Photographer Evan Smith is a soft-spoken man who chuckles easily. When you do get him talking, he’s as able to talk about free-market economics as he is about how boring the new Fleet Foxes record is. He’s also usually wearing something interesting, and so I decided to ask him about fashion. He laughed at me when I did, but he discussed it anyway. I tell his story here in his own words.
I grew up in the Dallas, Texas, area and I guess my mom has always been pretty well-dressed – or she likes to look nice. My first interest in fashion was when I thought that the kids in my elementary school were wearing Abercrombie and Fitch while I was in my Looney Toons baggy T. That was when I knew that I had to step up my game. You just get a sense for, you know, exclusivity. You want to be a part of a small crowd. Then I wanted to be a skater and was always looking at what the cool skaters I admired were wearing. I was aware of popularity, of who was who and what kind of people there were. Just knowing that there are different kinds of people and cliques and stuff, you know?
I remember when I moved here – August 2001 – and started 6th grade. I remember walking into my classroom and thinking, “Whoa, this place is a year or two behind.” I feel like I’ve been here for so long now that I’m probably also a few years behind. So when I go to the big cities, no matter where you look, there’s someone wearing something interesting. I like that. I like seeing the difference between Durango and everywhere else. I don’t hate Durango’s fashion sense. I kinda like to imagine what was going on in someone’s head when they got dressed in the morning, what sort of a message they were trying to send, or what they were feeling like. I think the stuff you wear communicates something about who you are or what you want to be or how you see yourself: Mindsets, lifestyles. The things we wear designate us as members of particular communities, you know? Like, when people wear stuff branded with a sports team’s logo. You’re saying, “Hey, I’m a part of this group.” You’re telling people your life goals. When I was in college, I tried really hard to dress professionally because that’s where I saw myself going. I wanted a job as a CPA or something like that. Now, I still try to look professional and sharp, you know? I like to buy things that are classic, that don’t really age. I don’t want to have to buy clothes every year because the things that I was wearing last year have aged and are corny now, you know? I don’t like toilet paper fashion. I want to wear clothes that look as good today as they did 30 years ago. Dressing is an art, and you’re expressing a moment, but it’s also sort of a kindness, too. You’re making other people look at you all day, so you might as well give ’em something nice or interesting to rest their eyes on, you know?
The first time I really recall thinking about what messages I was sending with my clothes was being on the baseball team in the high school, which is kind of a weird place to think about those things, I guess. Our coaches really encouraged us to pull up our pants [laughs] He’d say, [adopts deeper, authoritative voice] “not be dressin’ like a gangster and actin’ like a gangster. Be a respectable member of the community.” [laughs] But I respected them a lot, and I wanted to be a good teammate, and so I took that message to heart and I tried to stop being a skater and I pulled my pants up a little bit. He was a pretty intense guy. We were a little intimidated by him. But it’s come in handy. I network all the time now at business functions and after-hours parties where I meet all sorts of people with whom I want to make an impression and make sure that they know that I’m good at what I do and that I’m serious about it.
I can’t believe you’re asking me about fashion. I mean, I like looking at clothes on the internet, and I wish that I could afford some of the things that I look at and like, and somehow that turns me into a fashion guy [laughs]. I guess I’ve thought about it slightly more than the average person, but I’m pretty much just a complex person like anyone else. I’m multi-faceted. Yeah. [laughs] I can’t even imagine what you’re going to turn this into.
Cyle Talley loves the phrase “toilet paper fashion”. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org