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What Action Man and G.I. Joe taught me about style

"Each doll had multiple dope mission-specific outfits and their uniforms and gear were like extensions of their personalities..."

What Action Man and G.I. Joe taught me about style
24 April 2017

Jon Moy is a well-respected fashion writer from Detroit, Michigan. His Instagram is a perfectly curated collection of tree blossom and impeccable footwear, and his work at dearly-departed style blog Four Pins saw him become a cult figure for sad lads who loved painfully real, only-tangentially-linked odes to trainers and big, expensive jackets. Here he walks us through how he developed his personal sense of style.

That's Jon, there, in the yellow cap.

I was asked by ShortList: “Jon, why do you dress the way you do?” And while normally I’d say “I don’t know” and leave it at that, they agreed to pay me to answer this question. Which is how you find yourself reading this unprompted missive from a stranger about how he developed his own personal sense of style. I suppose like anything that isn’t one’s personality, you develop something like a sense of style to make up for having kind of a shitty personality.

But that’s too short and too accurate of an answer so instead I’m gonna give you guys a rambling explanation that basically can be summed up as, “a series of external circumstances combined with personality traits lead to me being obsessed with trousers that are just tight-baggy enough.”

To wit:

Being the son of a Chinese dad and a white mum in the overwhelmingly homogeneous city of Detroit, you get used to spending a lot of time trying to blend in while being cognisant the entire time of the fact that you never really will. It’s probably a similar reason why my dad has always made a point to buy American cars. I remember always being keenly aware of the brands and the ways kids in my town styled them.

I’m like Donnie fucking Brasco when it comes to fitting in with suburban WASPs. I knew how to get the perfect super severe curve in the bill of my hat by bending it into a coffee mug and leaving it overnight. I knew Sambas were cooler than Gazelles and that you never fully tuck your shirt in, you just half-tuck at most. Hockey was huge in my town and all the kids half-tucked their shirts in like Wayne Gretzky. I still enjoy a good Gretzky tuck when I see one in a lookbook. The only thing I could never pull off was that angel-curl Dawson Creek haircut.

G.I. Joe with a cool hat and jacket. (via Flickr / PuuikiBeach)

Other than being really good at code-switching as a kid, I was really good at collecting super dorky hobbies. Including, but not limited to, Dungeons & Dragons and a fairly extensive comic book collection. D&D sticks out as a strong factor because I was introduced to it by my older cousin, whose older brothers would never actually let us use their guidebooks or character guides. So instead, we learned the basic mechanics of the game and then just made up our own versions of the game. Like any kids, we spent more time coming up with the world than actually playing in it. We spent hours designing our characters, describing to one another what they were wearing, what the world looked like. It was a great way to learn to pay attention to detail. And for as long as I can remember I remember loving paying attention to clothes and gear.

I truly loved G.I. Joes – I guess they’re called “Action Men” over here. But now that I think about it, maybe I played so heavy with those toys because each Joe had multiple dope mission-specific outfits and their uniforms and gear were like extensions of their personalities. Or I just really liked outfits and toxic masculinity expresses itself in a child accessorising tiny dolls with guns and grappling hooks. (NB: you need grappling hooks to avoid the hot lava.)

At around ten or eleven I saw Akira and it blew my tiny mind. I remember just watching it over and over, memorising the dialogue and trying to recreate the outfits. I remember really liking Kaneda’s pink shirt and white pants combo and begging for a Hypercolor sweatshirt because it was a similar seafoam green to Tetsuo’s sweatshirt.

Some of my favorite comic books growing up were part of a series dedicated to the minutiae of a particular superhero or supervillain’s world. Rather than a traditional plot, these comics featured cutaway diagrams of utility belts, secret lairs, and doomsday devices. I loved them. I re-read them all the time. I can still picture the description of Batman’s utility belt and an issue dedicated entirely to The Punisher’s arms and armor. I remember asking my mum if the Teflon used in the non-stick pan was the same as the Teflon used in the Punisher’s bullets. Maybe I was a weird kid.

I could continue to name sources of inspiration and influence but I think the most salient factor was that my parents always encouraged my preoccupation with clothes and costumes and gear. I always went shopping with my parents for new school gear and they made it clear the sales rail at TK Maxx was my domain. I was lucky, I don’t know how my parents had the patience to put up with an elementary school aged human opining about how many pockets his trousers should have (at the time: as many as possible) while they were just trying to get a decent deal considering he will outgrow them in a few months’ time. But they did. I can’t remember not having a say in my clothing or not picking out my own outfits. I remember talking to my parents about clothes all the time.

And this continued as I got older. I can’t tell you the amount of times my parents took me to random shops that played terrible music at terrible levels only to be paired with terrible customer service just so I could get a t-shirt. I’ll never forget when I exclaimed, “and they threw in a whole bunch of stickers!” and hearing my dad mumble, “For a 40-dollar t-shirt you should get all their stickers.” My parents took me to weird militia-like surplus stores so I could get cargo pants and combat boots. My parents would always surprise me by knowing about a new skate shop before me. So I guess my sense of style comes from my parents.

Just don’t tell them that.

One time we went on vacation and my parents kept calling me “G.I. Nerd” because I had a particular outfit for every activity. IT’S NOT MY FAULT I BROUGHT HIKING GEAR AND A NICE JACKET FOR DINNER AND ALSO A WAVY POOL-SIDE ENSEMBLE. Oh, and a very tactical look for a site seeing trip. And one that was very Indiana Jones inspired for a trip to the flea market…

So maybe I’ve just always been this way? I blame the G.I. Joes.

G.I. Joe in tonal autumn beach attire. (via Flickr / PuuikiBeach)