Personal aesthetics and internet culture: Colin Marshall talks to Put This On creators Jesse Thorn and Adam Lisagor

Jesse Thorn and Adam Lisagor are the creators of the new men’s style web series and blog Put This On, which explores all facets of the art of “dressing like a grown-up.” Thorn is also the host of Public Radio International’s The Sound of Young America as well as the comedy podcast Jordan Jesse Go; Lisagor is also a co-host and producer of the comedy podcast You Look Nice Today. Colin Marshall originally conducted this conversation on the public radio program and podcast The Marketplace of Ideas. [MP3] [iTunes link]

Pto1 Jesse, you've been on the program before talking about The Sound of Young America, your public radio show, and you're also known from Jordan, Jesse, Go!, your comedy podcast. A lot of your efforts are in the center of a Venn diagram of public radio, comedy, and the internet. Would I be correct in assuming that's kind of a perfect storm of people who don't care much about style and thus are fertile ground to inspire you to create something like Put This On?

Jesse:To be fair, many of those people give careful consideration to what band t-shirt to wear each and every day.

They spend the time, but they're not spending it necessarily in the place you would prefer it?

Jesse: Yeah, they've got three Yo La Tengo shirts, and they're trying to decide between them.

Adam: There are Venn diagrams within that Venn diagram where people are coming out of the woodwork and seem to unexpectedly be concerned with style and actually know how to dress in things other than band t-shirts. To be fair. To come to their defense.

I want to get an idea of whether the inspiration came from seeing a lot of anti-style or non-style around you, or was it more like being inspired by the style you did happen to come across — if that makes any sense?

Jesse: My inspiration for creating this was very much the latter; it was very much my own interest in style. Over the past few years, there's been a community of style enthusiasts that's grown on the internet, that's made me feel there's an audience for this. When we started making these videos, one of our goals was to make something an enthusiast would love but was also welcoming to someone who was just learning. Adam, to his credit, has done a really amazing job of maintaining that tone. Not only do people who like to argue about which tie know to use like it, it's also something valuable and interesting, even to — we get a lot of e-mails from women, for example, who literally do not wear men's clothes and have no practical use for our videos. We've really found a tone that's open to everyone.

I want to figure out how you, Jesse, managed to develop your own interest in style. Take the average person born in 1980, living in Los Angeles: they're not typically all that interested in style. What factors in life brought you to this unusual interest for your context?

Jesse: I'm from San Francisco, the style capital of the West Coast of the United States, as modest a distinction as that may be. I grew up splitting my time between my parents, and my mom is very style-conscious, very much an aesthete. It's always been something I enjoyed. When I was little, when I started doing this kind of stuff, my dad was making fun of me because he remembered be being a little kid. My favorite game was “costume game,” where I would make up costumes from the weird stuff I had laying around the house. I would be a dog-knight combination. It's always been a sincere interest of mine.

The stumbling block was always finding a way to do it that did justice to the aesthetics of clothing, which is such an important part. I didn't think I could do that through what I knew how to do, audio, but I was excited to learn more and do more. When I became friends with Adam and saw how amazingly gifted he was, aesthetically, particularly in the medium of video, I was like, “Oh, I can put these two things together. I can follow this interest I have and combine it with this interest I have in making media independently.”

The way this was made independently, the way it was funded, the way it looks — this is not a low-resolution show — the way people watch it whenever they want for free — it seems to be so much a product of right now. I'll direct this to you, Adam: how long has the technological window been open? How long have these elements converged on the net to the point where something like Put This On could be possible?

Adam: That's an interesting question. I know that the short form is relatively new. The internet itself is relatively new. I would say as early as reasonably streaming video has been around, there's been demand for your five- to ten-minute video. Technologically speaking, that all converged with the available tools: computers being fast enough to edit video, cameras being cheap enough to shoot something and have it not look like complete garbage with tracking lines going through it. That all converged together about the time I was getting out of college.

It was an exciting time, revolutionary, about the same time people started shooting full feature-length movies on digital video. This is pre You-Tube, of course, but that was about the first time it made sense to make content for the web and have it be viewed in the proverbial postage stamp-sized window. We started rethinking what content for the web means, in a way. I was young enough at the time where I hadn't fully developed my set of paradigms as to what content should look like, but being a child of the eighties and nineties, most of my aesthetic is informed by commercials as much as it is by film and TV. The short form lends itself to that really well.

