This story is part of Image issue 18, “Mission,” an anthology of fantastic voyages — from L.A. to the world and back to the epicenter. Read the whole issue here.
There is a system shock that happens when walking into a coffee shop at 9 a.m. on a Sunday wearing a fishnet top and platform boots. The yoga pants, the dad hats, the washed faces with a touch of mascara and a dab of lip balm — they all know. They know! But you don’t care, because if there’s one thing you know, it’s that the anatomy of any good morning-after look starts with something that’s not supposed to be there.
The ensemble is the direct result of staying out too late or staying somewhere not your own. At least one item of clothing on your body has been borrowed: an alma mater T-shirt thrown over a thrifted leather skirt; Adidas track pants double-knotted over a PRISCAVera flame-printed mesh top. One is meant for hiding: a hoodie, or pair of overpriced sunglasses from Gentle Monster. Then there’s the smell: Byredo’s Oud Immortel replaced by a foreign laundry detergent and the salt of unfamiliar skin; disheveled hair that has locked in smoke particles from the clurb. If we could bottle this as a fragrance and name it, the scent might be called Eau de Messy. Mostly, though, the outfit is recognizable by its aura of audacity.
When you’re striding with pride from somewhere — straight from the afters or a new (maybe one-time) lover’s bed — your outfit is a play in juxtaposition, a dip in the pool of euphoric recklessness. Your barista, Uber driver or neighbors might look at you with either judgment or nostalgic longing for their own nights turned into mornings. Baked into the morning-after fit is a lesson: Here’s the sensibility needed to move through the world and not be crushed by it. To embrace the power in being vulnerable and on display. There’s an obvious receptiveness to owning your own experiences, but an impermeability to what anyone else has to say about it. Shame? We don’t know her.
The morning-after look says, “I’m not playing pretend anymore.” It’s a piece of information that lets people around you in on a recent experience of yours, and there is no effort in trying to stop it. If anything, it’s an invitation to draw your own conclusions about how the night went. It also has the capability to call back energy from the night before: Finally feeling that bite of cool morning breeze on your bare legs when the adrenaline of the night wears off triggers memories of joy or chaos. You’re in line at the post office, yes, but you’re also psyche-deep into a flashback of sunrise on the dance floor, or stumbling into a new “friend’s” apartment and meeting their cat for the first time.
It calls into question whether there is a right place or time for any one kind of look. Wearing something see-through when the sun is out, feeling it baking your skin through the barely there material, makes more sense anyway. The morning-after fit is proof that things can become better with time: It always has the possibility of becoming the day- (and evening-) after fit because it adapts with you as the day progresses. It can keep the memory of what happened the night before intimately tethered to you as you’re sitting, walking and running a quick errand in it.
Intimacy develops at lightning speed when you walk around a city in day-old clothes with someone you met only recently — whatever small moments you had together stretch out past their limit like the collar-drunk shirt on your back. You see this in “Medicine for Melancholy,” the 2008 indie by Barry Jenkins, where an awkward morning after a hookup — which begins with two people waking up at someone’s house after a party and brushing their teeth with their index fingers — turns into a day spent biking and walking around San Francisco. As the day matures, so do Micah’s (Wyatt Cenac) clothes, though he seems to forget he’s wearing threads that might be stained with beer or now ripe with sweat. The outfit itself takes on new meaning, a new memory forms around it. Clothes are a continuum. They can’t shake the past but they carry on. The sweater will forever be the sweater you wore when you had X wild night with X person.
The purpose of the fit can either be functional (you had no choice) or aesthetic (you had a vision). A TikTok popped up on my explore page earlier this year, captioned “normalizing morning after a night out outfit checks.” The creator does a half spin on a Hollywood street with Bancroft Middle School in view. They wear a belted miniskirt, chain crop top, fingerless gloves, ripped thigh-high socks, platform boots and Y2K-era glasses wrapped around their face. Who’s to say whether they were actually walking home from a romantic or debaucherous (or both) night out, but the spirit of the outfit is unmistakable.
There’s a genre of clothes that achieve a version of the morning-after look without the possibility of regret or lack of sleep. The Blue Meadowland Petal Pants by Collina Strada are the sartorial equivalent to what it feels like to wear your underwear outside your clothes — they literally feature a flower thong overlay. The brand’s Pleated Belt Skirt in plaid or crushed velvet can be layered over pants or leggings and looks like it has a story to tell. Anything from Chrome Hearts screams “lived-in and chaotic,” especially when paired with tired eyes and a paper coffee cup on a sidewalk. Sometimes, a party fit can often hit harder in the morning.
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In popular culture, the stride of pride always climaxes during the coffee run. The video for artist Caroline Polachek’s song “Welcome to My Island,” off her new album, “Desire, I Want To Turn Into You” shows the singer at a coffee-shop counter in smeared eyeliner and a skin-tight biketard accessorized with a silver belt and fist-sized bow in her hair. She’s surrounded by hipsters wearing color, sensible polos, workwear, looking fresh and sociable after what we assume was a full night’s sleep on their part. The song is, as Polacheck told Vulture in February, an “anthem for a walk of shame, where your makeup is smeared across your face or your look from the last night is half-destroyed, and polite society is moving down the road, kind of giving you side-eye, and you don’t care because you’re completely insulated in your own kind of bratty, messy, slutty spiral.”
The morning-after fit gives the illusion of not caring, but it’s imbued with thoughtfulness. Wearing it with your head held high is a quiet protest in not letting the outside world judge you based off a detail that you let them in on, like what you did last night. History is not something to be embarrassed of, or hidden as quickly as possible. Marinating in a look from the night before helps you realize that there is power in versatility; it’s what we need in our everyday lives.
A couple of springs ago, I went to a warehouse party to see someone new in my life. I was wearing the type of top you can scrunch up into a tiny little ball and put in your pocket, my leather skirt was in heavy rotation that year and cartoonishly chunky New Rock boots grounded me into the asphalt. We danced and danced, and then walked back to my car to discover it had been broken into. I woke up the next morning desperate to figure out the situation — there was no time to go home and change. I ran around L.A. for hours, inquiring at auto glass shops in platforms and leather, with a heavyweight cotton T-shirt that wasn’t mine and smelled like sweet musk, triggering flashbacks from a night that had all emotions wrapped up in one.
The city gave the luxury brand the chance to imagine and create a new reality — a world where the fashion house’s gold-gilded past meets a future in the same vein.
Since then, a T-shirt (usually my own), a leather skirt and platform boots have become a regular fit for me. The practicality of the tee with the wild impracticality of everything else makes sense in my world, one that requires the fluidity to bounce between both of these modes to survive. It’s offbeat, the wrong place and the wrong time, maybe, but the right look for me nonetheless.
To fully embrace the stride of pride look requires baking it into our everyday lives in a casual way: Wear it out for a lunch date, do a much tapered-down version at a casual work event (morning-after core lite). This fit is a clear communicator. In its purest form, it says where you’ve been (somewhere being messy) and where you’re going (hopefully, home to take a shower). But the spirit of it is meant to be sprinkled into our daily wardrobe. The morning-after promise is that it can transmit something deeper. It can say “I’m open to vulnerability, connection and adaptability.” It can also say, “I have no interest in absorbing your side-eye, social norms or style conventions.” Call it what you want: the stride of pride look, the morning-after fit, your messy era uniform — but recognize that it’s always had more to do with power than shame.
Models: Maeve Sullivan, Hana Addams, Victoria Moura, Tino Del Zotto
Makeup: Bridget O’Donnell
Hair: Jocelyn Vega