Greetings, brave traveler! And “legit check” to you, too.

You’re about to embark on a journey. A journey to find yourself. A journey to find sick cops. A journey to the golden land long rumored to be found here.

You began a journey… to find clout.

Excited? Great. Nervous? Yes, of course. Look at you. That’s J. Crew Factory, for fuck’s sake. You probably bought new GQ looking for better knitted ties. Rein it in, chief. You’ll be fine.

The first step on your journey to clout was arriving here. That, sadly, was the easy part. As you travel the path millions have tread before you, you’ll encounter five stages standing between you and your goal. Only by mastering these – or, I don’t know, meeting Jonah Hill at a party – will you achieve true Clout.

So what are those stages? Well, Mr. “Timeless” desert boots, I’m glad you asked. Behold, the five style phases found between here and style Nirvana:

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It’s Called “Streetwear,” Mom

Supreme, Palace, Stone Island, and the sneaker of the week.

Stage one is the most perilous of all. Many begin–and end–their journey here, enamored with the feedback they receive. Yet, traveler be warned: No amount of “fire fit” Instagram comments can replace true clout.

While it’s impossible to believe at the time, garments bought here are all just branded versions of archetypes that are bought because they’re visible in culture but hard to access. There’s little #creativeculture about slapping a logo on a fleece hoodie blank, but hey, high school is hard. This is your time to try on identities. Why not become Tyler the Creator?

Travel advice: Archetypes are awesome because they’re so versatile. Look past the logo, and everything in this stage is a Gap or Uniqlo piece with some graphical pop. Treat it like such. Just because your black tee says “Supreme” doesn’t make it not a black tee. Keep it basic, keep it neutral, and don’t spend past your means. When all else fails, a lighter-colored top with dark pants and white sneakers will look always look fire. Remember: it’s stage one for a reason. Everyone’s been there. There’s more to come.

Name-checked by Rappers

Raf Simons, Rick Owens...and you know the rest.

The good news: You didn’t spend $600 on a logo others can see.
The bad news: You’re about to spend more on one that they can’t.

Ever since hip hop moved from “Gucci Gucci” to “Fashion Killa,” a certain upper echelon of designers have been demystified. They have sneaker deals. They have sportswear collabs. Most importantly, they have names you can slant-rhyme.

For many, accessible pieces from names like Rick and Raf are their first exposure to capital-F Fashion. Whereas most #streetwear is archetypes with graphics, most garments here are those same basic garment shapes but with a designer’s touch applied to the cut. What is Fear of God if not modern American basics (like sweats or flannel shirts) twisted in shape and silhouette? This rooting in the familiar makes for wearable clothes that still overtly signal “I’m into fashion” without anyone thinking you intern at your dad’s art gallery. Or went to Bard. Well, same difference.

Travel advice: By this point, you should be starting to get an idea of what you like. If you’re into sneakers, get one wild pair and work them into basic outfits. If you’re into jackets, get one statement piece and mess with layers until you feel fly in the mirror. They key, truly, is moderation. Designer clothing is expensive. You don’t have A$AP Rocky’s clothing budget. As your tastes shift and sharpen, you’ll get a clearer idea of what works for you. Only then do you pull the trigger on a Raf Simons parka.

John Mayer’s Instagram

Kapital, Visvim, Acronym and things that make you go “huh?”

After diving headfirst into #malefashion, many encounter a force stronger than Rick Owens’ flowing hair: their social circle. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to dress all-out in designer fashion. If your friends roast you for wearing a diaper, you have two choices. One, get new friends (“they’re called Pod shorts and A$AP Rocky has them!”). Two, realize that self-expression is about who you are, not what costume you’re wearing. If choice two leads you to more Rick Owens, amazing. For most, it will not.

While capital-F Fashion may not be your game in the long run, by seeking it out, you were likely exposed to other brands and styles that more align with your flow. In this stage, you’ll find yourself using the word “reimagining” a lot. Just run with it. By discovering some things that didn’t work for you, you’re closer to clout than you know.

Travel advice: This is where it gets cool. Garments here are a blend of the first two stages, giving you the benefit of hindsight to pick and choose what you like. Into bold graphics but need low-key shapes? Try a Kapital cardigan. Missing the wild designer cuts but don’t work at Berghain? Try Acronym out. While most brands at this stage are Japanese, they need not all be.

Normal but Foreign

Acne Studios, A.P.C., and things that don’t make you go “huh?”

You’ve seen peaks. You’ve known valleys. And now, after years of refining your tastes, you’re back where you started. Kinda anti-climactic, right? To again quote the ancients: “the darkest hour is just before the jawnz.”

Why is this stage so late? Simply put, because you’re done buying flashy shit. After years of ups and downs, you’ve probably bought and resold your “signature coat” at least twice. What you didn’t do is find one really good turtleneck. With your journey in mind, you can now overspend with confidence. Go get high-end basics. Go drop bills on a sweater. Or just go to Uniqlo.

Either way, you’re buying boring stuff that you can floss out with the sick cops you’ll cycle through your wardrobe for as long as you care about clothing. What’s the difference between these elevated basics and that Banana Republic you bought before college? A combination of quality and exclusivity. You’d never tag Banana Republic in your Kapital x Raf Simons x Beams fit—though it’s that level of experimentation and open-mindedness that’s going to take you places.

Travel advice: Your wardrobe is now your wardrobe. What you own is a reflection of your sharpened taste level, a signal to yourself and others that you care about things. Garments here aren’t boring–they’re just normal. You wouldn’t see someone in an A.P.C. Shearling and think “omg streetstyle.” The same applies to wilder cops like Prada prints and Saint Laurent boots. While some high-end fashion lives on overt signaling, you’re at a point where you don’t need a closet full of that. Try some new colors every now and again, but otherwise, keep it up. Clout is just around the corner.

Internet Casual

Dries Van Noten, Takahiromiyashita The Soloist., and garments for gallery openings.

After many years and at least three “social media breaks,” you have arrived at stage five. Was it worth it? Who’s to say? Well, here’s an answer to that second part.

According to the internet: This. Is. Clout. And it’s probably not what you expected.

Look around you: It’s simple pieces with an emphasis on fit and detailing. Sure, there’s a lot of black, white, and grey, but it’s not all neutral tones and off-camera pouting. Nor is it big logos or graphic-heavy archival pieces. Getting here required only the willingness to try. Also, many thousands of dollars. And a lack of productive hobbies.

All that just to feel confident in your personal style? Well, it’s cheaper than therapy. In so many ways, you have arrived.

Travel advice: Personal style is a function of awareness, experience, and confidence. The last bit is nurtured by the first two, and the whole function works best with a balanced approach that makes sure your fashion journey doesn’t negatively impact your life. Let’s be real, it will in some ways. You’ll tiptoe around puddles. You’ll set phone alarms for drop days. You’ll have less money than if you didn’t spend it. But a defined “personal style” and the confidence that comes with it? That’s Clout. And yeah, Saturday morning cartoon cliché incoming: It was inside you all along. Enjoy the journey.

Epilogue: The Eighth Circle of Jawnz

Oh no. No no no. You’ve gone too far! Turn back! Past here, it’s all Carol Christian Poell, Boris Bidjan Saberi, m.a+, A1923, Guidi, and brands that sound like arthouse production companies—but instead of making films, they make accessories out of horse leather. Seriously, what’s with all the horse leather?

Travel Advice: Sruli Recht once sold a ring made of his own skin. He now designs glasswear.

Tags: carol-christian-poell, guidi, visvim, kapital, rick-owens, raf-simons, apc, supreme, menswear