The trainers that changed my life
How a pair of Stan Smiths taught one man that in risks you can discover joy
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Oh no, not again.
“I love your coat, where’s it from?”
It’s amazing that these seven short words – strung together into a compliment, no less – could have such a depressive effect on my mood. Here is a friend saying something positive about an item of clothing which I have chosen to wear. That is objectively nice. And yet my shoulders slump. A thin, perfunctory smile stretches across my lips.
“Thanks,” I reply. “It’s vintage.”
The coat in question was produced by the American sportswear brand Starter sometime before 1994. It is a black, waist-length, hooded parka, with a gigantic Los Angeles Raiders patch covering almost the entire back panel. On the left breast, above my aching heart, sits another, smaller Raiders logo.
You’ll be familiar with it, whether or not you follow the NFL, because this gridiron-loving corsair is one of the most ubiquitous symbols in modern menswear. Appearing on caps and t-shirts, sweatshirts and bomber jackets, Raiders garb has transcended the realm of replica sportswear to enter the world of mainstream style. From New Era and River Island to Only & Sons, Raiders-branded gear is everywhere. And I hate it.
I know what you’re thinking. But I assure you that there is more to my gripe than simple popularity snobbery. I am demoralised when someone tells me that they like my coat because they are proclaiming, whether consciously or not, that I am a man of mode, up-to-date with the latest fashions.
But that is patently untrue. Instead, it’s happened again: I have found myself accidentally on-trend.
If you’ve never had the misfortune of being AOT yourself, let me break down the process. It begins with a much-loved, possibly knackered item of clothing. Maybe for you it’s that pair of Vans Old Skools that you’ve put through their paces since the early noughties, or a cosy colour-block fleece that has comforted you through every winter since your GCSEs.
In my case, of course, it’s currently the c1994 Raiders parka that I inherited as a hand-me-down from a family friend who had moved back to the UK after a brief stint in California in the 90s. Why he decided to get rid of a perfectly decent coat, especially given the comparative ferocity of British winters, I have no idea. What I do know is that every cold season since, I have shrouded myself in the coat’s warm embrace, and loved it. And for almost all of the 20 years it’s been in my possession, it has been decidedly and grossly uncool.
Stage one: it begins. You turn up to the pub and your mate is wearing that same coat, or those same trainers, or that same fleece, or something close enough. Only their one is brand new. What a strange coincidence, you think. Then little by little, you start to notice that everyone on the bus, in the bar, at the barber’s, are all wearing your precious piece of nostalgia. The one they at best ignored, at worst derided for all those years. Suddenly it’s on-trend. And so are you.
I know, I know: “Woe is me, everyone thinks I’m cool.” So far, so unsympathetic. But stage one is not the problem.
The AOT individual should learn to love the on-trend honeymoon period, because its sweetness is fleeting. Soon enough, the compliments will dry up. There will be no more queries as to where you purchased your coat. No more knowing, conspiratorial nods exchanged with fellow wearers. People will become bored of the item’s ubiquity. Most of them will actively begin to dislike it. Everyone, that is, except you.
After stage two – the waning – comes stage three: your fall. You’re now the only schmuck still walking around in that thing that everybody else has stopped wearing. Only now, you’re not anonymous. You are conspicuously behind the trend, a late-adopter desperately clutching onto the coattails of cool coats. Those same friends, those same strangers who celebrated you and your style-forward choices, now gaze upon you with pity in their eyes. “Didn’t he get the memo?” they whisper behind your back. “Maybe he can’t afford a new coat. Shame.”
That is the key, painful distinction between buying into a trend – which I happily do, all the time, it’s called shopping – and being AOT. There is no agency in being accidentally on-trend. You have not caused the trend. You are not responsible for Sainsbury’s releasing a clothing line inspired by your tatty old tee. All you are is a sentimental old fool who forms unhealthy attachments to things that should have been thrown out years ago.
I know this because I’ve been here before, a few times. In the early autumn of 2012, still practically hospitalised by the ferocity of my Olympics fever, I decided to treat myself to a pair of sporty new trainers. Well, I say “treat myself” – three things mattered: comfort, versatility and price. Sitting there on the shelves of Sports Direct (don’t judge me, this was before Zero Hours Contracts were a thing; all SD was famous for were those massive mugs), on sale, were a pair of black Reebok Classics. I bought them. They ticked all my boxes.
My girlfriend was not convinced. These trainers were infamous for their associations with football hooligans and little else. They were not cool, and they sure as hell weren’t on-trend. Fast forward to 2017, and any hipster worth their takesumi bamboo salt was wearing my Classics. People took one look at my feet and made a whole lot of assumptions about me, most of which would have been far from the mark. Not for the first time, I was AOT. The result was an unwelcome early retirement for my favourite trainers.
I still own them, of course, I just can’t bring myself to wear them. It’s not like I can write “I was wearing these before they were cool” on the sides in Tipp-Ex. Not only would that be insane, it would also mark me out as the kind of self-aggrandising hipster that I purport not to be. So my choice was between leaning into my newfound AOT status, or cancelling my beloved sneakers. I chose the latter. Now all I can do is wait for everyone else to stop wearing their Reeboks so I can lace mine up again. Because whoever you are, being the only person making a point about wearing something after it’s cool just isn’t something you can boast about.
In such circumstances, be it with my Raiders coat or my Reebok Classics or cherry Dr Martens or colourful fleeces or old band tees, I could convince myself that I am ahead of the curve. That it is thanks to me that you can buy a Metallica ‘Master of Puppets’ t-shirt somewhere other than a man showcasing his wares on a towel outside the gig. But that is obviously not the case. I am not an early adopter, a trendsetter, on the front row at Fashion Weeks. I am just a person who finds it almost impossible to bin or donate his old clothes.
So why does this keep happening to me? And maybe to you, too? Well, it is an accepted phenomenon that fashion turns in 20-year cycles – hence the current pervasiveness of 90s style, from women’s platform trainers to acid house-flavoured bucket hats. And so there is an inevitability to the fact that someone who bought or inherited most of their favourite clothing between 1994-2004 will eventually find themselves at the forefront, then height, then tail-end of a decade’s worth of ‘new’ trends.
By this logic, I am destined to at least a few more seasons’ worth of trendiness. Which is good, I guess. And then a whole lifetime of looking utterly passé. Which is less good. Because it means I might have to buy a whole load of new old things to replace my old old things.
Maybe I should stop moaning about it. Maybe I should enjoy my five years of fashionable glory, before spending the rest of my time looking like a walking museum exhibit. Or maybe I should just let go of the past and go out and buy some new stuff.
All I know is that if you’re looking at me now and asking me to tell you what’s going to be cool in a couple of years’ time, don’t. If you like the look of anything I’m wearing, and if it happens to be on-trend, it’ll be a complete and utter accident.
Words: Daniel Masoliver
Illustration: Guy Field
How a pair of Stan Smiths taught one man that in risks you can discover joy
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