Would you beleive that I’ve had this 1930’s rayon polo for nearly seven years? Even as my style evolves and my closet changes, many pieces are kept in the archive, ready to be worn in similar and new ways. I just make it so.
Let’s dive into this concept that apparently is quite rare to find in menswear enthusiasts.
Listen to this podcast episode before reading the rest of this essay. It will provide more context to this topic as well as more anecdotes about how Spencer and I retain our clothing.
Buying something new is a topic that comes up a lot with fashion discussions. Menswear is quite a fickle thing to get into, with many a menswear journey starting out with “budget alternatives”, meant to be replaced later with something higher quality. Granted, some dudes just buy the big ticket item straight away since they know it’ll eventually happen. I like this since it teaches the ability to save or be patient; it usually applies to shell cordovan shoes or a nice navy sportcoat.
Despite the noble ideas behind budget alternatives or BIFL, there is the fact that menswear (classic, vintage, whatever) is still fashion. Some do remain in their style subgenre, but quite a few break out of the basics and get into something new, like the post-pandemic looks we’re seeing (also called the Menswear Merger). After all, menswear becoming more like streetwear in the sense of hype and limited drops was quite expected as the market and industry “matures”. Even without the hype, there’s still a constant stream of purchases- ironic for a style that prides itself on being quite steadfast. Reddit, Slack channels, and Discords are all about finding new things and taking out old pieces, even if its all within classic menswear.
I just can’t relate. I hold onto my clothes, sometimes for a long time (physique dependent). In essence, they are added to the archive.
The concept of the “archive” stems initially how many resellers and general fashion enthusiasts were getting into buying older/previous season designer clothing, perhaps as a way to rebel the constant stream of new drops and collabs. Archiving seems to be was a symptom of the post-sneaker world, going for vintage rather than new. Our Patron JTR then decided to posit it for us: do we ever decide to raid our own archive instead of buying new. Most of the sentiment in our Patreon Discord was that people tend to take stuff out quite regularly. For some, there is no archive, but rather an always-fresh closet.
Before I dive deeper into my archive mentality, I do want to say that you should absolutely pass on things that you don’t wear anymore. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in “defaulting” and instead, I push for the fun challenge of making sure every outfit is intentional, even if its in sweatpants. Some people combat this with that rule of getting rid of clothing that hasn’t been worn in a few months. It’s a fair mindset to have, though I do think it can be taken too far. How do you know you aren’t going to wear it in a few months?
For me, the reason why I have an archive of clothing is because…I love clothes. I approach it more like a collector, similar to how one would collect books or records. It’s a very emotional endeavor, both in selecting it when you purchase the item and when you decide to read/listen/wear it. As such, it never really made sense to give up on something. For example, you might have bought a vintage Rolling Stones record. You might be into hip hop now, but do you really want to get rid of the Rolling Stones record? No! Chances are you’ll put it on when the moment arises. It’s emotional- and clothes operate in the same way for me.
There really isn’t a system to my archiving. Apart from seasonal items like flannels, leather jackets, and coats, I don’t really put anything into deep storage. All of my clothes are in my closet or easily accessible thanks to the racks and dresser in my bedroom. Nothing really “leaves my sight”, which means that it’s quite conducive to random bursts of emotion and inspiration when creating outfits (see this stream for outfit creation and the backlog). I can pull pieces new and old based on whatever combination I feel like making. After all, if you’re a keen reader of the blog or follower of my Instagram, you’ll definitely notice that some pieces have been around for a long time. This mainly applies to shirts, ties, and casual jackets (and outerwear), where as tailoring has gone through some changes.
On paper I’m sure this sounds like my style hasn’t changed much but as you guys know (and can clearly see), my style has changed quite a bit over the last three years. Some of it was about honing in on what makes it “Ethan” but there has also been a lot of experimentation- all without crazy wardrobe refreshes. I’m able to use my wardrobe in a versatile way, not in terms of formality, but in terms of aesthetic. Admittedly this is all based on my vague notions of what classic menswear is, but it certainly helps. Even with the same old pieces from the archive, I can still make something new, at least to me.
This presumably comes from the fact that I grew up collecting/studying vintage menswear, which as you know from looking at Esquire Mags or Niche stuff, a lot of menswear details have precedent. We’ve highlighted how the 1960s-1970s are quite similar to collegiate looks of the 1930s with the flared trousers, nipped waists, and pagoda shoulders. A cunning guy could wear a 30s suit (or one in that style) with a runaway collar and some heeled boots to approximate a 1970s look, even if nothing in it is from that desired era. One could even argue that the 30s suit would be better as to avoid the polyester.
