Welcome to Outfit Anatomy, a series of comprehensive style analyses that aim to break down the mechanics of why we wear what we wear. Up this week is Mordechai “Mister Mort” Rubinstein, who authored the recent book Dead Style. In it, Mordechai chronicles the outfits and personalities he encountered over the past few years at Dead & Company concerts, from the perspective of a newly minted Deadhead. (For those curious, at the time of the interview, Mordechai referred to “Not Fade Away” as his favorite Grateful Dead song.) You may have also become cinematically acquainted with Mordechai’s work, whether you knew it or not: He’s been involved with the costume design for the Safdie brothers’ two most recent films, Good Time and Uncut Gems. Read on to learn more about how Mordechai transitioned from his Hasidic Jewish upbringing to wearing tie-dye in unparalleled ways.
When I get dressed, normally I think about headgear, because I don’t ever leave my house with my head uncovered. Scarred from wearing a yarmulke most of my life. But I just feel naked without a hat or headgear.
I wore a straw cowboy hat, which is brand new to me. But it’s not very easy to wear a cowboy hat around Brooklyn. You know, I got dressed the other day and I told my wife, “I can’t start pushing the stroller in this cowboy hat, I look like such an idiot.” It’s like, why was it fine in Maine? Why was it fine in the photo shoots? But I’m obsessed with it. It’s straw. And it’s a straw cowboy hat, and it’s so sick. I like to challenge myself. Tie-dye, that’s easy. But wearing a cowboy hat with tie-dye? Maybe not. But also, it’s perfect.
I grew up with all secondhand stuff from neighbors and thrift shops and hand-me-downs from siblings, and I never really had anything new to break in myself. And then when I got something new, like a Barbour jacket finally in my 30s, I’m like, “Wow, I’ll get this wax all patina-ed, and ripped and everything.” And yeah, it broke in on the stress points, but never to really my liking. These days, so much clothing is disposable, and you can’t even wear it out. You wear it out before you wear it in.
I’ve got a lot of tie-dye, from turtlenecks to mock necks to button-ups to T-shirts to underwear to long johns to socks. To hats, yeah, I’ve got hats too.
And you know, tie-dye’s hot. The book is new and that’s hot for me, and tie-dye is trending. Even though to me, it’s in all year, every day, all season. I don’t really care about trends. You know, people ask me, “So are you over it because it’s trending so hard?” Nah, I’m wearing it ten times more. Because of my book, but also because it makes me just feel good.
So yeah, so this tie-dye has an Owsley, you might call it Grateful Dead or Dead bear in the dead center of the shirt. It’s kind of like the Kool-Aid Man. This bear is wearing a raincoat, like a yellow slicker with a yellow matching bucket hat with raindrops falling on him, with rain boots, playing the guitar, smiling in the center of the shirt.
So this bear is playing the guitar in the rain. And to me, I love rainy days because New York is so very black in its color. Well, not lately—but you know fashion, it’s always like this thing that people wear black. And I’m so anti-that, partly because I grew up Hasidic Jewish and I just wore so much black my whole life, and now I’m just so happy to express myself in color.
These are a do-it-all short. They’re like magenta, fuchsia. I love pink. I like any shade of pink. They’re kind of like a play on the Baggies. You know, fortunately and unfortunately, no one does it better than them [Patagonia]. This is a sort of a play on it from Nike ACG.
It’s a play on it because these shorts aren’t locked: They don’t have the bag like a Baggie does, but they have sort of like a mesh lining. I could wear them three days in a row, and I like shorts like that as a dad. But you can’t really wear them in the water because they don’t dry. I love the pink color, and I love the six-inch inseam, maybe six and a half, and I’ve got them hiked up. And my shirt is oversized, which I love because I love to be comfortable.
I’ve got a sweater around my neck, which I’ve never really done successfully outdoors because it’s a very tennis look, and I know nothing about that sort of rich lifestyle, but I love to look at it and think I know what I’m doing. It’s a beautiful purple.
What I like about this shirt and sweater combination is when the sweater’s on, there’s a good two, three inches coming out of the waistband that’s tie-dye. You might say, “Oh, this is about tie-dye. Don’t you want to be showing off your tie-dye?” And I say, “Well, you know, sometimes less is more.” I could put the sweater on and you’ll see the tie-dye coming out of the waistband, and it’s way more powerful than this giant Owsley bear in the center.
And I’ve got a new pearl necklace that I’m obsessed with. It’s got a strawberry glass bead, a heart glass bead and a blueberry glass bead, because my daughter loves strawberries and blueberries. It’s so normal for guys to wear nail polish and pearl necklaces now, and I like that. I think they should be for anyone that wants to wear it. So yeah, it’s my new accessory.
In Maine, I wore ragg wool socks every single day for like four months because it’s just so nice and cozy. You could run out and get the mail in them. You can walk around the cabin in them. You can use your foot like a broom to get rid of sand in the doorway in them. So I do love a ragg wool sock, or a merino sock, all year.
For tie-dye, I like secondhand because I like lived-in clothes, and this particular shirt has holes in it. Normally I wouldn’t buy a shirt with holes, but when I look at a tie-dye, and a Grateful Dead tie-dye with holes, I start thinking, Wow, whoever owned this really loved it, really lived in it. They must’ve done a ton of acid. And maybe if I wear it, I’ll feel some of that good energy, you know?
And the holes also act as kind of cooling vents. I like new because I want it to break in and fade, but I like old because it’s true, tried and tested, and it’s already perfectly lived in and broken in. You know? I do like to mix new and secondhand. I don’t really wear secondhand hats anymore. I definitely don’t wear secondhand shoes anymore. I wore a ton of that for the last 20, 30 years.
I took some interviews back in the day about like, dad style is trending. I wasn’t even a dad, and it’s just fun to talk about because I just love the way dads dress. And then all of a sudden, it becomes a thing. And then all of a sudden, I’m a dad. So I’m like, “Bro, bro, let me tell you something, you young kids out there with no kids yet. Let me tell you something you childless dad style dudes. Dad style is grabbing what’s on the floor when your wife says to go get milk in the morning. That’s dad style.”
In the sense that today, I’m pushing my daughter around the neighborhood, I don’t need to get dressed. However, somebody might see me, and you want to present yourself at all times. You want to get dressed. You want to look good. It makes you feel good.
If I wear the same shorts and T-shirt every day pushing the stroller, it’s like you’re that guy. I don’t want to be that guy. But I also don’t want to be a clown getting dressed up every day for a fashion show that’s not happening. So I battle with myself.
If you have a hankering for s’more tie-dye, might we suggest: decadently dyed socks care of General Store, Cotton Citizen, Anonymous Ism, and Midland, sweatsuits and sweatshorts by Brian Robert Jones of LXIX, or the ever-elusive pair of tie-dye underpants?