfits that make them shine bright. Each has a unique and signature style, inspiring me to curate my own. There’s a tension, however, between being truly unique and conforming to the trends of society.
Over the years, I’m sure you’ve come across the “Aesthetic Starter Pack” meme. It’s a collection of clothing pieces that are associated with a particular type of person. It’s interesting to see how people categorize themselves, others and their personalities based on a particular set of clothing. When I go out to skate, I put on my beanie, button up shirt and loose flowing pair of pants to pull off a classic skater boy look. It’s fun and easy, but I want to push myself to not fall for the trends too heavily. Though thrifting, I’m able to experiment with my clothes and avoid current trends by acquiring timeless pieces. Thrifting allows me to enter my own fashion world and find my own style in a financially stable and sustainable way. I’m creating my own collection of clothes that speak to me. I find confidence in who I am by what I wear, and finding my own style fuels an ongoing journey of authenticity. When I look good and feel good about myself, I can feel better on my skateboard or on the basketball court.
When I am thrifting, my eyes are constantly adjusting, moving from left to right as my fingers comb the clothing racks in search of my next purchase. It takes time, but I search for pieces that call to me. It could be a smaller fitting shirt that complements my skinny frame or an oversized dress shirt that drapes over my arms. I’m always looking for polos of all different shapes and sizes or pants that are baggy enough to cuff and fit nicely over my sneakers. Thrifting appeals to me because you can become the owner of a piece that is one of a kind. Thrift stores are not like the stores at malls, where there are hundreds of shirts in all sizes with the same graphic. These clothes come from dusty basements and can be generation-long hand-me-downs. And, if someone doesn’t love or want their piece of clothing, I’m able to take it in and care for it.
One particular piece of clothing that I care deeply for came from the city of Detroit. When I lived in Detroit this past summer, I explored the city and visited all the thrift stores and vintage shops to find my next catch. I learned about the city’s history and gained a greater appreciation for its culture. Detroit loves its sports teams, with the Detroit Pistons playing such an important role in the city’s culture. The Pistons are three-time world champions. From the Bad Boy Pistons winning two championships in the late 80s to beating the Shaq and Kobe duo in 2004, Detroiters love the Pistons and living in Detroit made me become a bigger fan of the team. On weekends when I wasn’t working at my internship, I would bike down to Tolan Park and play basketball on a court designed with Pistons decals. I would join pick up games with the people from the city and play for hours. I was playing basketball in Detroit while listening to some of my favorite Detroit artists like Baby Tron and Flint rappers like Rio Da Yung Og. My love for the city, and the Pistons, made me want to thrift and find vintage Pistons pieces, so I embarked on a search.
A few blocks from Tolan Park is Eastern Market. This farmers market is filled with food vendors on Saturdays, but on Sundays, the sheds become a space for vendors to sell their art, clothes, jewelry and more. One vendor, Brandon’s Vintage Basement, had my attention the moment I laid my eyes on the clothes racks stuffed with vintage Detroit sports teams shirts. Vintage tees can be expensive — ranging from $50-$200 — but I was always aware of my budget. I kept drifting back and forth from this stand throughout the day, finding myself staring at the shirts on the rack and debating if I should purchase a Detroit Pistons shirt. I eventually had to ask myself, ‘when will I ever be living in Detroit, on my own, spending the summer in the city?’ My summer in Detroit would be coming to an end, and I needed something to remember it by. I finally purchased a black shirt with the classic Pistons logo from the 90s, even though it was more pricey than usual, because I knew that I would love and wear that shirt until it wore down to its final thread. And far later that summer, I also found a championship hat from the ‘04 Pistons title run. When I bought this hat, I knew that I was paying for a quality hat that, to me, had a deeply sacred and historical meaning.
The Pistons shirt in particular represents an important part of who I am. Every piece has a story, and when I wear that Pistons shirt, I think back to my summer spent in Detroit: skating at Riverside Park, shopping for fruits and vegetables on a Saturday afternoon at Eastern Market, enjoying live jazz music at Bert’s and working alongside Detroiters. My clothing is special because I make sure it captures the brevity of each moment.