It also seems new in the sense that it is a show, as Jesse said, so much about visual aesthetics. Never have I seen a show made independently, distributed via the web, that is so concerned with displaying and embodying a certain aesthetic sense. Jesse, maybe I'm putting this a little grandly, but was that an idea from the beginning of the project, that this thing not only has to showcase the style, the aesthetics that I care about, but has to be made of that same material, as it were, as well?

Jesse: You're getting at something really important, which is that, in a lot of ways, geekery — which has always ruled the web — is in some ways hostile to aesthetics. Adam is part of something that has developed around, say, Tumblr, which is very visually oriented, or around Vimeo, which is an alternative to YouTube built specifically around making sure videos looked good, above all else. People who obsess over the kerning of fonts and all these things are sort of a latter-day form of internet media and geekery. It's the maturation of the people who used Brøderbund Print Shop on their Apple IIs and then moved on to Photoshop or Aftereffects or whatever. These people who can combine that enthusiasm of geekery with aesthetics is a new and important thing Adam is very plugged into, much more so than I. Being plugged into that was part of why I thought Adam would be such a wonderful fit for this project.

The other side of that is the actual mechanics of making it. Adam, when we started this project, had recently quit his job as a commercial editor, a very well-paid, successful, professional-type job, and he was working freelance editing commercials and things like that. Again, also a highly paid professional-type job. I felt like I didn't want to bring him work without at least some money associated with it, so we used a web site called Kickstarter, which essentially funds creative projects through groups of fans. The first video we made for $1500. I said, “Look, I think the very smallest amount of money it would be reasonable to earn to make this professional-quality video would be, what, maybe $500? So if you make $500, I make $500, and we have $500 to buy lens caps or whatever —

Adam: Very expensive.

Jesse: We buy them from Pentagon vendors.

Adam: They're Filson lens caps. They're canvas.

Jesse: They're bridle leather. Vegetable tanned. But I wanted it to be professional from the start, and didn't want to bring Adam into something he wasn't getting paid for and there was no hope of getting paid for. I think that web site, which was brand new at the time, was also a catalyst for our ability to make it. Again, Vimeo's widespread use is three or four years old. Kickstarter is one year old, roughly. All these factors converged to make this possible in a way that's different from that postage-stamp video image of what you can do on the web, this sort of fake America's Best Home Videos sort of aesthetic.

Adam: The VHS aesthetic. It was really interesting to be a guinea pig early experimenter with Kickstarter. It's an incredible thing they've made, crowdsourcing funding of creative projects.

If I could go back for a second to the look of what we make, we keep, in this conversation, using the word “aesthetics,” which is an entirely appropriate words. But the one word we haven't mentioned, which is dawning on me is really important in making video as well as dressing oneself, is “design.” When the internet became a thing people were excited about not only reading but also creating for, people started using that word “design” a lot more, and paying attention to something called design. Design didn't just mean laying out graphics for print anymore. This had come from a time when Apple computer had revolutionized the design industry simply offering — for lack of a better word — writers the ability to choose from a list of handsome fonts. Just identifying that phenomenon, that if you write something, it can look different whether you use Helvetica or New York or Chicago or whatever, it takes on a different tone and character. That's design.

I think that, in recent years, design has come to mean so much more than it has before. I've heard people say writing is design, just the very act of writing words to communicate a message. By that same token, I really do think that dressign yourself is design. Whereas geeks never before really paid attention to how something looked in its final skin, or it's always been an afterthought. I think a lot more attention, and rightly so, is being paid to skinning what we make, because that really is the final layer between what we make and the rest of the world. Why shouldn't style be considered as such?

If we think of dressing oneself as a form of design — and, of course, everybody already thinks of making clothes themselves, as designers do, as design — how much of the structure of the show, the cinematic assembly of the show, is made to reflect the same elegance that a well-dressed man has? Obviously that's a little bit of a grand way to conceive of it, but —

Adam: No, I understand the question. It's a good question. As a thinker, I'm very simplistic. I like to break things down to their simplest components.

Jesse: Adam, I've always said you were simple-minded.

Adam: Breaking an outfit down to its components is a simple way of thinking about something, about dressing yourself. That the components form an outfit is just a very basic element to design. It made sense to me when we were conceiving of the show that it should be broken up into simple chapters, not trying to make a narrative of it all. Each show is on a theme, and then each episode is broken down into three or four segments. Those segments all somehow form an overarching “outfit,” as it were. That's the way I communicate. I try deconstructing an idea so I can communicate it to somebody: I break it apart and offer it as an outline, and then, on the other end, there's hopefully full page of stuff.

