Throughout the history of fashion, there are countless instances of items of clothing whose use evolved far beyond what their creator envisioned. Take, for example, jeans. Jeans were originally created as a sturdy, hard-wearing pair of trousers to wear while doing properly intense manual labour and shit. These days, of course, jeans are ubiquitous casualwear, and let’s be honest, few of them are ideal for any kind of manual labour.
Other historical examples include leather jackets, bomber jackets, sneakers, button-down shirts, and many many more. But to be brutally honest I dropped History at the first opportunity, so I’m really in no position to be giving a history lesson. Wiki that shit if you’re really interested. What follows is instead a collection of some more contemporary examples: items that many might associate with a particular context or style, but have utility in a different one outwith their original pigeonhole. My intention is to inspire you to look at your clothes in a new way; to find a new angle for some of those pieces you don’t really wear any more, or take your style in a dope new direction by incorporating pieces you might otherwise dismiss as not being your style.
This one is really more like recent history at this point, but it’s still relevant so I’m opening with it. Glossing over the specifics, chelseas have historically been used either for riding horses or as dress boots. I presume that their appeal for the former is the lack of laces and other shit that might get caught in the stirrups and lead to ultimate death by horse trampling, but I don’t know and to be honest don’t care because it’s not particularly relevant to their modern-day use in fashion. As a dress boot, it’s easy to see the appeal of the Chelsea’s totally plain forefoot and overall clean, sleek design.
But in the past few years, the Chelsea has experienced an enormous resurgence outside of these uses. In case you’ve been living under a proverbial fashion rock for the past year or two, thanks mostly to the influence of Kanye West and Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent, chelseas are now huge in streetwear. The uncluttered shape make them the perfect boot to wear with skinny jeans for that ultra-sleek silhouette, and their comfort and ease of slipping on and off make them a great go-to casual boot.
We’ve reached the point with this trend that new chelsea models are being made specifically to fill this streetwear niche – the much-hyped Common Projects chelseas pictured above are an example. The light-coloured suede and thick crepe sole render them totally unsuitable as dress boots, but the perfect addition to any streetwear fan’s footwear rotation. However, the classic “dress” chelseas stocked by most shoemakers work well too – black leather and snuff suede are two classic chelsea colourways that look dope as fuck with some black skinnies and a biker jacket.
Since I only own one pair of chelseas and you deserve a more varied set of examples, go ahead and check out this these two inspiration albums, which have countless other examples in various colours and styles.
An overcoat is a coat to be worn over a suit in inclement weather, maintaining the same overall look as it (though it needn’t actually match in colour – the same overcoat will usually be wearable with many different suits). As such, they tend to be warm, long, and inoffensively styled. Of course, those characteristics are appealing far beyond the overcoat’s original formalwear domain.
Long coats in general are fun pieces to wear as a means of manipulating the silhouette of an outfit. In streetwear particularly, where short bomber and biker jackets are common, a thigh-length coat creates a radically different look. Compared to other common longer coats (parkas, trenches, duffles are a few examples), an overcoat is uniquely clean and minimal in its design (a result, I presume, of formalwear’s general aversion to excessive detailing), which makes it a great option for the minimalist streetwear style favoured by
a select group of the fashion elite everyone on the internet. Especially given that the most common colours all work wonderfully with the largely monochrome palette of the style – black, grey, and navy all fit right in naturally, while the slightly more exciting camel makes for a sick contrasting option as more of a statement piece.
Two fashion gods rocking the look
Sadly, I don’t even own one overcoat as yet (hence the fitting-room pic above), so I can’t show you all of the other incredibly dope fits I’d be putting together with it if I did. Instead, here’s another inspo album for your perusal (if you were paying attention, the two from earlier also had a few overcoat examples, so check them too).
This one is less radical but more personal than the previous two. To most people, chinos are simply generic casual trousers, and just slightly more dressed up than jeans. They offer a distinctly different texture to jeans, and can be cut a bit looser than jeans while still looking good. With my day-to-day bottom halves being massively dominated by skinny jeans, finding a way to incorporate some chinos in too would provide me with a lot more flexibility.
The trouble is that as I see it, the natural stylistic home of chinos is the prep aesthetic – which clashes totally with my own minimalist streetwear look. For certain colours this isn’t really an issue – black or navy chinos, for example, when paired with the monochrome shit I usually wear, more or less lose any real preppy vibe and just look like slightly dressier jeans. But half the appeal of chinos is the vast range of available colours – you’re gonna be hard-pressed to find a decent-looking pair of burgundy jeans, for example, while you have countless chino options. Of course, I have to be realistic in my goals: much as it pains me to admit, I’m fairly sure I’ll never be able to incorporate salmon pink into my wardrobe in a stylistically cohesive way; but there is definite hope for burgundy.
So, how to incorporate some more provocatively-coloured chinos into my style without drowning in blue blood? My solution isn’t particularly radical: I just wore them in a different way. The chinos I own are all a bit looser-fitting than my go-to jeans (a mere “slim” fit rather than the skinny I favour with my jeans), so I tried to leverage that to evoke a comfy, slouchy vibe – words that are a million miles from prep. I wear them lower on my hips, and pinroll or stack them to disrupt the sharp, smart look they would otherwise lean towards. The results are below (don’t expect to be too impressed – as I said, this one was mostly a personal bullshit issue).
I could try to find a chinos inspiration album to link, but I mean, really?
The three examples above are all a little different in flavour, but they demonstrate the same core concept – taking an item with certain connotations and using them in a very different context. I think it’s worth briefly pointing out that, at least to my mind, this is a distinct thing from “dressing an outfit up” by adding some smarter shoes, or similar shit. The former is more or less about disregarding the connotations of an item to find a new way to wear it, while the latter is very much about utilising those connotations to affect the connotations of the outfit as a whole. Of course, in the former case, the repurposed item will still affect the connotations of the outfit, but that’s not the main goal.
This distinction is demonstrated very nicely by the overcoat example: say we’ve got a simple tee/jeans/sneakers outfit that we’re choosing a jacket for. A “natural” choice would be a bomber – it fits cohesively with the aesthetic and formality of the fit. But say we want to “dress things up” a little. For a short step up, a leather jacket is pretty safe. Going a bit further, a casual unstructured blazer could also work. On the surface, an overcoat seems like far too much of a reach – pairing a true formalwear item with an otherwise very casual streetwear outfit. But in reality, it works, because the coat (and the starting outfit) is defined by more than just its theoretical formality level.
Personally I like to think of dressing items up or down (or, like, left or right? If you’re pushing from one style into another or whatever) as “stretching” the stylistic comfort zone of the item, while repurposing is more like ignoring what its comfort zone was and finding it a new one.
But enough of the pseudointellectualism. As I said at the start, my intention with this post was to inspire you as the reader to look at your clothes (and clothes in general) with a fresh eye, to see if they can be worn in a way you might otherwise dismiss. As a means of expanding your style, finding a new purpose for items you no longer wear, getting laid more, or just general creative experimentation, it can be fun thing to fuck around with.
TL;DR: Ignore how an item is “supposed” to be worn and see what it looks good with.
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