There’s also a social aspect to thrifting and vintage shopping. I’ve always gone with my friends because it’s fun seeing each other’s reactions when we find a piece that we love. From finding a classic leather Perry Ellis jacket with Alana in Ann Arbor or a Red Dickies button up shirt with Quoc back in Grand Rapids, these clothes are associated with memories and people I care for. Thrifting also always makes me love and bring life to a piece that was once someone else’s item. When my family visited Yellowstone National Park, we went to a local thrift store in the nearest city, Cody. There, I found a Detroit Tigers baseball cap with the name “Russell” written in black sharpie on the inside. It had me thinking about who Russell was and how this Tigers cap had somehow made its way to Cody, Wyoming. I’ve never met Russell, but it makes me happy knowing we both have the same taste in hats.
As I get more of my own disposable income, I’m becoming more intentional with the clothes I buy and wear. I also want my actions to align with my morals because I don’t want to put my money towards fast fashion companies that are harmful to the environment. Excessive water use and microplastic waste only begin to scratch the surface of environmental concerns. I want to participate in something that is a little more environmentally friendly and, for now, thrifting and buying reused clothes is my best option.
Despite my best efforts, I know that my relationship with clothes is not perfect. The fashion industry is one of the most hyper-capitalist businesses in the world. Materials are sourced from all over the world and are made with cheap, exploitative labor in countries where citizens have little power in the means of production. All of this exploitation is done to make profits for corporations that cycle through fall, winter, spring and summer collections year round. Corporations are trying to sell you a product that will make you feel better and try to sell you an appearance of individuality when, ultimately, it’s all a money grab. However, there’s a dissonance between the clothes I wear to express myself and the clothes I buy at the hands of major corporations.
Over Christmas break, I bought my first pair of Calvin Klein Jeans because I was inspired by the pgLang campaign by Kendrick Lamar that Baby Keem and Dave Free participated in. pgLang is all about giving creators artistic freedom to bring life to their stories and visions, and this was done with advertising the Calvin Klein Jean. The designers behind this project understand the different languages of art, whether it be writing, music, film or photography. I wanted to buy my own pair of Calvin Klein Jeans because I support pgLang’s mission and when I bought and wore the jeans, I associated myself with this greater artistic movement. I was sold on this idea of inspiring artists to be creatively free. Yes, their jeans are becoming more environmentally friendly with the use of organic cotton, but my jeans were manufactured by Ethiopian workers who face verbal abuse, discrimination and earn 12 cents per hour.
There’s a tension between me and my clothes. Clothes are part of my personality; I get to express myself with my style. I’m a Mexican hipster, skater and basketball boy who likes to write. You can probably understand all of those things about me when you see me and the clothes I wear. I’m also aware of this hyper-capitalist hobby and how problematic it is. In the future, I want to stray as far away from this reality. I’m currently doing a lot of my shopping at thrift stores, but will I need to do more than just thrift? What’s more sustainable than that? To answer my own question, I would say I need to make my own clothes, which is what Abuelita does. She’s been knitting and sewing her own clothes for years, something I could begin to do in the future if I really want to accept my relationship with my clothes and not support huge corporations. I would be the one producing my own clothes and instead of relying on exploitative fashion corporations. It could be a hobby I begin to develop by starting small with socks and hats, then gradually expanding to sweaters and shirts. I’ve learned how to kickflip and shoot three-pointers, so I’m sure that I can learn how to knit. Plus, it would be something that would bring me closer to Abuelita.
When I was little, I didn’t have much say in what I wanted to wear as this decision was left to my mom. The outfits I wore were the same ones year in and year out. It was the same back-to-school shirts from the GAP with silly graphics or stiff blue bootcut jeans from Old Navy. It was easy and cheap — exactly what mom wanted. My older brother’s hand-me-downs were also thrown into that mix. As a child, I didn’t pay too much attention to what I wanted to wear. It would all get muddied and dirty anyways at recess and when I played in the backyard. I want to eventually not think too hard about the clothes I wear. I love clothes and fashion— hopefully I can get to the point where everything that occupies my wardrobe becomes a piece full of love and more importantly, something sustainable that can be worn everyday.
MiC Columnist Juan Pablo Angel Marcos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.