Jesse: I think men's style aspires to timelessness in a way that is more consistent with certain values of design than it is with what people think about when they think about fashion. Just the general le mode sense of fashion as something always changing is very different from what most men aspire to. Even when we were designing the logo — the logo was designed by a designer named Stefan Lawrence, who runs a design company called Stefan Rules. When we were talking to Stefan about what that logo should be — and I think that logo influenced the whole aesthetic of the show — it was about creating something that felt like it was out of time. Not something that was retro. Not something that felt like it was immediate and au courant, but something that felt like it could be at any moment. I don't appreciate your snickering, Adam, at me using two French words in one answer when I don't speak French at all.

Adam: I think you meant au gratin.

Jesse: Jacques Cousteau.

There is this word you used, “timelessness,” which I think is going to become so important in this conversation. I kept thinking about men's style, about Put This On. I have obviously read the classics: Dressing the Man, Style and the Man, the third book that guy did. It's hard to separate timelessness from the other concepts of men's style. I wonder — because if anybody's going to be the person to ask about this, you are, Jesse — does good men's style equal timeless men's style, and vice versa?

Jesse: The platonic ideal of men's style is timeless, but the reality is that you can't fully separate from fashion. We're lucky right now that the fashion is for something that approaches timelessness. I think of dressing as a sort of communicative act, as an act of semiotics. You're putting out a set of symbols that means something but also has abstract aesthetic values. Part of what you're doing is saying something about who you are. Any time you're engaging in an act of semiotics you have to consider what the person who's receiving the message will interpret what you're saying. You can't just assume that the values you're putting into it are going to be the values received.
Certainly fashion is part of what we do, and fashion is always changing and so on and so forth, but men's style is a very special place, almost unique in the world of aesthetics — with the possible exception of realist painting or something like that — in that it really is about creating something that gives you the appearance of being able to pass through a situation with perfect elegance. That is often separated from a timeline and what you would would wear to Studio 54.

How accurate would it be for me to say that, in the place and time we find ourselves, it's the man's struggle to steer between two pitfalls: dressing in the Tapout shirt and ratty jeans and flip-flops on one side, but on the other side, not looking fussily, obnoxiously retro. Not looking like a total mook, but not looking like a fancy Wes Anderson man as well. Is that a good way of putting it?

Jesse: What I've done personally to address that concern is, I've tried to build a lifestyle that supports me dressing like a fancy Wes Anderson man. That's been my system. I became a public radio host. All these things I do in life are a way to build up my reputation as a lovable, charming eccentric in order to support me wearing wool neckties, bowties, corduroy suits, things like that.

But it is certainly a problem. I think there's a big confusion among men who directly equate dressing up and dressing well. Something we write about on the blog is that every time you're dressing, you're dressing for a situation. When somebody e-mails me and says, “I'm in high school. I want to wear a suit to school because I think I'll look elegant,” I e-mail them back and say, “No, you're going to make everybody else feel like you're point out how awesome you are and what a dope they are. They'll hate you and you'll look like a jerk.” It's like that in any situation. There's two parties when you're dressing: you and the person who sees you. You have to be cognizant of both. But I think there are ways to dress that are elegant and move towards timelessness irrespective of their level of formality.

It's a quick and easy rule I picked up from a William Gibson book — the last place you'd expect a style typ, but — there's a character who has a rule that, if there's an item of clothing they could have worn for the past x years, they can probably wear it for the next x years, meaning that, if it's been acceptable for a while, it's going to be acceptable for a while in the future. The implication of this is that, if something just came around the bend, you probably want to avoid it. The 2000s has not been a great stylistic time: we've seen the rise of a lot of elaborate hoodies and square-toed Kenneth Cole shoes. A lot of Ryan Seacrest stuff. Is that a rule applicable: if it's brand new, you may want to look very, very dubiously at it?

Jesse: A lot of times, the things that have those values are designed, if I can get back to that word, for practical purposes. If you hear people commenting about the timelessness of work clothes — I think people misinterpret that and think it's because everyone wants to be the working man and blah blah blah blah blah. Maybe that's part of it, but the broader thing is that work clothes are designed for a specific purpose. They have a real raison d'être, if I might speak French again, that has to do with more than just pure aesthetics. That's reflected in the way a suit is cut. Suit cuts that flatter the body have that same sort of purpose-driven set of values that a double-knee Carhartt blue jean does. It's made for something.

