nerd bfNerd 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):

ms. jonesAt 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.

The J. Peterman Shirt:

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.

Polo Shirt, circa 1472:

In the British Museum there is an illustrated manuscript, dated 1472, showing Persian princes playing polo.

Yes, 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.