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If 2015 was the first real year of Racked longform, 2016 was the year we went farther than I ever could have imagined when we started this scrappy experiment. I mean far in the literal sense. We sent reporters to Donald Trump’s factories in China and to secret black market stores in Cuba. We had others hang out with mysterious lifestyle gurus in Denmark and experience the Olympics of hairdressing in South Korea (that one was me actually, and it was pretty wild).
There was also some amazing national reporting, of course, from the country’s largest maximum security prison in Louisiana to a Civil War reenactment battlefield in South Carolina to a multicultural headwrap expo in Michigan. We covered a lot of ground geographically speaking, but subject-wise, too.
You can see all of Racked’s features here, but below are our biggest, best, most thought-provoking longreads of the year.
Trump, China, and the Ties That Bind by Spencer Woodman
When Spencer asked if Racked was interested in an investigative reporter tracking down Trump’s tie factories, the answer was unequivocally yes. And he did indeed find them, in a small Chinese city that doubles as the necktie capital of the world. What is life like inside these factories? What do the workers think of Trump? Why is the global supply chain so damn secretive? He came back with all that and more, including a kicker that reads even more sharply post-election.
Angola’s Greatest Escape by Stephie Grob Plante
My favorite Racked features are those that use shopping as a way into a much bigger, weightier topic. In this case, Stephie penned a wrenching, compassionate 8,500-word story about the criminal justice system, framed by a craft fair at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
The Last Lifestyle Magazine by Kyle Chayka
This is a story about Kinfolk. This is a story about aesthetics. This is a story about why we like what we like, and how that dictates what we consume and how we present ourselves, both online and off. This is a story that will make you think hard about avocado toast and perfectly Instagrammable lattes.
Teatox Party by Chavie Lieber
If you’re a Racked longform reader, you are no doubt familiar with senior reporter Chavie Lieber. Her year has been full of hits, and this excellent exposé on the shady Instagram economy of laxative teas went appropriately viral. You can also read her on nuns who grow weed, synthetic diamonds, competitive yoga, Native American fashion, and so much more.
War, All Dressed Up by Claire Carusillo
What does it mean to dress up like a Confederate soldier in 2016? And what does it mean to do so when you're a woman? There is so much to dig into here with respect to race, gender identity, and how we navigate a painful history that many people romanticize.
Around the World in 80 Fashion Weeks by Eliza Brooke
Fashion is considered a glamorous industry for many reasons, perhaps chief among them the endless parade of runway shows held in far-flung locales and attended by writers and editors who don’t pay a dime for the experience. From Moscow to Sydney to Seoul, this piece examines if local fashion weeks can really go global and lift up designers in the process. (Bonus: Eliza on Estée Lauder, as told in a series of case studies.)
All Ears by Heather Schwedel
Ear piercing is a thing we take for granted, and it’s a weird thing at that. Poking holes in our lobes... why do we do it? Heather gets into the history (ancient, and also in America), the business (Claire's included), and the culture(s) (so many different traditions!) of piercing. It's warm and sweet and comprehensive as hell.
Reign, Supreme by Kyle Chayka
This was perhaps our most ambitious feature of the year, on a formal level. Kyle structured his study of Supreme into 15 parts, a nod to Kyoto’s Ryoan-Ji Zen rock garden. Each view into the iconic streetwear brand offers something new, which is no small feat given how much ink has been spilled about the company. We teamed up with Vox’s storytelling studio on this one, so it also looks great.
Princess for a Day, Disney Bride for Life by Carlye Wisel
While the idea of a Disney wedding may inspire revulsion in some (and, of course, delight in others), this piece offers a very fair, judgment-free, totally obsessive look into what it’s like to get married at the Happiest Place on Earth, secret Facebook group and all.
Cuba, in Clothes by Chavie Lieber
This story starts with a simple question: How do people buy and sell clothes in Cuba? The answer, however, is complicated and involves state-run stores full of spandex, secret shops in the backs of waxing salons and gynecologist offices, and both old-school and emerging designers looking to make their mark in a communist country on the precipice on change.
Tyra’s Big Fierce Outrageous Goals by Claire Carusillo
Tyra Banks has fashioned herself a Harvard-educated business woman in this current phase of her career, having started her own multi-level marketing beauty company that neither she nor her execs will admit is a multi-level marketing beauty company. Claire on Tyra is shrewd and hilarious, and if you like this one, you’ll probably enjoy Claire on Etsy psychics, too.
The Complicated History of Headscarves by Liana Aghajanian
This story follows the multicultural practice of women covering their hair from ancient Assyria to modern-day Nigeria and everywhere in between, to answer the question: Is head covering an act of freedom or oppression? In addition to deep academic research, Liana speaks to many women who veil — an insane rarity when it comes to reporting on headscarves.
The State of the Menswear Union by Noah Davis
Men have never dressed better, so the current theory goes. Noah charts how we got to this point, the subsequent factioning of men’s style tribes, and why menswear is way more welcoming than it was just a couple years ago. Also, Lindsay Mound’s illustrations are killer.
The Case for the American Mall by Stephie Grob Plante
Much handwringing has been done over the death of the mall. Here’s the thing though: The mall isn’t dying, it’s changing. It’s getting fancier and more experiential, and shoppers are absolutely shopping as a result. So the next time someone tells you the mall is dying, send them this piece.
Ralph Lauren’s American Dream by Erika Adams
The storied brand is, yes, big and important, but also struggling. Erika gets into all that — the legacy, the financials — but there’s also a really interesting thread here regarding the country's current state of anti-establishment sentiment and how that relates to what we buy and how we dress.