Classic clothes, they're often made for something. Those are the things you can go back to and wear in any situation. When people ask me, “I want to start wearing a hat but I don't want to look like I'm going to an Indiana Jones convention,” I always tell people one good time to wear a hat is if it's cold or raining. Or if the sun is hot and your head's going to get sunburnt. When you're wearing something for a purpose, it doesn't have to justify itself on fashion grounds. It's a thing. It's a real thing.

None of that should be interpreted as any king of encouragement to wear Vibram Five Fingers shoes.

Oh dear. This is territory I knew we would find our way into.

Jesse: Anywhere other than a treadmill, please do not wear them. Running on the beach for exercise or something, I guess you could wear them then. Do not wear them in a non-exercise-related public place.

This opens up such a can of worms, it could consume the entire interview. If I said, for example, “Crocs,” if I was talking about Crocs, the next half hour would be on Crocs. To steer away from that for a moment, I will say that, a few minutes ago, we mentioned the “aesthetic geek,” I'll call them, the intersection of people who know how to use technology and use it well and also care about aesthetics, personal and otherwise. I kind of number myself in this tribe because of how much I like stuff like Put This On and the associated constellation of internet style stuff — if that doesn't sound like an oxymoron anymore. I guess you can actually say “internet style.”

Jesse: You're referring to ASCII art of Heidi Klum, right?

That's what I thought you were thinking about when I said internet art. Wait, this interview is not about ASCII art of Heidi Klum?

Jesse: No, that's what our web site is about. ASCII art, and specifically, ASCII art of Heidi Klum.

I only talk to people who make animated ASCII art. It has to blink. It has to have colors. This isn't amateur hour.

Jesse: Sorry. We're clearly amateur hour, then.

Whenever a new episode of Put This On comes out and gets received in various circles on the internet, certain geek communities watch it and you can gauge their various reactions. On MetaFilter, for example. No matter where, there's always people who love it, who say, “This is the thing I've been looking for forever. Why hasn't somebody made something like Put This On before? It's going to be my salvation.”

Then, there's other people who get angry. I don't say “angry” lightly — they do get angry about the existence of these items of clothing. One guy on MetaFilter actually said, “I'm sitting here fuming that there exists a pair of jeans that costs over $100.” This is not an isolated case. Since both of you are embedded in different-ish geek communities, I'll ask you both: what's going on with that?

Pto2 Adam: I mean, I love MetaFilter. I think it's a wonderful forum for intelligent discussion. But the people on there get all incensed about weird things, and I hate a lot of the energy there.

Jesse: I feel like we should thank the founder of MetaFilter, who is one of the people who donated to the Kickstarter that funded our show, but —

Adam: They get all worked up about stuff, and they formulate these impassioned arguments against what it is you're trying to celebrate. My take on it is, for the first time as far as a lot of these people were concerned, we were presenting just the notion of discussing this stuff in a friendly and accessible way. Because it was friendly and accessible and they were enticed to watch it because it was being passed around in their friendly geek circles, they were all of a sudden reminded of their shortcomings. It would be a little bit maddening to think, “Oh no! There's another thing I had no idea I was supposed to be paying attention to!” It's like finding out after years that you were supposed to be brushing your tongue and you had no idea.

Jesse: We've seen this in other places. We've seen it in comment threads in Boing Boing on our videos, all kinds of places. Less now that we've established ourselves, but you're always new to someone. I think there are people whose value systems have been built around, “Can I touch it? Can I put it down on a features sheet? What makes this better than that?” Somebody can buy a pair of Mackintosh speakers that cost thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars, and they can say, “Well, the frequency response is .0001 better than the Polk Audio speakers” or whatever is the other option. They can say, “This is better than that. That's why it's more expensive.”

That's part of what we do. We talk about the quality of clothes. We talk about modes of construction and things like that. People who have that mindset like that. But then there's this other part which is social. It's aesthetic. It's these things you can't quantify, that you can't compare directly, in an objective manner. It's those things that tend to piss people off.

