I think the men I like should dress like me.
I hadn’t articulated this until a few months ago when I told it to a friend who speaks in clothes. She asked me what I liked guys to wear on dates, and I was momentarily flustered because I claim not to care; but I hate Manhattan-style work clothes that make men look sharp and capable: slacks that are belted over striped shirts from somewhere expensive, combed and parted hair, polished shoes. I think it all reeks of new money and capitalism and the sliminess of the fraternities these guys pledged to in college.
Instead, I like a little grit; I like my men to wear the Bushwick uniform.
This uniform crosses genders and sexualities in a way that clothes in Manhattan just don’t. I like it, and I realized I did when I met up with a guy at an art gallery in Soho.
“I think we’re wearing the same pants,” I said when we left to get dinner. “Yeah, I know,” he said. I felt proud rather than horrified. This was probably the end of that brief romance, but it was the beginning of my realization that this part of Brooklyn has a certain look, and I have a certain type.
a recipe for the bushwick uniform
I wear those Levi’s 550s: faded, high waist, straight leg, cut short with a pair of kitchen scissors I borrowed because I lost mine. They’re technically mens jeans, but for the past 10 months they’ve just been mine.
Frankie Martinez has a pair, too. He’s a 25-year-old visual manager at the Phluid Project, a high-end boutique that doesn’t subscribe to gender norms. The pants are Martinez’s only pair of jeans; they’re from Urban Outfitters, but they have the stiffness of denim you find in vintage stores. And they’re cropped.
Over coffee at Cafe Erzulie on Broadway, Martinez and I discussed how everyone in this area seemed to crop their pants. They’re either cuffed or cut. An angsty approach to Martha Stewart crafting, indeed.
People read what you’re wearing before they listen to you speak, Martinez told me. “Fashion is the most important commercial art there is.”
The pants, I’ve realized, are an essential part of the Bushwick uniform. Anyone can rock wide-leg pants, making this aesthetic accessible to whomever is willing to go to a vintage store and drop $6 on faded 550s or something else.
But it’s more than pants. There are Bushwick-style jackets (boxy blazers and denim things with shearling collars); hats (stupid, little beanies that don’t fit your head, according to a friend of a friend); and socks (chunky, warm, and peeking out of your cropped jeans, naturally).
The Bushwick uniform fits the neighborhood’s grungy irreverence towards social structures, particularly hard-and-fast gender norms. Girls wear guys’ jeans; guys wear girls’ silky vintage tops. People just wear whatever the fuck they feel like.
That’s why I like people who dress like Bushwick. They are intentional, aware, not boring; they don’t give a shit what people think.
The fashion archetypes of Bushwick are open-minded and liberating, this “heavy blanket of open acceptance and equality,” as Martinez said. It’s one of the first places he felt he could wear a red latex mini-skirt and FILA tank without being given a second look.
THE VINTAGE SCENE
It’s also why people are drawn to Dekalb Avenue where there are vintage stores galore. Take Evyon Tapia, a 17-year-old with dreads tied up into a topknot and a fanny pack slung across his sweatshirt. He commutes from Harlem to Brooklyn a few times a month to shop. There’s a cool vintage scene that’s actually affordable here, unlike Manhattan and even the Internet. He will dig through a whole store — men’s, women’s, whatever — to find something interesting that fits.
The many vintage stores in the neighborhood are designed to be dug. At Beacon’s Closet, buyers search for eclectic items, “that crazy-cool thing (someone is) going to be married in,” said Sarah Brumberger, a 26-year-old buyer and trainer at the shop near the Morgan L where she’s worked for four years.
The more boxes Brumberger digs through — one was full of dildos — the more adventurous she becomes with what she’s willing to buy for the store and the more she reserves judgment for what she thinks customers will want to buy. Leather corsets, motorcycle jackets, Americana marching-band pants. It’s all fair game for your Bushwick uniform, decorations for your denim.
“So many people come, and you never expect the shit that they come out with,” Brumberger said.