George Plimpton, literary critic, writer, first editor of the Paris Review, “method” sports journalist, actor, raconteur and wearer of all things preppy, performed one of his most famous pranks, the Sid Finch/Sports Illustrated April Fool’s joke in the 80s, around the time I was beginning prep school and proudly sporting what had become a force in prep fashion: button-down blue oxfords, boat shoes, navy slacks, and the occasional blue blazer and tie when I was being a prick. Usually the more I dressed up the worse my behavior. George Plimpton represented the nexus of many things I was interested in: literature, sports, diverse knowledge, preppy clothes, having fun and living life to its fullest. He was a bohemian Swiss army knife whose willingness to relay the authenticity of a story would lead him to participate as quarterback in an actual NFL training camp, participate as goalie in an NHL exhibition game, get a bloody nose from the light heavyweight Archie Moore and perform on the flying trapeze in an actual circus.
I’m reminded of him now that football season is upon us, fall style is in swing and people like me have been inspired to happily write about all of it. Paper Lion in particular appealed to me because Mr. Plimpton was exhibitioning as a member of the Detroit Lions, my hometown disappointment, uh, I mean team (side note: anyone who knows native Detroiters knows that we love our city and teams with an irony that allows us to talk shit about them as long as we’re the only ones talking shit about them). Football has long had a style and grace, which more recently has manifested off the field almost as much as on it. In the seventies, Broadway Joe rocked a fur coat (on top of modish all black) on the sidelines and then repeated the trick at the Superbowl in 2014, somehow looking even better (and no matter your opinion on the ethics of fur, it takes some stones for a man to rock one faux or authentic).
Flash forward a bit and today’s pro football stars are blending formal and casual in a way that’s emblematic of society at large. Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, treats every occasion with the sartorial seriousness of an artistic director, whether attending a charity gala, the ESPYs or arriving in the tunnel for the next game. Reggie Bush, currently a free agent running back (and former Lion), slides effortlessly between sportswear and business wear. Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, cleans up nicely in a suit; at least that wasn’t to blame with Olivia Munn; while Victor Cruz, currently a free agent wide receiver, has been putting in work for years, being recognized for world’s most stylish athlete by SI in 2016. Von Miller incorporates florals and colors, many times accented with a trademark cowboy hat. And wide receiver for the New York Giants, “OBJ” (Odell Beckham Jr.), is probably most adept at striking his own balance at the intersection of streetwear, sportswear and sharp suiting. In 2016, the nimble wideout made an appearance at the Met gala and appeared in the pages of GQ, which helped publicize a capsule collection (13 x twenty) with designer David Helwani of Twenty Tees.
Plimpton and Fashion
And not to be remiss, of our British “football” friends, David Beckham cleans up nicely in his favorite suit, which happens to be a Ralph Lauren, and that brings us back to Plimpton. In writing his 1993 profile of Brooks Brothers, “Under the Golden Fleece”, for the Atlantic Monthly, Plimpton spoke with a Wayne Sheridan, who at the time had been employed at the flagship location for 35 years. Mr. Sheridan manned the first floor, which consisted of shirts, men’s accessories and ties. He informed Plimpton that it was there that Mr. Lauren worked as a salesman, selling Brooks Brothers ties and gaining inspiration. Ralph Lauren would later begin his hustle by designing ties of his own…Brooks Brothers had no interest in selling them at the time, deeming them “too wide”. Mind you, this was set against the skinny slickness of Madison avenue and the straight truth of the civil rights era so his designs were iconoclastic at the very least. Until they of course became the trend (the mushroom cloud that would later become the Ralph Lauren Corporation generated $7.4B in revenue in 2016).
It could be argued that today’s streetwear is permeating the fashion world in the way sportswear grew in prominence back around the time Mr. Plimpton was born. Considered to be America’s contribution to fashion, sportswear grew out of a need for women to have something ready to wear and in response to their changing, fast-paced lives…sound familiar? It’s popularity also grew from a need to have more casual clothing for outdoor activities like tennis, horse riding, sailing and other preoccupations of what could be called the “privileged class”. Around the time Mr. Plimpton was becoming editor of the Paris Review, post-war suburban lifestyles were proliferating, so too was the voluminous off-the-rack manufacture of sportswear. In the ensuing decades, Plimpton made headlines for more exploits than can be done justice here; somehow of the zeitgeist while colluding with other iconoclasts to nudge it in different directions, and always doing so in a prepped out tweed jacket or blue blazer.
As we enter a new season of style this Autumn I’m taking a second to glance back. The present confluence of streetwear, sportswear, Americana and formal wear doesn’t happen without the gradual merger of hip-hop culture, athletics and artisanal craft, like the centuries old tailoring by the Italians, French and British, whose influence has long reached tailors on emerging continents and who are applying Savile Row meticulousness to a pair of jeans. It’s interesting, but perhaps inevitable, that over the last couple years brands like Supreme are crossing over into luxury fashion in collaborations with Louis Vuitton, Swizz Beats is pairing up with Bally (who got the original shout out from Slick Rick in 1985). And artists/designers like Virgil Abloh are joining to collectively push the zeitgeist now.
As we enter a new season of style this Autumn I’m taking a second to glance back.
Abloh’s sensibilities were fed the rawness of hip-hop and Michael Jordan’s Bulls while his formal education was informed by the established doctrines of engineering and architecture (I’m reminded of Kitsune’s Masaya Kuroki some decade earlier). From there he moved into fashion design and served as creative consultant to Kanye before launching Off White and creating successful collaborations with Warby Parker, Nike, and perhaps Louis Vuitton in the future. He not only pushes the synthesis of fashion further but, more interestingly, espouses a process that democratizes the idea of design in a way we’ve rarely seen.
As one of many who grew up equally influenced by sports in the 80’s and 90’s, catholic and prep school, comics and literature, new wave and hip-hop, renaissance art and 80’s graffiti, no wonder I find myself pairing a Zegna sport coat and shirt with olive utility pants and Nike Air Max’s without a second thought. No wonder you’re having your tailor deconstruct J.Crew short sleeve shirts so the sleeves accent your arms, and the pockets have rightful buttons – it’s not a coincidence J.Crew’s most consumer obsessed styles are a result of collaborations with Rei Kawakubo, New Balance and others. What’s happening is globalization in another fashion, forgive the pun. This kind of “globalization” possesses ideas (sometimes brilliant, sometimes exploitative) that politicians and critics are helpless to stop regardless of the amount of Brexits or immigration bans.
As Mr. Abloh has shown us, even your own style can be and is a mashup. I like to think Mr. Plimpton is up above in his rumpled blazer and sneakers, preparing to battle Kanye so he can have material with which to write about how sports, fame, fashion, hip hop, architecture and writing are careening off each other like atoms.
For the aforementioned men, and Fall style inspiration, check out some of what Unsolicitd is watching…