Adam: Especially because the internet is so much founded upon the idea of ethereal skinlessness. Anonymity. For the first time, myself included, all of these people are able to exist in a social context without having to worry about what they're wearing and whether they're going to get picked on. Here we are stepping in and reminding them that yeah, they should actually keep paying attention to that, because it still makes a difference. That's uncomfortable for a lot of people.

Jesse: There's a skill set. If you think about how they diagnose people along the autism spectrum, people who are only a little bit down the road — it's about having difficulty recognizing social cues that are not explicit. That's something that's difficult for everybody. Just like every skill, some people have more talent at it than others. A big part of dressing is about social cues that aren't explicit. People who have built their lives around avoiding having to deal with that are naturally frustrated by it, and they can get upset by it. I don't think that's everybody who's upset by that kind of thing, but it's a tough thing. When you don't know about it, don't get it, it's scary and it pisses you off. It's sort of like how I feel about Crocs.

Those sound like perfectly — I'm not going to say they're reasonable reasons, but — those are the reasons a lot of people a lot of people are responding unreasonably. I think there's something else important that doesn't get discussed much in the style blogosphere or whatever you want to call it, which is that there is all this to learn, there's all this social-cue stuff to remember, but there's also a certain extent to which, when one of these people grumbling on MetaFilter goes to shop for clothes that are going to make them look better, there's always danger. You always run the risk of not just spending too much money, not just finding things that don't flatter you, but getting sort of hoodwinked by, for example, your Kenneth Coles, your Macy's International Concepts, or any other variety of flaky-label stuff that simulates what you're looking for. Is this a thing in your mind when you're communicating to Put This On readers and viewers?

Jesse: That's a really tough thing. It's just like anything, you know. Knowledge is power, Colin. Knowledge is power. As we record this, last night was the Emmy awards. I watched the Emmy awards, and there were all these people elegantly turned out. Then there were just these people — men specifically, very rarely women, they always look great because the social cues are much more prized among women than men. A lot of the guys just look like they're going to the prom. You wonder who led them down this path.

I can understand being worried about that kind of thing. Put This On isn't a how-to and I don't want to present it as such, but it's nice for people to have a place where they can just learn about some stuff and don't have to worry about anyone trying to sell them anything or trick them. They can get some of the skills they might not have and really start to appreciate these things that, for me personally, I really care about and love.

Looking at some of the items you post on the Put This On blog, looking at the videos as well and other style blogs, I'll often see the items and be able to take something posted as being pretty good style and say, “Yeah, that's pretty good.” I can look at the stuff that's posted and the blogger says is pretty bad and say, “Yeah, that's pretty bad.” But what I have a hard time doing — and tell me if you get the sense that this is at all common — is distinguishing the sublime stuff from the absolute abominations. When you get to the far ends of the spectrum, I honestly would have a tough time. If two shoes got held up, one this style blogger said, “These shoes are just exquisite, best shoes you'll ever buy, hard to pull off but great,” and then this same blogger said, “These shoes will kill you and somehow kill your unborn descendants as well,” that's when it gets hard to distinguish.

Adam: Such a fine line between clever and stupid, right?

Jesse: There's this guy called Eric Glennie, a designer who posts on all the big men's style forums promoting his wares. His main thing that he does is cut holes in things. He does two things; he's got a new thing. In addition to cutting holes in things —

Adam: He's cutting triangles in things.

Jesse: He now makes neckties where — I guess if you're the right height — when you tie the tie, the patterns are such that they're congruent when the tie is tied rather than contrasting, which is normally what happens. His heart's in the right place, I'm sure, but he's sort of a crackpot. I can understand that it's very difficult to distinguish between this guy's designs and some crazy shoe that Alexander McQueen makes.

I think there's two things to think about. One is, when you're doing something like that, you can pull off almost anything if everything else is awesome. I sometimes joke about this thing we call “sartorial power moves,” which would be something like wearing a bow tie and tucking the ends into the collar of your shirt. That's something someone sent a video of João Gilberto doing. That's something you absolutely can do if you are really awesome in every way. If the rest of your outfit is perfect. Gianni Agnelli is this famous guy, a famous Italian industrialist — I think he owned Fiat — and he's legendary for being one of the best-dressed people of all time. He always wore his watch outside his shirt cuff because he didn't like pulling his shirt up to look at his watch. That's something you can do if you everything else about your outfit is perfect.

