My holy quarantine fashion grail.
Much has been written about how we should dress while social distancing. Some people believe we should wake up every morning and put on the same clothes we would normally wear to work. These people frighten me, and I am going to move on without addressing them directly. Other people say, “Put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, go crazy — you’re at home!” These people work in finance and should not be heeded on any matter, even financial. Still others suggest we should wear comfy pajamas, and these people are 100 percent correct, except that putting on pajamas still requires “getting dressed.” I personally am almost always 100 percent naked while at home during quarantine, except for Zoom calls or brief, panicked sprints to the grocery store. I’m sorry to admit this in a professional setting, but I feel it’s more than a little bit pertinent to the subject at hand. Lately, though, I have become bored of never wearing clothes; the novelty of never wearing clothes wears off quickly when you are never wearing clothes.
As such, I have of late been trying to decide what type of quarantine dresser I should become. If I’m going to get dressed at all, it obviously needs to be in something comfy, but as someone who owns basically no pajamas, I don’t want to go on a pajama-buying spree at this point in my life. That would be foolish. No, I need comfortable outfits that have a dash of cuteness, a sense of cohesion, and convey that I’m thinking, “You know, maybe I will go outside for my constitutional today.” I’m not talking about athleisure (tyrannical in its own way) but rather a casual, tossed-off, yet absolutely perfect look that will transfer seamlessly into my post-coronavirus life, should I be lucky enough to have one.
This is where Michael Jordan came in. Last Sunday, I found myself watching ESPN’s The Last Dance, a documentary about people with bad management skills. I was only half-watching: I know nothing about sports (maybe I should have warned you earlier about that; I’m sorry if you thought this story was going to be about sports), but I am a child of the ’90s who grew up in suburban Chicago, occasionally attending Bulls games with my fanatic family and becoming extremely attached to the branded cartoon characters that raced each other at halftime (I would still die for Cuppy Coffee). But the moment Michael Jordan stepped onscreen in his practice outfit — tank top, cut-off T-shirt, perfectly fitting and matching basketball shorts with the two shirts tucked in, high socks — I was rapt. Never had I seen an outfit cuter, more cohesive, more comfortable-looking, or with more utility, should one have to run from a reckless grocery shopper hell-bent on ignoring the six-feet rule. I had found it: my holy quarantine fashion grail.
I set off on a search to find the outfit but was immediately struck by the sheer volume of Bulls apparel available online, almost all of it cheesy garbage. The official NBA merch was ugly and corny — no offense to the NBA, which I like now, because it’s given me the important gift of ’90s Michael Jordan at basketball practice. Auction sites like eBay were full of jerseys, but I couldn’t tell which were legitimate and which were knockoffs, much less which were in Jordan’s specific practice style, because I was merely dipping my little toe into a well that’s been plumbed by millions of more adept sports-paraphernalia consumers for many years. That’s when I realized that in order to look exactly like ’90s Michael Jordan while doing the exact opposite of everything ’90s Michael Jordan did, I’d have to consult an expert: Michael Spitz, a.k.a. Mr. Throwback, who runs a vintage sports apparel store in the East Village by the same name.
Mr. Throwback sells highly curated ’90s sportswear, hats, sneakers, video games, toys, and posters to people like me and Pete Davidson, who lives nearby and once bought a shirt featuring Michael Jordan blowing a gigantic bubble. When I reached Mr. Throwback by phone this week, he told me he had been going to bed at 6 a.m and waking up at 2 p.m. now that his storefront was temporarily closed and he’d pivoted to online-only sales. We spoke at 11 a.m., and he promised me that his answers “would only become more coherent” as time went on.
Mr. Throwback told me that Bulls memorabilia had already been selling better than ever since The Last Dance aired days earlier: He’d sold a Michael Jordan watch he thought might never sell, plus several jerseys that sold in “two seconds.” He chalked it up to millennials’ leaning hard into the nostalgia of being a powerless ’90s kid with big merch aspirations. “You went to the store as a kid, you personally couldn’t buy Bulls stuff because you didn’t have money,” he said. “But now that you’re 30 and you have a job and money, you’re rebuying this stuff because you couldn’t have it as a kid.”
When I showed him the practice outfits I was lusting after, he explained that they’d be particularly hard to find. “I don’t even know if they sold these types of things in old sporting-goods stores,” he said. “They probably did in Chicago, at your hometown sporting-goods store, but that might be it.” My best bet, he said, would be to look at vintage sports stores, eBay, or online collectors. He warned me that if I was going to be a “real head,” I’d need to find vintage replicas by Sand Knit, Champion, or Nike, which were the only brands Jordan ever wore. “If you really want to feel like Michael Jordan, you want to wear exactly what he wore,” he said.
