This essay is part of Fashion in Isolation, a special issue on the intimate, contradictory, and ultimately inescapable relationship we have to what we wear.

I don’t have a favorite article of clothing. Having a favorite anything is for kids, if you ask me. Clothing is like regular old speech, and I don’t have a favorite word either. Though “catawampus” comes close. Isolation has only bolstered this outlook: If I wear a pleated trouser, and no one is around to see it, does it still make me feel like I’m on my way to a fancy dinner party? Not really. Fashion is a narrative you slip into and walk around in, and I’m not walking anywhere. Anyway, who cares? People are dying.

Then again.

It was my mom who got me into fashion and taught me it’s not just the business of rich dodos, her having grown up poor in the Texas barrio. On our trips to the mall where I sat with her purse in my lap waiting for her to come out of the dressing room, she’d press a blouse or skirt to her body and make a pouty face in the mirror, illustrating, to herself, what life could look like. “You can be poor and have good taste,” she’d often brag to me. “I always had good taste.”

Fine, I do have a favorite article of clothing. I’m a big dumb child.

I like shoes. This, too, has to do with my mother, for I, like many gays, found in mine my first style inspiration. She was an English teacher, and she’d wear these high heels that carried a furious click-clack through the halls, the sound of authority. Is there a more compelling sartorial story to be told than power? No. I put a lot of stock in shoes, especially shoes that click-clack; shoes that move with severe license.

Yes, my favorite article of clothing would have to be my shiny black boots.

There’s something fundamental about boots, necessary and cardinal. I miss standing in them, stomping in them, and walking with that delectable intent. They presently sit in the corner of my room and ask, “What now?” It has been a slow, idle calamity, watching the once celebrated accessories of my previous life reduce themselves to frivolous objects as the weeks roll by. I do have to ask: What is the point of fashion right now?

The thing about fashion, what makes it different from mere clothing, is that you never fully inhabit the story it tells. Fashion is a conspiracy to tilt one’s thoughts, be they your own or someone else’s, gently over to the side of fantasy: Where will I go? Who will I be? Its relationship with the future is what is currently clotting its magic. Nowhere. Not sure.

Then again.

Then again, like my mother, I have never bought into the notion that fashion and fantasies are the exclusive parlance of the comfortable. We all sleep, and we all dream, and we all carry ourselves through life with some degree of wishful thinking. What would we even have if all that wasn’t life were frittered away?

I look at my boots and, in my mind’s eye, I paint a future.

John Paul Brammer

John Paul Brammer is an author and columnist from rural Oklahoma currently living in Brooklyn. He runs the popular advice column ¡Hola Papi! on Substack, and is publishing a memoir of the same name with Simon & Schuster's flagship imprint in summer 2021. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Food & Wine, Catapult, Business Insider, and many more publications.

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