Ezra Koenig Is the Menswear Icon We Need in 2019
The Vampire Weekend frontman knows it costs a lot to look this relaxed
If you had told me when I was 21, when the first Vampire Weekend MP3s were floating around, that I’d be thinking seriously in my 30s about Ezra Koenig’s personal style — not the way he plays guitar, but his cult-brand socks, his off-brand rugby shirts, his tie-dye collection, his spiritual gravitation toward pseudo-bajas and Earth Day imagery (!) — then I probably would have told you to shut up and stop making fun of me. As someone who went to the East Coast Ivy/liberal/art-school colleges that breed and attract the types that Vampire Weekend wrote songs about, I definitely was near (if not one of) their characters. I had friends with messy but coiffed hair like Koenig circa 2008, boys who wore vintage Lacoste cardigans buttoned up, who favored collared shirts under scratchy J. Press sweaters, who owned at least one pair of boat shoes and were into it. It was a grown-up Max Fischer look that removed a layer of class consciousness, like if Max Fischer had the money he envied and spent it on the new version of what he had been thrifting.
I haven’t walked around a college campus in a while. Do people still dress like this? I sort of don’t want to know. We’re both older, Ezra and I, that much is clear. I saw him recently in some magazine this last February, plugging Vampire Weekend’s new album (out today, May 3rd), Father of the Bride, and he was confidently modeling some expected items: a Patagonia fleece (expensive), a stately Omega watch (rudely expensive), a patterned Prada turtleneck underneath a chambray button-down (humorous, yet tasteful). All were within the moneyed, eccentric-casual vibe I associate with him, however much he wanted to distance himself from it. He’s no longer totally preppy (that gets weird as you age, as he has pointed out), but he’s still obviously self-aware.
Throughout the shoot though, whenever his feet were visible, the stylist had him in … Tevas and socks. If I didn’t just think it, I maybe said “Wow” out loud. He was … pulling it off? The socks were the Japanese brand Anonymous Ism, and he wasn’t pairing it, as far as I could see, with the Isabel Marant suit, but still. The reference point I have for this kind of footwear is still boomers with silver ponytails, shuffling to “Touch of Grey” in a North Berkeley Safeway. No matter how often I saw Beyoncé in Birks a few years ago, my high school calculus teacher who went to Reed is what I see in my mind’s eye. It might seem like a small shift — hasn’t it always been de rigueur to mix high and low? — but in class terms, it’s a little dramatic. I guess everyone everywhere is trying to relax some more.
I saw Koenig wearing the Tevas and socks look again, while I was in the midst of an Explore tab fever on Instagram. Was this just his deal these days? What was his deal?
I asked a friend about it over dinner. “What do you think of Ezra Koenig these days?” She got serious. “He’s probably my number one crush,” she said.
“Still?” I asked. “Not like, five years ago?”
“Five years ago and now,” she said, still sincere. I felt both young and old at the same time.
I had to ask another friend, for science’s sake. “He’s all over the place, bouncing between different genres,” she texted judiciously. “It’s like normcore sometimes, then like Parisian youth. And a little ’80s prep, and I see he’s been pulling some KITH/utilitarian looks … he exists within all those archetypes.” I reacted with the “!!” tapback.
It’s not that I’m incredulous. I’m actually quite pleased that Ezra the style avatar has returned, even though he never really left. I do love comfort, and laughing, and he seems very comfortable in this look that makes me laugh. I’m also assured that Tevas and socks are “cool” now, which makes logical, albeit jarring, sense in this post-athleisure world. Of course Koenig isn’t out of date at all. He’s making anime with Jaden Smith, another high-wire move that hasn’t resulted in death.
I know we throw the word around a lot, but dare I say he’s iconic? “Do you have to wear the Rolex?” he once asked, tongue in cheek. “Is secretly buying one and keeping it in your safe enough to ensure that you are a success?” This was, of course, the thing I eventually learned about lots of those ponytailed boomers, once I got older and learned different signifiers of wealth. Is there anything richer than wearing something fuck-you levels of expensive — like, say, an Omega watch — while also keeping your feet in just-going-to-the-bodega splendor? No, there is not. The richest person in the room is often the one in the matted-down Patagonia fleece.
Koenig still seems interested in the totems of success — he just has learned how to be comfortable with it. His taste for a good object has gotten looser, more playful, but in a way that doesn’t reject his former, less wise self. He knows it costs a lot to be this relaxed; his music has always been conscious of the effort it takes not to try so hard. But he’s gone from asserting his interests and taste, with all the seriousness of a young person, to just … being one with them. The approach is less anxious. Maybe it’s that he’s gone full dad. Now he loves frog shirts. He takes pleasure in just being in Ojai in his favorite fleece. It’s preppy mindfulness, the cool zen of being washed. This look says it’s alright, we will get by. I’m jealous, honestly.