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There are those who swear that a glance at a man's shoes can reveal his true nature; others say his hair; his watch, and especially the cut of his suit will also come under scrutiny. In the last few years, yet another opinion has not only gained traction, but begun to feign a long-term normalcy: the contents of a man's pockets. There's no point in an attempt to maintain a gendered bias in the discussion - keys, wallets, and phones are fundamentally unisex items, despite heavily gendered variations. Regardless, it seems that one of the fundamental tropes of the 'carry' culture is to exude something between utilitarian and elegantly masculine - often with the goal of eliminating the unnecessary.


The popular blog Everyday Carry (more commonly, EDC) might be the best digital shrine to the cult of carrying. What was years ago a simple photos-on-solid-backdrop tumblr has evolved into a high traffic standalone blog with its own ads – all the more impressive when you realize that the vast majority of its content is from fans emptying out their pockets and submitting photos for all to see. Just a few pages in, already some of the basic conventions of EDC make themselves apparent – the items all serve purpose, exhibit style, and reflect on the carrier's taste. Some go beyond the usual keys, wallet, and phone, featuring carefully chosen pens, flashlights, pocket notebooks, glasses, cameras, and many other essential odds and ends.


In some respects, these meticulously chosen items bring to mind the famous business card scene from American Psycho, where the cards are pieces in an obsessive competition of taste and personal merit. While each item serves a unique purpose and informs an outside observer to what 'obstacles' the owner expects to face, the suggestive nature of the items seems secondary to their assembly overall. After all, even a quick glance at the blog will illuminate the startling fact that almost every single set contains some kind of knife, and some quite intimidating ones at that. Exactly in contrast to American Psycho, where harmless cards sublimate aggression, in an EDC set there is little to no concern for the semiotics of a bottle opener in connection to drinking habits, or of a compass to extended time in the wilderness - so the violence a knife implies does not mean to reflect on its owner's character.


Instead, EDC states on its website that its name reflects "a philosophy of preparedness" (and in fact the phrase 'everyday carry' generally refers to items that reflect that philosophy beyond the blog's usage). The only pretense for an item's inclusion is that it merges form and function in dealing with potential challenges, and not limited only to expected challenges. In some ways, this philosophy manifests as almost a Buddhist meditation on tools. When you see a screwdriver, its utility acknowledges a problem in the universe: somewhere there is a loose screw. EDC is in some ways a pocketful of acknowledgements to the mundane problems that a life can be filled with, and offers elegantly simple solutions. The knife, possibly because of its wide utility, is often one of the most stand-out pieces in any set; because of the immense diversity in style and luxury that knives come in, this would-be weapon acts as something of a 'signature' in the collection and subtly states “I could have had any knife, but this is the one I chose.”


While it isn't surprising that the long established marriage between form and function has reached into our pockets, this aesthetic seems to have roots in a few other long standing traditions. Of course we can look back to the hundred-year old tradition of the Swiss Army knife, the boy scouts, and popular handymen like MacGyver as part of the 'cult of preparedness', but more striking figures like that of James Bond offer up an air of mystery and sex to objects that serve discreet, potent functions. For a long time every high fashion house has produced and distributed key chains - Gucci swatches to affix to your keys to match your wallet, golden Versace medallions to declare your brand loyalty - and as far as what was specifically for men, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus typically feature an even smaller, yet equally logo-splattered selection.

Perhaps the popularity of pocket-customization comes paired with the increasing popularity of men's-focused multi-brand flash sale sites like JackThreads, Plndr and Gilt, which all feature a wide variety of accessories in their rotation that are usually just the right price to push your intended purchase into the 'free shipping' range. Maybe, after exploring one of the above options, a person finds the attachment gaudy or exaggerated  and removes it - only to then realize that their keys look too bare, and dedicate a fair portion of their time making it perfect.


I'm of the opinion that Every Day Carry taps into a more fundamental part of psychology and culture. If we look to the Japanese, their longest running and most popular icons are plastered almost everywhere, especially personal items. It’s easy to imagine Pokémon on wallets, Hello Kitty on pens, Lady Gaga cell-phone charms on a Totoro-print keitai. Part of this stems most obviously from merchandising, but there is an element of security consumers get from these items. It's been researched that items that feature characters or ideas take on a perceived magical, totem-like quality that makes people feel safe. That's part of why Pokémon is such a popular franchise to begin with: beyond the colorful monsters and their extraordinary powers, there is the message that these creatures will fit into a small ball that you can keep in your pocket and that they will come to protect you whenever needed. Totems have existed everywhere for thousands of years – kimono netsuke with animals or Buddha in Japan, beaded-rosaries featuring Christ throughout the Catholic world, coins bearing the faces of rulers or heroes – and our most contemporary American examples would be our character-focused hats and t-shirts, and the ubiquity of pop-culture tattoos.


Though the minimalism of most EDC items eliminates any possible affinity toward a character, I think these items still, when collected and arranged, tell a narrative that their holder wants to be a part of. Despite the impersonal pragmatism exuded by most of these sets, one cannot forget the simple truth Tim O'Brien's short stories of soldiers in Vietnam in The Things They Carried repeatedly illustrate: that the objects a person burdens themselves with will always reveal some aspect of their life, character, and desires. After all, these items are all extremely personal. Almost no one will see a person's keys unless they are taken out and left on a desk, as EDC's submissions typically show. In some ways the pictures we keep in our wallets are even more intimate than our socks or underwear, and because of that it’s even more charming.


Imagine the phrase “Stay Calm, You've Got This” written across a t-shirt; a message to the world on a shirt is likely to seem trite, or as an obnoxious advertisement of another person's lifestyle. Instead, the same phrase written on a small silver tag, on a keychain; suddenly, there is a level of sweetness and charm in knowing that this is a message its holder meant for themselves, revealing what words they feel they need to give themselves. While less direct, all EDC items serve the exact same purpose, populating the holder's interior world, their own personal pocket universe – and to an outside observer, among the utilitarian's armory there will always be a hint of its owner’s humanity.


So, perhaps its true after all, that to really know a man you should look into his pockets and see all those things that he's given to himself.

              

 

George Diez is a recent LA-to-SF transplant with a million hobbies. When he isn't writing about technology, entertainment, and video games, he's catching up on the newest wonders in food and fashion. Fascinated by history and the origins of trends, he lays awake at night wondering, "What comes after 'bae'?"


Read this article in Issue 16

The Pocket Universe



By

George Diez

--

Vhcle Magazine Issue 16, Life

/  LIFE