When you're doing that kind of stuff, you have to be frank with yourself and say, “Hey, am I the kind of guy who can put together a perfect outfit with something crazy in it, or am I the kind of guy form whom that's really a stretch?” The secondary part of it is, that's an act of identity. It's all supported by who you are. I was just watching a video by this band the Apples in Stereo, because they're signed to a label owned by Elijah Wood, who was just a guest on my radio show, The Sound of Young America. They're sort of like older guys. The frontman is bald and has a beard. When I say “older,” they're in maybe their late thirties. They're all wearing, in this video, seventies clothes with crazy mismatches, poor fits, things like that. Frankly, they look great. The reason is, they're wearing these clothes while singing a great song and proving their awesomeness.

There's a lot more you can pull off when you have that social capital of doing something or being something great. If you think about who are the best-dressed celebrities, George Clooney is a well-dressed guy. I would say that if he wasn't George Clooney, he wouldn't be considered a world-class well-dressed guy. He does very well for himself. He certainly does much better than most. But he is George Clooney, and that is very much tied in with how he dresses. They can't be separated. I guess the answer is, either be perfect or be George Clooney.

Can we say that, if you're going to do something goofy, you'd better balance it out with five times as much perfection, no matter how that perfection is achieved?

Jesse: There's this Italian word called sprezzatura, which is very big in men's style. I think people sort of misinterpret it. What it is, essentially — I think wearing a watch over your shirt cuff is a pretty perfect example, or there are certain men who have the rear blade of their tie longer than the front one and tuck it into their pants, for example. These things are not sort of following the rules, but they're sort of the ultimate elegance. They're a demonstration that you've so mastered the form that you can willfully make a mistake, and that essentially transforms it into not a mistake.

Adam: For instance, Jesse right now has his shirt tucked into his underpants, and his underpants are coming up above his waistline.

Jesse: Exactly. That's my little thing that I do.

Adam: And it frankly looks ridiculous, but he pulls it off. He somehow manages to pull it off because everything else is so perfect and awesome and Clooney, which is a new adjective I just —

Jesse: Right. It's because I'm super-super handsome. Spectacularly handsome. And I live in an Italian villa and I used to sleep with a pig every night.

See, it all lines up. You've balanced out the underwear with the perfection. Mission accomplished.

Jesse: I also surprised people by overcoming the failure of The Saint to become a — was that the one he was in? The Saint?

Val Kilmer, I think. There's something that comes to mind when I watch Put This On and infer rules — not that you're giving out rules. I think about when I go to the store — that makes it sounds like I go to the grocery store — when I go shopping for clothes generally, which I don't buy at Vons or anything like that, rest assured —

Jesse: You buy them from and have them delivered.

Exactly. I don't like to leave the house. But when I do buy clothes, there's certain things in my mind that are just “Don't get these sorts of things” areas. I don't tend to pick up pleated pants, for example, or black dress shirts, because those are in my mind as things that look bad. But I start to wonder, with these and other things, is there slippage between what is aesthetically superior and inferior and what just becomes a rule for what you wear and don't? Sometimes I get confused: what do I actually think looks good and bad, and where am I just following rules because I can't necessarily make the determination?

Jesse: You may think that a Star Trek uniform is beautiful, if it's the one from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but that doesn't necessarily mean you would choose to wear it out of the house unless you were going to a Star Trek convention. The reality is that choosing clothes just isn't exclusively aesthetic. Otherwise, we would all hire artists to paint our bodies with body paint. It's always a mix. There's reasons not to wear a black dress shirt: it can make your complexion look very pallid, There are cultural reasons not to wear a black dress shirt, like you're not Johnny Cash.

Adam: It gets surprising now that I'm 32 years old and I feel like I've been around long enough to see a couple of cycles and pay attention to them. I've paid attention to my own reaction to certain style aesthetics, such as things like flared pant legs. At the time, that made complete sense: that looks awesome. Somehow it's weighing down the bottom, which is interesting, a different aerodynamic look. I wanted to go out and buy boot cut jeans. I thought they looked fantastic and everybody else looked fantastic in them. Now you look back at that, which was ten, fifteen years ago, and it's so dated and awful.

Now the tapered look has come back, the tapered look which was around before the flared look. It surprises me to have noticed that in those cycles, I was just as susceptible as anybody to adjusting my aesthetic taste for that stuff. To your question, I have that same concern as you: are pleated pants are bad because pleated pants are bad, or are pleated pants bad because, in the context, nobody wears them right now and you would look like a dork?

