“The embarrassing thing for me,” says Hirschorn, “is seeing the actual culture of my youth recycled as a kind of ironic hipster kitsch. What’s my access point into that? If I still have the clothes from the first time around, does that mean I get to wear them again?” In other words, if you’re 35 and wearing the same Converse All-Stars to work that you wore to junior high, are you an old guy sadly aping the Strokes? Or are the young guys simply copying you? Wait, how old are the Strokes, anyway?
The Grup Look, or I Swear These Jeans
Were Here a Minute Ago
My father did not wear T-shirts. He did not own sneakers. He may have had one pair of jeans, crisp and stiff and store-bought blue, to wear on the weekends when we’d do things like go apple-picking. At all other times, he wore suits.
So I wonder what he would make of the offices of Rogan, a very hot, very hip fashion label that operates out of the third floor of a building just off Broadway, north of Canal. The office is cluttered with large cardboard boxes and long tables, where twentysomething staffers fulfill orders by hand, among rolling racks of carefully crafted vintage-style shirts and down ski vests. Paper patterns for future clothes hang from a bar overhead like thought bubbles suspended in midair.
Rogan is run by Rogan Gregory, a 33-year-old designer who, when I meet him, is wearing a faded pink vintage surf-shop T-shirt, dirty white Vans slip-ons with seagull silhouettes, and a pair of his famous jeans. Famous, at least, within certain circles: namely, denim hounds who will pay $450 for a pair of jeans that are so distressed—so tattered, so frayed, so worked over and beaten down—that they will likely fall apart within two years.
Rogan is tall and slim, with a trim beard and jaw-length hair that’s tucked back behind one ear. He specializes in clothes that are handcrafted to look like you exhumed them from a rack at the back of a dusty vintage store when, in fact, you bought them at Barneys for several hundred dollars each. He understands that this market did not always exist. “I’ve been wearing the same thing my entire life,” he says. “But ten years ago, people gave me a hard time. If I was checking into a hotel, they wouldn’t believe that I was actually staying there. Now it’s accepted that just because that dude doesn’t look like some fancy-pants—well, you never know.”
Rogan sees this as a good thing, and not just for the obvious business reasons. It used to be, he explains, that each stage of life had its uniform, from kid to teenager to fancy-pants. Now, though, that fashion progression has flattened out, and everyone just wears the uniform of his choice. “It’s absolutely not a hierarchical thing,” he says. “It’s a look thing. They’re all spending about the same amount of money on their wardrobes. It’s just about how you like to be perceived.”
A number of trends have nudged us in this direction, from the increasingly casual dress codes at work to the persistent marketing of counterculture “rebellion” as an easily attainable, catchall symbol for cool. During the dot-com boom, businesses not only allowed people to come to work in clothes they might usually wear to clean out the attic but encouraged this as a celebration of youthful vivacity and an upheaval of the fusty corporate order. Suits were thought to be the provenance of, well, suits. The dot-com bubble burst, but the aesthetic remained, as part of the ongoing rock star–ification of America. Three-day stubble and shredded jeans are the now-familiar symbols of the most desirable kind of affluence and freedom. So why would anyone dress up anymore? A suit says, My mother made me wear this to go to a bar mitzvah. The Grup outfit says, I’m so cool, and so damned good at what I do, I can wear whatever the hell I want. At least when I go out to brunch.
So now, for many people—many grown-up people—the uniform of choice is rock tees and sneakers and artfully destroyed denim. Of course, when you’re 40, with a regular paycheck, yet still want to resemble a rock star who resembles a garage mechanic, well, what’s a guy to do? Status symbols still have their uses, especially in the world of clothes. And this is where the $200 ripped jeans come in. Or $450. Or $600. You want the tattered jeans, but you also want the world to know, I can afford the very best in tattered jeans.