23 June 2017
In 2014, GQ published an editorial titled, "The New New England Thing: 7 Preppy Looks for Spring." After years of "crazy, tweaked-out preppy style," the sparse copy explained, "the all-American look" was going back to classic colors and patterns. The editorial featured Theo James as its model. (At the time, Theo was starring in a new movie for teenage girls called Divergent). Under one particular photo, the writer told us, "The goal here is to nod to New England, not look like a total WASP wannabe." The accompanying image showed Theo riding a classic bicycle on a pebble path outside idyllic cottages. He wore a madras blazer, white jeans, and a popped polo collar under a cable-knit sweater. That's one helluva nod.
The overall piece conflated prep culture (which has obvious upper-class connotations) with the entire New England region. Prep is "The New England Thing." Its return to classic color and pattern is "new," thus "The New New England Thing." This means, apparently, that prep defines the entirety of New England. Good luck explaining that to a lobsterman. A better headline, and indeed a better editorial, would have been "The New New Haven Thing." I am sure New Haven has decidely non-preppy elements, but only a few other inland cities (namely those with Ivy League campuses) have an equally strong heritage of prep style. Instead of featuring Martha's fucking Vineyard in the afterthought lifestyle sidebar, GQ could have given some love to New Haven's insane pizza scene. Theo could have worn his madras blazer while leaning up against a shop, holding a large parcel balanced on his knees, in a nod to Take Ivy.
But no. Teenage heartthrob putzing around a WASP enclave in WASP costume. That's New England.
Speaking of New Haven (and brands that are fictionally based there), the editorial included J. Press and Gant, owned by a Japaense conglomerate and manufactured in India, respectively. Also represented were such New England mainstays as Michael Kors, Levi's Vintage Clothing, and Izod.
Surely there was a different New England, maybe even one that included clothing actually made in the region.
So I went off in search, albeit three years later. (I don't have brands giving me money to place their products in my stories, even in contexts that make no sense. As a result, these projects can take me awhile.) During the course of four days last month, I drove around New England with our photographer, Jeff Marini. Starting on a Wednesday, we visited New England Shirt Company in Fall River, Massachusets. That night we stayed in a barn in Willington, Connecticut before heading out Thursday to meet Hartford Denim Company. On Friday we caught up with our friend Dan Heselton of the New England Outerwear Company. Finally, as a counterpoint to the prefeunctory Martha Vineyard lifestyle sidebar in the GQ piece, we spent a day on Monehgan, Maine, an island 12 nautical miles out to sea.
Fall River, Hartford, Lewiston, Monhegan. We didn't see a single pair of Nantucket Reds the entire trip. But oh, did we ever see New England, a gritty, rough-and-tumble version of abandoned factories, streetscapes that called to mind The Wire, steely people, and an overall edgy atmosphere―and in the case of Monhegan, a vibe that intersected the quaintness of Anne of Green Gables with the anxiety of a found-footage horror movie. Along the way, we heard from three brands founded by New England entrepreneurs with the intention of preserving New England manufacturing and communicating distinctly New England perspectives.
We call it The Real New New England Thing.
Starting in July, we will begin publishing one story per New England town / brand. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter. We'll give you a gentle nudge when each story goes live.
We hope you enjoy the series, and Someone Else as a whole.
All the best,
JJJoe Jarvis, Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org)