by Daniel Penny


In 2020, I resolved to buy fewer clothes for myself. The problem is that I have a lot of opinions about clothes and over the years, have developed a roving eye, always searching online for new stuff, popping into stores to chat with my favorite salesmen (shoutout to the Drake’s Boys), and scanning the blogs to see what’s new. But so far, I’ve resolved to keep my wallet shut.

Instead, I’ve taken to persuading, wheedling, or outright dragooning friends into making me their personal shopper. I can’t shop for myself, but I can’t stop shopping.

Lately, this disease has been centered around the search for the perfect leather jacket for my childhood best friend. Something classic and not overly tough. Black makes him look like a suburban weekend biker, so ideally it will be brown. And something that will age well, that he can wear with just about anything.

My friend has never been a fashionable guy, with his chief interests in clothes being the optimal price-to-durability ratio. When we were freshmen in college, he became obsessed with only buying products with a lifetime warranty.

“But we’re still teenagers,” I insisted. “Why do you want this stuff?”

“Exactly! I’ll get even more wear out of it.”

Not surprisingly, my friend now works in tech. And because of his occupation, he can wear whatever he wants, which means he usually opts for whatever is comfortable and doesn’t smell bad. This makes us an interesting pair when we go out: I’m always overdressed (this blazer is casual–it has patch pockets!), and he’s usually in a pit-stained T-shirt and cargo shorts. Seeing my friend wear this get-up on a trip to Milan a few years ago, I very much wanted to walk a few feet behind him in order to not be associated with this crass American tourist, but the bonds of friendship were stronger than my vanity. I tried to think of him as I would a person with a disability or mental infirmity; he could not help himself, and it was my job to either help him get better, or accept him as he was.

Last weekend, I took my friend to a store in New York known for their leather jackets–they claim to have invented the idea of putting a zipper on them. We spent half an hour trying things on in front of the mirror–first too bulky, then too stiff, too tight, or not the right color. Finally we settled on a handsome bomber, but then my friend looked at the price tag, and had he been drinking any, would have spat out his coffee. So out we went, back into the frigid January afternoon.

That evening, as is my habit, I sent him a few links to vintage versions of the jacket he’d tried on that day. Now he knew his size, so finding one would be easy. Plus, these jackets were one quarter the price, and they had the added benefit of a nice patina. My friend replied with a perfunctory “thanks” and a promise to check them out, but I think we both know he’ll never buy any of them.

I had thought I was doing my friend a favor by taking him out shopping and scouring eBay for the perfect jacket, but really it had been he who was helping me out. My friend had no intention of buying a new jacket, but he saw me jonesing for jawnz, and knowing the severity of my condition, agreed to a buying trip with his longtime personal shopper.