Thinking about things in alternatives is no longer simply about approximating tailoring with casual wear, but about approximating anything you want with the things you already have. Think of it like “forced versatility”, but focusing on aesthetics rather than the practicality angle. This is something I do all the time. Wide legged chinos can be quite Fred Castleberry- if you simply roll up the hem. A soft Neapolitan DB can be done to go into the Armani Redux– if you get the lapels wide, a longer jacket length, and an extended shoulder; you could even approximate a 1940’s look with that. Or the current fascination with rayon shirts and western details can be done in your own archive, provided you already owned 1950s gabardine workshirts and sportshirts. I’m particularly happy that long point collar shirts have returned via Drake’s and Husbands- especially since I’ve been wearing spearpoint collar shirts for as long as I can remember.
Funnily enough, many of the pieces I’ve kept in the archive has been the “odd” vintage clothing. A lot of people told me that I’d grow out of my vintage POV and stick to what’s modern. However the opposite has happened. Sure I might have given up full suits (mainly because they are too padded and/or too hot to wear in LA), but a lot has remained. My ties are still mainly from the 1930s-1970s. Many of my sportcoats, apart from the shoulder pads, have stayed in my closet. And you guys have seen just how many rayon sportshirts I’ve kept over the years. What has left my archive are most of the things I bought to stay in fashion. As soon as I learned to stick with my POV and know what details I want, it was easy not only to keep the garments, but to wear the piece across a variety of different aesthetics.
Perhaps its the fact that so much of menswear is about reviving old ideas and re-contextualizing it. Thankfully, Spencer and I have been collecting vintage and have held on to it to realize that much of what we like comes back, just with slightly different styling. Sure, our wardrobes may be bigger than normal guys, but it’s been pretty amazing that we’ve been able to raid our archives and still remain relevant. I’m not sure if this is due to our vague notions of menswear or the fact that we prefer to get as much wear out of something as possible. A single OCBD or sportcoat can be worn across a variety of aesthetics, all depending on how we style it. You’d be surprised how long we’ve kept certain pieces or even how old a piece actually is (historically speaking). It makes the archive ripe for the picking!
Maybe this comes from the idea that second hand clothing is meant to give pieces a new life. With the surge in archival clothing and the popularity of reselling, it just feels weird to give up clothes willy nilly. It’s pretty cool when you put something in to your archive (whether on purpose or not), only to be revived later, ready to be worn in a new way. It’s like picking through the bins at a flea market or thrift store and seeing a pair of old Ralph Lauren cords worn to some local office job, cast out for God knows why. You’re saving them, now allowing those chinos to experience something new, pairing them with shell cordovan loafers or rapidly disintegrating vintage converse. I think that’s pretty cool!
And as I state in the podcast, clothing is quite emotional. Things can come in moods. I’m not sure if this is uniquely a “me” issue, but since I’ve developed my POV, I’ve noticed that things don’t really “leave”- I always feel that I return to certain things after a while or “rediscover” them. It’s not predictable, but it happens! You guys know that I favor foulard ties, but there are times when I feel like wearing repps or knit ties. I started out buying solid rayon gab sportshirts (since that’s all I could find), but then I later shifted to checked ones, chambrays, alohas, and sawtooths– that doesn’t mean that the solid rayons aren’t still good! The archive is now just filled with different things to choose from.
Obviously minimalism was never my thing, nor is curating or paring my wardrobe down to its “bare essentials” (if you want that, this is the wrong blog for you). That’s because to me, a collector with an extensive archive, everything I own is an essential! This might be bad to say, but I can’t imagine “Ethan” without a jungle jacket or wide leg flannels or tassels or a spearpoint collar. I just like it all. Despite all that, I actually don’t buy too often (a relatively new stage for me), which means that the mental gymnastics to justify a purchase usually means that I have bought it “for life”. Not in a way that will last for ever (or is trend inmmune), but because I know I’ll make it work in any aesthetic I want it to (its narcissistic but its true). This applies to everything, from vintage and repros to new RTW or custom commissions. Everything should be intentional, but that doesn’t mean you should be limited to basics (especially since most of what I wear is totally dependent on non-basics, outside of certain sportcoats, trousers, and knit wear).
Keeping the idea of “forced versatility” in mind is a great thing, since it can lead you to stop thinking of clothing as a particular-use object. Seeing how my pieces have had a second (better) life as my style has improved has helped me learn that any new purchase can be just as versatile. Buying a sportshirt can work for 1940s, 1950s, and 1970s looks. A navy sportcoat can be trad-trad or I can wear it with shorts and a tee shirt. It’s still all menswear, but the nuanced aesthetics can be varied, which still keeps dressing fresh and fun!
Obviously we have been conditioned to make sure that new purchases should jive with our wardrobe. However, most wardrobes are quite singular in aesthetic, requiring a refresh every so often when it gets stale, which can lead to emptying things on Grailed or taking the “L” and dropping it at Goodwill. These things are unavoidable, but I try to make sure I lessen the propensity for selling off clothing. I’m just so lazy!
