One danger when a pilot suddenly enters a dive while flying a plane is something called a redout. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Blood surges from the lower extremities to the head, pushed up through the neck by centripetal acceleration to flood the skull.
With a grayout, the blood is leaving your brain, and your vision washes out to gray (or white). Imagine a fade out in a movie, then place that image inside your head; your surroundings and whatever you’re currently staring at begin to lighten until everything is indistinct and you’re slumping out of your chair; or, if you’re reading this on your phone while you commute home, your hand loses its grip on the subway pole, and you’re falling to your knees in front of strangers.
Then there’s a blackout, like from heavy drinking. That’s just a gap in your memory, as opposed to something optical. You time travel through your life, and then your friends tell you about the bike you rode through the house, and how you tried to puke through the fine wire mesh of a screen door.
I’d like to propose a third “out”: the swagout.
This happens when you go into Opening Ceremony on Howard street for the first time ever at the urging of some so-called friends. Those friends indicated that you could get your hands on marked down Raf Simons pieces—not clothes, but pieces, like what you might use to finally assemble a handsome image of yourself from the puzzle-piece wreckage of your previously swagless existence.
There’s no underselling this: it’s almost impossible to determine who works at this store. Who could it be? The trick is to find someone who is genuinely without fear. Everyone else is masking fear with confidence. (You’re trying that, too, but you’re also sweating and the beautiful people in this place don’t sweat; they glow.) You find someone touching clothes in a recklessly cool way, and he’s not looking at the price tags. Bingo, hopefully. He listens to you. “What’s up with the sale?” you ask, and it comes out even worse than you could have predicted. He sends you upstairs.
To offer a ballpark figure, you could conceivably wear less than 10 percent of the clothes you’re seeing. Make that less than 8 percent when you start to touch things. A short-sleeve button up shirt that looks nice on the rack somehow feels like those laminated sheets you’d slide under a projector for a 10th grade Biology lecture. You can’t wear this, you understand. You take this personally, as everything in the store is designed to. (Okay, this is an exaggeration to make me sound more embattled. The woman who helped me had finger tattoos and was very sweet when I told her it was my first time. She wrapped up my receipt in an envelope like a note delivered with a bouquet of wild flowers. But that’s getting ahead of myself.)
You see a white T-shirt with a pretty breast pocket cut from a floral pattern. You recognize this as dope because you’ve seen someone with more social support wear a hoodie with a similar look. But the shirt is white. The last time you wore a white shirt, you burned yourself removing from the microwave a frozen burrito wrapped in a paper towel, which spilled the cheese and beans on the shirt.
Now you use the shirt to wipe down the floor in your bathroom after particularly wet showers.
Not very swag.
You select a blue shirt banded at lower sternum level with a tropical scene. Your breath catches in your throat. Yes, it’s got a breast pocket that’s hard to detect. You don’t recognize the brand, but it’s on sale and will cost you $56. You have your first item and it’s like the first gulp of air an infant takes after being born. There’s a place for you and your money at Opening Ceremony. You have found a thing to wear on your body that you will pay for with money from your checking account. You enter the stream of commerce and maybe there’s a tingle in your genitals.
As if by magic, a woman appears at your side to take the garment from you while you continue to shop. This is what it must’ve been like to fly first class in the early days of air travel. Everything was smooth. You’re in the airstream of swag now, and nothing can dislodge you. The next find comes easily. Near a polo shirt made from the material of a flag football jersey that costs almost as much as every high school lunch you ever bought, you find a black button-up. The garment is of the softest material. How many foxes had to die for this garment, because surely something this soft must be made entirely from the fox earlobes. Progress and ethics about the treatment of animals mean nothing in the face of fabric this fucking soft. If you could go back in time and be born from this, you would. (Why so much birth imagery? Probably because shopping is like remaking yourself, only hipper and with the necessary result of robbing you of income. Just go with it.)
Again, the woman materializes to take the black shirt from you. Truly, it’s tough to part from the shirt. It, of course, has a breast pocket. You don’t really know why, but a significant part of you swears on the names of every one of your family members that checked in at Ellis Island in the early 20th century that you will only wear shirts with breast pockets from now on. It feels so good and right to make this promise to your ancestors. You know they are smiling.
Here’s where you begin to experience a swagout.
When she takes the garments from you, she suggests you keep shopping on the third floor. This next part is like a plane crash. The building is almost tilting as you climb another flight of stairs. You imagine that you’re inside the crash but you’re the only calm one. As every other less flourish-prone person on the flight screams and cries out for some kind of physical contact from a seatmate or flight attendant, a hand to hold in a time of need, you are calmly placing the strap around the back of your head and acting unsurprised that, despite the bag not inflating, there is oxygen flowing through the mask and into your face. So much oxygen, in fact.
You recognize the name from having browsed Donald Glover’s personal website approximately three years ago: Band of Outsiders. Your need to own clothing made by Band of Outsiders is suddenly boundless. You grab a short-sleeve plaid button up and a multi-color polo. A man wearing what appear to be black leggings and gray shorts made from chunky cable knit sweaters lets you into the dressing room. But you understand that this is a formality, that you let yourself in. He was only a witness to your becoming. You try on the plaid shirt and aren’t amazed at how well it matches the pants you’re miraculously wearing.
Everything in the universe is undergoing a rapid organization. The invisible hand of capitalism and the invisible hand of fashion is revealed to you to be the same hand. It strokes you. Then you try on the polo. It has yellow stitching that outlines where the breast pocket would be. Right above your heart. This garment is so advanced it has moved beyond the need for an actual breast pocket and exists instead with the mere suggestion of one. You can hear your heart beating and it sounds like a glacier shearing itself from a larger land mass to drift into the ocean on its own. Free and cold and clear. It needs no one.
You need nothing else.
There’s a roar in your ears. The plane is still crashing and you’re still breathing through the very potent oxygen flowing through the mask. (Metaphors!) Downstairs, the woman with the tattooed hands who helped you will ring you up. There’s something truly marvelous at the care she takes in folding and then wrapping your soon-to-be-purchased purchases. She uses a bright yellow sticker to seal the whispering tissue paper. Each time she touches it, the paper talks in its crinkly vocal fry. You’re levitating. The room is very warm; your face feels flushed. The pen at the ends of your fingers, which are at the ends of your arm—what is that thing called, again? Hand?—it signs your name on a long strip of white paper. The paper lifts by itself up from the counter and back into the hands of the helpful woman, where it then folds up like origami to fit in a small envelope, about the size of your wallet. Highlighter orange ink on the outside of the envelope reminds you where you found yourself: Opening Ceremony.
When you come to, you’re in an alley near Mercer street.
You’ve peed a little.
Was it all a dream?
You pat your body down but the shirt you put on this morning has no breast pocket. In your pants you find the envelope. Inside is the proof: That was no dream, you just spent $479.09 on clothes.
You experienced a swagout.
Ross Scarano is a deputy editor at Complex.
The other time he blacked out was during 127 Hours.
He tweets here.