But I couldn’t be too literal in my attempt to turn into Michael Jordan. The actual game-used Jordan tank tops, he said, would be going for thousands of dollars, if I could even find them. But vintage replicas would be more affordable. “Back in the day, the price for replica practice jerseys like that was probably $20, $30. But now that The Last Dance is up, people are buying replica Jordan jerseys for $150,” he said. “Probably if he wore it in the show, the price has gone up.”
Newly schooled on the intricacies of Bulls merch, I set off on a complicated search through the bowels of the Sports Internet. I soon realized I had a choice to make: Go bankrupt or go for a general “Michael Jordan at ’90s Bulls practice” vibe versus creating an exact copycat. At one point, frustrated by our mutual lack of progress, Mr. Throwback and I wondered whether we should just create our own line of practice merch. “You want to make it? We could make it,” he mused. “We could do it. Literally. But it’s illegal without the NBA license.” In the interest of staying within the bounds of the law, we decided against it. But below are some of the best and relatively affordable things I did find. Please buy them before I do.
This is the most important part of the look: the tucked-in jersey, preferably matching the shorts exactly. I reached out to Unique Threads, which sells game-used and pro-cut jerseys, to get some help finding the exact type of jerseys Jordan wore during practice, and they sent over THEE vintage reversible Champion practice jersey herself. (Here’s another, if that one sells out.) Otherwise, the jerseys and tanks below aim to approximate a vibe:
• Mitchell & Ness, which has NBA licensing rights, has a few good tanks on their site. Here’s one that skews more ’70s and ’80s.
• Here’s a cute 1991 World Champs tank for a more specific Michael Jordan cosplaying fantasy: You are Michael Jordan at Bulls practice wearing a tank top advertising your own championship win.
• A vintage “45” Champion jersey that is very small, so maybe you can wear it as a little crop-top around your house, pretending to dunk.
• An ’80s Michael Jordan Champion practice jersey, in case you want to travel further back in time, and why wouldn’t you? Time, as it travels forward, is bad.
• A vintage Sand-Knit tank that says, “Yes, I am an off-duty Bulls player.”
• A vintage Space Jam jersey that says, “Yes, I am a basketball alien.”
The cut-off T-shirt is another key component of Michael Jordan’s ’90s practice look, and I would know, having studied it for a total of four days. The sleeve must skid right off the shoulders at a perfect angle. Any additional fabric would make the entire look fall apart; any less fabric would result in sartorial pandemonium. Here are a few good ones I found:
• A vintage ’90s T-shirt with the Bull himself charging through the center of the shirt, which would require some surgery for perfect cut-off sleeves.
• A vintage ’90s Bulls T-shirt with the sleeves cut off slightly too far, though this could work if you’re going for a combination ’80s meathead vibe.
• A vintage ’90s Nike T-shirt featuring Michael Jordan slam-dunking (in this scenario, you are Michael Jordan wearing a T-shirt of yourself, and that’s praxis).
If you buy a black tank top or jersey, please buy black shorts. If you buy red, buy red shorts. Then tuck everything into your shorts. These are the rules!
• Mitchell & Ness sells some cute women’s Bulls shorts (read: sluttier) that I will be wearing for the rest of my natural life …
• … but these are more “authentic” (less slutty) and made in a ’90s style.
• Here are some vintage white Champion shorts with some “yellowing on the waistband” — please don’t ask more questions.
• Some $350 ’91-era shorts that are really cute if you are rich.
• Straight from the ’90s, some more black basketball shorts. Honestly, this part of the outfit is pretty straightforward. Just wear some good shorts!
I personally don’t like the idea of practicing for a fake Bulls game in sweatpants. Seems hot. But if sweatpants are your thing, please, don’t let me stop you.
• These vintage ’90s Bulls sweatpants are $500. You must really like sweatpants?
• These vintage Nike tearaway pants seem more reasonable both in fabric and price.
• Here are some $30 vintage Bulls sweatpants that feel like the most rational purchase to me.
If you don’t wear tube socks, the entire look falls apart. Here’s a pack of Spaldings teleported straight from the ’90s. If you don’t want to spend upwards of $100 on socks, any tube socks will do.
We are not wearing shoes right now; please check back when we are again wearing shoes.