Jesse: And to be clear, they're coming back in.

Adam: Are they really? I mean, it's got to happen, right? Just like women's waist lines go up and down. Ten years ago, I would not have thought that I would look at a woman in high-waisted pants and think, “My god, she looks amazingly sexy.” Now, I do. Oftentimes.

Jesse: All the time. That's the main thing Adam's into.

Adam: High-waisted pants. Like, I all the way up. To the belly button.

Jesse: Like sailor pants. I think flared pants is a great example. A boot-cut jean, a gently boot-cut jean — if you were trying to judge on some sort of pure aesthetics or something, is very flattering. It makes many men's bodies look better, whereas the jeans that are at the height of fashion right now, a very skinny jean is kind of an unflattering look for most men's body shapes.

There's a couple ways you can play it. You can try and ride the wave. You can try and get outside of the wave, but even if you're trying to get outside of the wave by currently, for example, wearing something that's a straight cut, you still have to be engaged. You still have to know what's what if you want to send the right message. People are like, “I don't send any message with my clothes.” That's not possible to do. You may not be making any choices, but that doesn't mean you're not sending any messages.

There's a quote you posted on the Put This On blog recently from another style bogger — the name escapes me — but it was a quote that reminded us all that style is worth paying attention to, style is an interesting thing, but also, style is merely one component of the well-lived life. That resonates so strongly with me. This is one plank of one's attack on life, trying to play it well. How does a sentiment like that resonate with both of you guys? How do you guys contextualized style as part of the way you're trying to live well in general?

Jesse: My mom has been a big influence on me in this way. If I say the biggest influence on my interest in menswear is my mom, it's odd, right? My mom doesn't wear menswear.

Adam: But it makes so much sense, somehow.

Jesse: Yeah, what it means — just because I seem like a mama's boy, so to speak?

Adam: That's not what I'm — yes, that's what I'm saying.

Jesse: It's because my mom is someone who makes choices about her life. She makes choices about all parts of her life. My mom loves culture: she loves reading, theater, all those things. She also loves the aesthetics of things. That means clothes, but it also means what's in her home. She always sleeps on linen bedsheets. That's a really integral part of my identity. It's also, for me, separated from this Robb Report idea of that: $10,000 cigars, $300,000 yachts. No one in my family has ever been anywhere close to rich. In fact, when I was growing up, I sort of lived in the hood, and I went to the doctor and paid for it with stickers provided by the State of California.

That idea, to me, was never a class thing. It was always about finding a way to live the best life you can. It was very holistic, about more than just clothes. I like to think, the life that I lead, I'm successful in at least consistently striving for that. When people geek out over something, you can get so deep down this one particular thing that you lose sight of the rest of the things that are important in the world. That's especially a danger with fasion in our little corner of the world. It's easy to get so into fashion that you lose track of everything else about style. That quote, which I think was from The Choosy Beggar, which is a great web site that tells you where sample sales are going to be in New York, was really thoughtful and insightful on that count.

Adam, your thoughts on the life well lived? If you can't tell, it's my final question, so you get the grand final statement.

Adam: I'd like to strike a — balance, is they key word. Sure, I like to have good things and feel like I'm well put-together, but I feel like if I pay too much mind to any one part of that, it's usually to the detriment of the rest of the stuff in my life. I like, for my own personal style, to reflect a balance, not to feel like I'm ever concentrating or focusing too much on presenting myself. In other words, I'm a schlub, is what I'm saying. I'll own that, that's my choice and my style. I do notice the effects it has on all other aspects of my life when I am putting energy into styling myself, but also, I know myself well enough to know that how I'm styling myself is also a reflection of how I'm feeling. It's a cycle. It feeds back into itself.

Basically, I'm just trying to maintain equilibrium and be a happy, comfortable dude. I think it's important that Put This On maintains that idea. I'm different from Jesse in that way. Jesse is just exquisite in his attention to this stuff. Not everyone can aspire to be that from our audience. It can be somewhat intimidating to think that there's all this knowledge out there, but a little bit goes a long way. Just the fact that Put This On is there, celebrating this thing in public, where other people can kind of come and appreciate it to the degree they want to and can let it into their lives, it's an important thing. I accept it with open arms.

Jesse: And an open heart?

Adam: And an open heart?

Jesse: And open legs.

All feedback welcome at colinjmarshall at gmail.