Looking back, it seems that the main times that I divest pieces happen when I’m no longer into the silhouette (by that meaning, it just doesn’t fit). I’m referring to the period where I got rid of my tight SuitSupply suits and my overly tapered trousers. Those were too much of a contrast against the POV I was developing. A lot of stuff from that era is gone, specifically the ones that were too modern. Vintage was always the POV and I wish I leaned into it earlier rather than keep it in the background (I also wish they were more conducive to wear in LA). You guys know that I’ve honed in on my proportions lately, with wide shoulders/draped chest and wide pant. But even with that POV, I’ve still retained a lot of “slimmer” trousers, simply because I like them (and I don’t feel like buying new ones). They still have their time and place when they’re worn- while still feeling like Ethan M. Wong.
That being said, I’ve also gotten rid of a lot of my fall/winter clothing- it just makes no sense to have that in LA, where cool weather is quite rare. I’ve also gotten rid of pieces that I straight up couldn’t fit into anymore. But if the piece fits, I see no reason to get rid of it! It’s bound to be worn again, recontextualized for a new era.
After all, most of my pieces are actually pretty boring. Even the “out there” pieces in my archive is quite tame in comparison to say “wild” ivy stuff from Rowing Blazers or some crazy pieces from 18East. But that’s just my style. I’ve always been pretty low key, though obviously some guys still can’t fathom wide legs, high waists, and geometric foulards. The funny thing is that my POV and “carefully curated” (as if) big archive of clothes can still contribute to a lot of fun outfits, that can even approximate many of the relevant styles happening today. Obviously it’s not exact, but that’s the point. It’s my interpretation with what I own.
Now obviously I still buy clothes- I recently picked up two pre-owned Ring Jacket sportcoats from Drop 93. I’ve also gotten a few cotton suits commissioned and made some sporadic eBay (or flea market) purchases over the pandemic. A few things are upgrades, like navy hopsack jackets or replacing old pre owned Allen Edmonds with shell cordovan Aldens. My buying habits are a mix of upgrades and “wants” (here meaning something totally new). Upgrades are usually for shoes, but the “wants” are quite varied, from basics (like my new DB suit) to fun pieces (like a rayon western shirt). Even the fun pieces are bought with a bit of the future in mind; even if I struggle a bit to wear it, I know I’ll be able to in the future. The thing to keep in mind is that things seldom leave, especially with the “wants”. The new pieces are added to the archive, ready to be worn at my leisure.
I’m sure it frustrates many of you (especially the ones that DM me) when I tell you that I’ve owned a particular piece for years, which means it’s not readily accessible. Hopefully that’s proof that it’s totally fine to hold on and archive your clothes, provided that you are consistent and self-aware of your POV.
I love my clothes and it makes me happy to pull things out at different times depending on my mood, just like rediscovering a band in your Spotify or an old niche Star Wars cue from the recording sessions. If you’re confident in your style and your purchasing decisions, it makes no sense to get rid of things (bar fit and weather relevance). Chances are you’ll fall in love with it all over again. I don’t grow out of things- I just grow in how I wear them.
Don’t believe me? Just look below- I’ve compiled a photographic history of different pieces that have served me well, not only through the years but through different aesthetics. Granted, it’s not like my style has changed too much. In looking over the photos and Spencer and I selected to go along with the podcast and this essay, it’s pretty clear that there is some vague throughline in all of this. And despite the nebulousness of how I think about menswear, I think that I’m glad that some pieces have stuck around through it all.
Perhaps this “archive” of clothing is the reason my style has remained quite “Ethan”. Provided that I don’t move somewhere with a smaller closet or outgrow the clothes. Fingers crossed!
- 08:20 – Topic Start
- 11:25 – Habits of Vintage Collectors
- 20:54 – Wardrobe Support
- 27:04 – Building Wardrobe on Itself vs Replacing Pieces
- 38:12 – Selling Clothing is a Pain
- 42:03 – When to Divest or Archive
- 54:17 – Buying for Long-term and Seasonal Clothes
- 58:55 – Trendy/Hype Pieces
- 1:02:14 – Oldest and Newest Pieces Owned
- 1:12:54 – Closing
- Old Ethan
- How We Buy Clothes
- Details Matter / POV
- Tangentially Related
We also talked about purging closest with our friend and Patron, Kiyoshi. We certainly see clothes differently!
Thanks for listening and reading along! Don’t forget to support us on Patreon to get some extra content and access to our exclusive Discord. We also stream on Twitch and upload the highlights to Youtube.
The Podcast is produced by MJ.
Always a pleasure,