So here we are at the end of the line. Decades of austerity measures have put America’s infrastructure in a state of disrepair, leaving us vulnerable to terrorism and environmental disaster. Political fracture and deep-seeded regional resentments could erupt into a second Civil War. And our ever-expanding military industrial complex—complete with sky-high drones and overpriced F-35s—has done nothing to stop a giant meteor from potentially plunging into the Pacific Ocean and creating tsunamis that will liquidate the entire Puget Sound region. With the world as we know it on the brink of extinction, beleaguered citizens of the United States are left pondering one pressing question: What will we wear on our date with civilization’s demise?
Luckily, 21st century sartorialists live in the golden age of “disaster capitalism,” a phenomenon first framed by Naomi Klein in her 2007 tome The Shock Doctrine. The 2000s were a time where war in Iraq is construed as a business opportunity, and Hurricane Katrina provided the impetus for a charter school revolution in New Orleans. Rather than correct systemic crises at their root, we’ve become experts at building new industries atop the quicksand of structural instability. Fashion should be no different. While our healthcare system is hopelessly unprepared to deal with the threat of mutant super-viruses, the same does not have to be said of our wardrobes. To prepare for the traumatic transitions ahead, Americans are in need of a Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Fashion.
Let’s start with the basics. When America’s international enemies in the Middle East and Latin America initiate World War III by raising the price of petroleum tenfold, we will all be getting out of our cars and doing more walking than ever. As a long-time urbanist and proud pedestrian, I’d say that Toms are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever sauntered a mile in. Toms Classic canvas shoe is modeled after Argentine alpargata footwear. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the alpargata become a sartorial staple of rugged gauchos who roamed the Andes Mountains and of agricultural laborers who spent countless hours a day on their feet.
The Toms Corporation has kept the tradition alive by offering an affordable 21st century take on the alpargata. The hemp, organic cotton, and recycled polyester of the shoe are as durable their Argentine antecedents; perfect for when civilization disintegrates into competing bands of hunter-gatherers who walk dozens of miles a day in search of weaker townships to plunder. I recommend picking up a few pairs of the Linear Woven Men’s Classic, and having your postwar tribal confederation form its identity around the upper sole’s distinctive design.
Toms are pretty light, so you can get away with carrying a few pairs. But since the massive 13.0-magnitude earthquake that leveled Seattle has made reliable shelter hard to come by, you’ll have to give some thought towards portable storage. Fortunately, the backpack has made a resounding comeback in recent years. Stylish rucks from manufacturers like Jack Spade, J. Crew, and Herschel currently grace the backs of cosmopolitan city-dwellers. But when cities cease to exist because revolutionary factions depose municipal government and usher in a state of mob rule, backpacks will be a necessity and not just a trendy luxury.
San Francisco-based Everlane has us covered with sundry sacks that should serve us well when we’re forced to salvage our last prized possessions from the wreckage of our rioted neighborhoods. Everlane’s backpacks are a beacon of Millennial do-gooder minimalism: Like Toms, they’re light but durable, and are manufactured according to a model of “radical transparency” that treats workers fairly and keeps costs down. This is a concept we’ll have to get used to when the-country-formerly-known-as-America becomes a loosely affiliated cluster of profit-sharing city-states and our economies are no longer centered around vertically integrated transnational giants like Walmart or Nike.
Of course, Nike is the grand architect of narratives of athletic perseverance. Ads they’ve crafted for megastars like Michael Jordan and Serena Williams encourage everyone from morning joggers to late-for-the-bus sprinters to cultivate physical resilience in the face of fatigue. Those narratives of athletic achievement will come in handy when city slickers are forced to hike distant hills in search of reprieve from Putin’s invading enemy armies. To our benefit, Nike manufacturers much more than stories about sports: their actual athletic apparel is some of the finest available:
Nike’s Seattle Seahawks Historic Pullover Hoodie is my personal favorite item of clothing because of its water-repellant exterior and warmth-incubating interior that still lets your body breathe. These qualities make it a great garment for braving our increasingly erratic climate. When the sleeves are cut off at about three-quarter length, it’s appropriate everyday ware for both chilly and warm days in the Pacific Northwest. The hood will protect your head and neck from the endless radiation emitted by the exploding sun, while the avian throwback on the front is a classy tribute to the Native tribes that cultivated this land before settler colonialists decimated the tree population and ushered in the irreversible ravages of climate change.
Environmentally unsustainable displays of industrial might are central to our national identity. Minors, railroad laborers and mill workers set a standard for manual grit in the 19th century. They also left us with a sartorial artifact that will suit us well when we’re rebuilding civilization from the ground up: denim. Jeans are an American symbol of egalitarian fashion and entrepreneurial flexibility. Over time, they fit us like a friend and cleave to our shapes like a second skin. We’ll come to treasure their familiarity when an irreparable breakdown in communications technology separates us from our loved ones forever.
While networks of global commerce are still in tact, I’d suggest signing up for Five Four Club’s monthly clothing delivery service: the jeans they send are worth the $60 subscription alone. But if you’d like to get a head start on adjusting to your new localized life of sustainable consumption, venture over to Ballard, where Blue Owl Workshop’s pricey but impeccable overalls are within walking distance of Tarboo’s immaculate flannel tops. While you’re in the neighborhood, visit the Nordic Heritage Museum to see how enterprising immigrants shaped the society we all took for granted before The Big One shook us to our cowering core.
By now, you should have an idea of the kinds of clothes you’ll need to survive our unending nuclear winter: wears that are lightweight but durable, strong but not necessarily hefty.
While there’s still time, think about stocking your Everlane backpack with a couple of books that will help you reflect on how American masculinity’s excesses led to the total collapse of the social contract. George Monbiot’s How Did We Get Into This Mess (2016, Verso Books) will help us see which mistakes to avoid when we’re recreating society, while Alison Kinney’s Hood (2016, Bloomsbury) is a sharp study on the sartorial ramifications of power and institutional disparity.
We’ve been reckoning with how our clothes will reflect the end times for at least 20 years. In the 1996 movie Independence Day, Will Smith showed Tommy Lee Jones how to brave an alien attack with style and grace. “You know what the difference is between you and me?,” Smith says with dry-cool wit before donning a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses; “I make this look good.” Come to think of it, you’ll want to cop a pair of those Ray-Bans, too.
Toms picture courtesy of TOMS.com. Everlane backpack image courtesy of Isadora Sales (of Everlane). Seahawks hoodie picture courtesy of Shaun Scott. Blue Owl Workshop overalls courtesy of the Blue Owl Workshop lookbook. Look for “A Woman’s Guide To Post-Apocalyptic Fashion” later this summer.