The Perils of Being Intentionally Underdressed

A couple years back, I flew to L.A., ostensibly to let Stanley van Buren tour me around the city, write about vintage clothing and denim stores, and attend some kind of Epaulet trunk show that Mr. and Mrs. van Buren were throwing in their loft apartment. Some of that happened, but mostly I remember sitting in the pool at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs at one in the morning wondering where our pitcher of sangria had gone – which is, incidentally, where I first met Eric, who’s gone on to do some of Styleforum’s photography. The lesson here is to never say no to anything.

One of the things that Stanley had been adamant about during the planning of said trip to L.A. was that he was going to take me to some sort of very cool whiskey bar that was really awesome but at which you weren’t allowed to wear denim. That seemed great and all, so I decided I wasn’t going to pack any trousers and to hell with stuck-up whiskey bars. Instead, I brought a pair of black jeans and forgot all about Stanley’s fancy whiskey bar until the morning of the trunk show.

Naturally, at about ten A.M., I started panicking due to the fact that I hadn’t brought any trousers to wear so that I wouldn’t get turned away at a cool bar. Completely irrational, I know; but this was one of those occasions when you start fixating on something stupid and your mind digs in with a kind of sadistic glee and refuses to let go. It’s been two years, and I can still distinctly remember pacing back and forth in the weirdly charming patchouli-smelling basement studio/room I had AirBnB’d in The Brewery, which is a kind of rambling, gated artist’s colony somewhere in L.A., wondering what the hell I was going to do about these pants.

There are many ways I could have resolved this situation. I could have stopped caring completely, gone outside, and spent the morning scratching the really soft nose of the giant rabbit that my hosts had in a cage by the front door. I could have sat and read a book and watched the chickens in the sprawling coop across from the rabbit. I could have told Stanley that I didn’t care about going to a whiskey bar at all. I could have even gone out and bought a goddamn pair of trousers. Instead, I wrote an email to Mike Kuhle of Epaulet and asked him for a pair of pants.

Mike is a pretty cool dude. The kind of cool dude that makes you maybe try to act a little cooler than you are, the way we all claim we never did in middle school, which made wording the email even harder. How do you ask to borrow a pair of pants while sounding both professional and nonchalant? I still have no idea. I guess I wrote something in a kind of blind panic, which I sent along to Mike, and never heard back.

I think the best way I can communicate the combined embarrassment of a) realizing I hadn’t brought trousers – by choice, mind you, b) freaking out for no reason over said lack of trousers (which is, I think we can all agree, not something to freak out over), and c) writing an email to a near-stranger to ask for trousers is to describe it as watching a Ben Stiller movie that you yourself are starring in. Once I’d written the damn thing I felt even more horrified, because the whole affair had snowballed so massively around me that I couldn’t extricate myself without losing a limb or my mind in the process. To this day, I haven’t a clue why I was so fixated on the absolute, howling necessity of having a pair of trousers to wear to a whiskey bar I’d never heard of.

Do you ever look back on things you’ve done or said or written, and feel yourself cringing away inwardly? I even tried to look up the email just now, just to see what I’d said, but I had to squint at the text out of the corner of my eye and I closed my mail client without reading it so I guess I’ll never know. Then I had to walk around my living room and drink a glass of water before sitting back down.


I was too mortified to ask Mike if he’d seen my email for most of the the trunk show, which involved looking at Mike’s wares, talking to Epaulet customers, and taking dumb pictures. At some point I mentioned to Stanley that I didn’t have any trousers – I may have mentioned it to him several times, in fact – and he, like a completely rational, well-balanced person, didn’t seem to think that this was a big deal. And so the evening passed, the trunk show ended, and we reached the hour at which it was time to consider our next steps – whiskey bars included – and I had to re-summon the courage to ask Mike if I could borrow a pair of pants. Middle school me was appalled.

“Pants? Sure,” he said.

He claimed he hadn’t read my email, which I assume was his way of saying that he had but that he’d tried to forget it immediately. He did let me borrow some pants, though – a shirt, too. Unfortunately, by this point I’d reached a point of exhaustion no doubt brought on by twelve straight hours of intense, trouser-based panic, and it turned out that no one else was that keen on going to the whiskey bar either. We left Stanley’s loft, intending to see where the night took us, only to end up under the harsh fluorescents of a corner taco joint where we ordered burritos approximately the size of a compact vehicle. I was wearing my borrowed shirt and trousers, feeling even dumber than I had that morning, wishing for my abandoned jeans and tee with a quiet, crushing desperation. There is no feeling worse than feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, and it seemed that evening as though my entire existence revolved around a kind of spindle of existential distress resulting entirely from an intentional packing oversight.

The next day, I returned the clothes, and I never spoke of the episode again. The rest of my time in L.A. was focused on, I think, negronis. During the enjoyment of one of these – atop the roof of a different Ace Hotel – I found myself talking to a middle school classmate who I’d forgotten existed and who I hadn’t seen since age whatever you are in 8th grade. That should give you some idea of how the trip unfolded.

Stanley did chauffeur me to some stores, which he also dutifully photographed, and he also took me to his favorite crepe restaurant, because of course he has a favorite crepe restaurant. Mike, Stanley, and Karen van Buren were kind enough to sit through my attempts at karaoke, and Stanley and I got a flat tire. Then we (Stanley, Karen, Eric, and Eric’s then-girlfriend) drove through the desert, stopping in Joshua Tree to win that week’s white jacket challenge, before landing in Palm Springs, where we drank a lot of sangria and decided it would be smart to spend the next day wandering around in the sun on top of a mountain. On our way back to L.A., we stopped at some kind of old west LARPing haven called Pioneertown, which someone must have thought would be a good idea.


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I’d intended to tie this all back to clothing and personal style somehow; perhaps offer a poetic conclusion or philosophical observation on the state of American dress codes and how it is, even now, possible to feel underdressed. Unfortunately, reliving the experience has been traumatic enough to require a glass and a half of red wine, and now I’m doubly determined to forget it ever happened. I think the moral of the story is to be comfortable in the pants you have. Or to be careful what you wish for. Or, perhaps, that the pants are always greener. Regardless, I’ll be damned if I’m ever going back to L.A.