Pins, an adornment once isolated to old ladies’ sweaters and high school backpacks, have seen a re-emergence as one of menswear’s most prominent accessories. With brands tapping into hip-hop and pop culture to create their designs, the blank canvas of an enamel pin has never been bigger, or more accessible to streetwear’s audience. For such a small detail, pins are bigger than ever.
Unlike something like a watch, pins are impractical. They serve little purpose to the wearer outside of their presence. Fashion house Chanel has produced luxurious safety pins for decades. Chanel’s versions are bedecked in diamonds and gold, and cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars. On the other end of the spectrum, Supreme has produced lapel pins in the past that feature middle fingers or say things like “Deez Nuts.” In addition to the brand’s streetwise appeal, the cheeky humor further draws guys in.
It’s easy to see why people are attracted to pins, simply because it’s a flex to wear something cool that doesn’t serve a purpose beyond being… well, cool. The issue with the Chanel version is that the price of admission is a hefty one. Only a few will break the bank for that type of piece. Supreme’s versions are scarce for different reasons—some only come with pricey clothing items like trench coats, and others sell out by themselves. Both labels cultivate a unique and desirable sense of exclusivity with pins, but remain entirely too niche.
IT’S A FLEX TO WEAR SOMETHING COOL THAT DOESN’T SERVE A PURPOSE BEYOND BEING… WELL, COOL.
Today’s pins bridge that gap. They mix modern, referential humor, ranging from cups of purple drank and the “100” emoji, to a Nike shoebox full of cash—with a price that’s easy to swallow. Short-run releases (without the insane reseller’s market that plagues Supreme drops) means that most pins are easy enough to collect, but still exclusive enough to miss out on if you sleep too long. It has all the extravagant appeal of its predecessors, but doesn’t hinder the development of a more casual fanbase.
For Dime’s Vincent Tsang, deciding what goes on a pin is like figuring out what goes onto a T-shirt. “We like to find good graphics first, then decide the medium to communicate with.”
The metallic and enduring nature of a pin makes it feel more substantial than a cotton tee. When speaking about the brand’s “Bartfield” pin, a cartoonish mash-up of Bart Simpson and Garfield, designed with Justin R. Saunders (who runs the site JJJJound and is a regular collaborator with Kanye West), Tsang says, “We immediately thought we should make something with the illustration. At first we thought of making T-shirts, but felt the pin would be a more long-lasting collectible item.”
Much like a T-shirt, the simplicity of a pin makes them not only unisex, but universal—as long as you’re interested in the design, it’s easy to pick up and wear. “It’s fully unisex. It’s for men, it’s for women, I mean it’s for all ages,” said Jordan Roschwalb, one of the minds behind Brooklyn-based Pintrill. He continues, “Obviously our idea of demographic is 13 to 35 year olds. Like that 13-year old girl who’s on her iPhone, texting ‘100’ emojis all day long, we want her to find out about us, but we also want your buddy that’s getting married to wear it on his tuxedo.”
For Dime, they’ve seen support from the brand’s original audience: skaters. However, the item’s popularity is also much further reaching—as Tsang notes, “I've seen dudes with suits wear our pins, that's kind of funny and cool.”
The pin movement has even spread to cult menswear labels like Aimé Leon Dore and Engineered Garments, who have included pins as part of recent collections. Roschwalb’s Pintrill is behind Engineered Garments’ upcoming pins for their Fall/Winter 2015 collection, and according to him, there are more collaborations on the way. “I know that I’m on to something and I know that menswear is really opening themselves up to it and being really embracing of it, says Roschwalb. “I think that this year we saw some of it. In 2014, we saw a little bit of pins here and there; like on the Aimé Leon Dore collection and a few other collections. But nobody has really integrated pins into their actual garments fully yet and I think that’s what’s going to be next.”
That may be the case. When street style star Nick Wooster showed his collaboration with Italian clothier Lardini at Pitti Uomo last month, every item included a pin of Wooster's face on the lapel. These were also made by Pintrill, originally with shoe sneaker brand GREATS. Speaking of partnerships, Pintrill was contacted to create tie-in pins for Theophilus London’s latest album “Vibes.” Roschwalb and his team were able to design a three-pin pack that incorporated the album logo and Theophilus himself. All three quickly sold out.
Roschwalb believes that scarcity and desirability are intertwined. “I think we fail to see luxury as what it truly is. It’s not necessarily something that is expensive but it’s just something that’s exclusive... That’s why pins are such a great luxury to me, because you know anybody can have them but you need to really be on your game.”
They may not be flashy, but the accessible price combined with short-lived exclusive releases means that while pins are easy to buy into, the small-batch drops can make buying a popular pin as competitive as buying coveted sneakers.
In fact, during NBA All-Star weekend this year, patrons of the New York City’s Jordan Brand locations were treated to an exclusive set of pins. These included miniaturized Jordan Breds and Fragment 1 sneakers as well as the Air Jordan wings and Jumpman logos. Collecting the pins let fans into an exclusive Jordan Brand event space, but their exclusivity continues to have life long after the All-Star game wrapped in Madison Square Garden—much like the products the pins are inspired by.
While it may be uncertain where the next pins are going to pop up, the growth in the market is evident. Roschwalb remains confident that pins aren’t just a trend for today, but something guys will be gravitating to for the foreseeable future. “You can’t just waste your time. You need to know when to let go of something, but Pintrill is not that.”
With the amount of pins we’ve seen lately, this trend just might stick.