Nerd Boyfriend is surprisingly compelling. Pictures of vintage “nerds” along with links to buy modern-day versions of what they’re wearing. (Like Buster Keaton, right, wearing corduroys along with a link to get a similar pair at J. Peterman.) It feels like a peek at the future of clothes shopping — a way to nail the sensibilty of clothes through personality.
Speaking of The J. Peterman Company, it’s a great example of a company that has used storytelling to set apart its products (long before it was hip to do so too).
Sure, the descriptions are silly — to the point where it became a running gag on Seinfeld. But that’s part of the charm. Like the hand-drawn illustrations instead of actual photos. It’s setting its own tone that is a world away from department store genericness. Some examples below.
Italian Shirttail Dress (aka Ms. Indiana Jones):
At the Colosseum in Rome, the toe of your sandal kicks over a chunk of marble, revealing a mint silver denarius from the reign of Emperor Hadrian.
Dinner at La Pergola is on you.
Then, there’s that innocent stroll into the jungle during your stay at an eco-resort in Belize.
Next thing you know, you’ve discovered the fabulous lost city of Xupu Ha…dozens of acres of temples and statuary and steep-sided sacrificial lakes, concealed by centuries of vines.
Your Mayan is rusty, but the natives seem to refer to you as “She Who Has Bows on Her Sleeves.”
Italian Shirttail Dress (No. 2318), found by serendipity in Florence. Upper-calf cut of soft, pre-washed linen, fashionable and favored by adventurers who want to keep cool. Rounded shirttail hem. Self belt. Point collar.
Bust darts, shaping seams, and those bow-tie roll-up sleeve tabs eliminate any possible confusion with Mr. Jones.
Thos. Jefferson disliked stuffy people, stuffy houses, stuffy societies. So he changed a few things. Law. Gardening. Government. Architecture.
Of the thousand castles, mansions, chateaux you can walk through today, only Monticello, only Jefferson’s own mansion, makes you feel so comfortable you want to live in it.
I think you will feel the same about his 18th-century shirt. Classic. Simple. Livable.
In the British Museum there is an illustrated manuscript, dated 1472, showing Persian princes playing polo.
Even more amazing, it shows exactly what they wore. Look closely and you’ll even understand why they wore what they wore.
They were hot.
The reason they were hot is that polo wasn’t yet a gentrified sport where people in Land Rovers parked around a green field nibbling cucumber sandwiches.
Polo, as originally played in Persia, was a war game with hundreds of players… cavalry units, king’s guards, and princes spoiling for blood.
(The training, then, was succinct: “hawk, cheetah, swordsmanship, archery, and…polo.”)
The shirts they wore? Open-necked, just as we know the polo shirt today; except that the neck, six centuries ago, opened twice as deep for…better ventilation.
Of course it’s ridiculous. But it sure does make J. Peterman stand out from the pack. And there’s a lesson in that for anyone who wants to decommoditize what they sell: The story you surround your product with is a great way to differentiate it from competitors. Banana Republic sells you a jacket. J. Peterman sells you a tale.
ratchetcaton 17 Apr 09
I’m sorry. This post is incomplete without Archival Clothing.
Walt Kaniaon 17 Apr 09
Yes, yes. J. Peterman gets it. Never saw this before.
I think Banana Republic did it even better, back before they got urbanified and corporate.
They used to sell safari wear, talking about a travel shirt with tales like . . . “We recently wore the short-sleeved version on a six-hour Jeep trip across the Yucatan. Even in 98-degree sun, the wide-weave fabric kept us remarkably cool, wicking away perspiration at maybe a gallon an hour. Our friends in conventional cotton shirts were soaked through, and miserable. And with nine roomy pockets, our maps, cigars, film and flask were always handy. No need to tote haversacks. Unlike our companions, we arrived happy and looking not like tourists.”
Why can’t companies talk about servers or cement additives or steam turbines that way? Why recite bullet points? Specs? Schematics? Why not talk about who uses this thing, how they use it, or describe some interesting things they did with it? 37 S does that well.
That’s what people talk about over beers after work. Not product attributes and differentiators and such dreck.
CCNon 17 Apr 09
“It feels like a peak at the future of clothes shopping…”
Markon 18 Apr 09
Actually, the J. Peterman Company declared bankruptcy in 1999, but has recently reorganized and brought back their great story-telling catalog concept. Definitely innovators in the DM catalog field; each of their catalogs (old and new) is a copywriter’s/designer’s lesson in innovation. Glad to see them back again.
Elpmison 18 Apr 09
Well, It’s not about selling products, but Bjarke Ingels Groups have a great ways of showing the story of creating a building. Not just introducing the final result. It makes the buildings really interesting. I love their way of thinking. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6139589717404806998
Thomason 18 Apr 09
The t-shirt company “worn by” (http://www.wornby.co.uk/) is using the same concept. Reprinting designs which were originally worn by personalities like Ali, John Lennon,... or during certain historical events e.g. famous student demonstrations.
Rabbiton 18 Apr 09
Kathy Sierra and Seth Godin have been saying this for years. That said, nice find. I think though that when you do find something like this, it’s a good idea relate the material to other bits of like-minded material. I think it’ll help to create a foundation for people who want to get into this mode of thought.
Anyone care to pitch in?
Derek K. Milleron 19 Apr 09
I agree about Banana Republic. I used to get their catalogue here in Vancouver even though there were (at the time) no BR stores anywhere nearby, and I visited and bought clothes from their San Diego outlet when I was there largely because of the appear of the catalogue descriptions. By the time the store arrived here in Vancouver, it was an upscale Gap, and I never went there anymore. Had they changed their clothing the same way, but kept the ingenious catalogue, I might have.
Morleyon 20 Apr 09
J. Peterman has been on the forefront of unexpected fashion, from their Himalayan walking shoes to their urban sombrero.
JaySon 20 Apr 09
“Life is Good” is another brand that does simple incredibly well. They don’t surround with stories, but the simple shirts/clothes themselves tell the story. They also published a book with a collection of the clothing pictures, which was fantastic.
Cycling Anonymouslyon 20 Apr 09
Brand/Site evokes the spirit of good epic riding.
Charlieon 21 Apr 09
Check out crumpler.com.au for this mixed with strong hallucinogenics. Great work because it’s NFB. Not F&*$ing Boring.
Charlieon 21 Apr 09
Cancel that, they replaced it since I was last there. Evidently too wacky even for them.
Dougon 23 Apr 09
And don’t forget woot.com, a fantastic present-day story-telling site.
This discussion is closed.