I walk into a cannabis store near Lafayette and Spring, which is just above Lower Manhattan. A young Black man guides me through what the business has to offer in the way of pre-roll that's strong on the weak CBD and very weak on the strong THC. He makes a recommendation. He promises it's what I'm looking for. It costs $9.99. But just as I agree to buy it, I recall I have no cash. I explain to the young Black man that I do not have hard cash; he looks at me like I'm from Mars or something and says: "You don't need cash?" I'm surprised. I can use a credit card to purchase pot? Seattle is so behind on this, yet we legalized cannabis almost a decade before New York.
"You from, Seattle?!?," asks the young Black man, who has presented for my card a white portable register.
"Yes," I say as the machine approves my payment.
"They got Black people in Seattle?"
"Yes, you heard of Sir Mix-a-Lot?"
"No. I'm just another Black person from Seattle. But certainly, you have heard 'Baby Got Back.'"
"You are not a millennial."
"Hell no, Gen Z."
Before returning to my hotel in Lower East Side, I stopped, with my partner, at Cafe Select for a glass of wine and some people-watching, which was generously provided by one of three outdoor tables beneath powerful heat lamps. And what was seen? Something that surprised me. From this station, which is not far from SOHO, I saw almost no fashionable people. Everyone was dressed for comfort. One after the other. He. She. They. All the same. Puffy jackets. Sneakers. Sweatpants even. No one was even trying. I hadn't visited New York City since the lockdown kicked in. Indeed, I was there when the news about the new virus was growing day by day, January 2020. And I recall making the effort to pack my best clobber for that trip, something I did again for this trip. But what a waste of space. No one here cares anymore.
Might I have been wrong? Was Andrew Matson right? Did his September 22, Esquire post, "It's Time to Admit That Seattle Is a Style Capital," actually hit the mark? Seattle's anti-fashion was the defining fashion of our times, even here in the greatest city on Earth. Paris was yesterday. The 206 is today. What's happening?
"I came to New York City six years ago," said my server, who was young, Black, "in the zone between Zs and millennials," and, in my opinion, devoted the needed energy and time to his appearance (he wore non-gaudy gold jewelry and a fuzzy checkered black-white sweater from AllSaints). As a consequence, they stood out from the people walking up and down the street. "People used to care back then. But not anymore."
"What happened? What happened to the Big Apple [while I was gone all of this time]," I asked, after ordering another glass of superbly dry Riesling.
"It was the lockdown. Social distancing. The pandemic. People just stopped caring. And now it's over, they want to keep dressing like they did during the pandemic. That's what I think it is. COVID did this."
Our city was, it turns out, sartorially prepared for a catastrophe that has so far claimed over a million American lives. New York City wasn't. And so, as restrictions ended, Seattle still looked like Seattle, but New York City looked more and more like Seattle. In the way many are finding it hard to return to the office, many are finding it hard to abandon comfortable clothes.