2017 was not the year anyone expected. To call it bewildering and challenging would be a gross understatement, and it’s no surprise that we here at Racked spent a lot of time thinking about identity and community, and particularly how they intersect with economics and class. You probably did too.
So many of the longform stories we commissioned this year reflect that (as do many non-longform stories, but you’re reading a longform roundup right now). We published features about the very rich and the very poor, the people who make up a tenth of the American workforce by selling you clothes and the ones who don’t wear any clothes at all, California girls and French girls and quince girls and sorority girls.
You can see all of our longform here — and/or the best of 2015 and 2016, if you’re so inclined — but below is a list of this year’s biggest and buzziest stories. And since clicking on this page means you’re interested in deep, thoughtful investigations, you should check out Racked’s most ambitious work to date, The Swag Project, too. Now, go read all the things!
How to Sell a Billion-Dollar Myth Like a French Girl by Eliza Brooke
As Racked senior reporter Eliza Brooke writes, “The effortlessly chic French woman is one of the most persistent tropes in our lifestyle landscape.” But does the so-called French Girl actually exist? And either way, why is she used to sell us everything from soap to wine? This is the best kind of business story. (If this is up your alley, you should also read Eliza’s similarly brilliant take on California style.)
Naked Truths by Jamie Lauren Keiles
Racked, a site about all the stuff we put on our bodies, decided to tackle this question: Who are we without our clothes? The result is so funny and oddly moving, and the writing is truly stunning.
America’s Massive Retail Workforce Is Tired of Being Ignored by Sarah Jaffe
Retail workers have long been absent from discussions of American employment, even though they account for 10 percent of the country's workforce. Labor reporter Sarah Jaffe took a look at how retail workers are organizing — from Walmart to Bloomingdale’s, California to Pennsylvania.
The Sisterhood of the Exact Same Pants by Stephanie Talmadge
This piece goes deep on the sameness of sororities, specifically the rules (both codified and not) that govern how members act and also dress. It’s a critical and empathetic story that interrogates how much individuality we’re willing to give up with the goal of finding ourselves.
Nobody Thinks About eBay by Chavie Lieber
Once a dominant player in online retail, eBay has fallen far, far behind. Racked senior reporter Chavie Lieber traveled to the company’s Bay Area headquarters to find out how exactly they’re trying to catch up and if it’s enough to challenge a new crop of buzzy resale startups. (This year, Chavie also examined Amazon’s fashion aspirations and the fastest fast-fashion.)
The Grays of Our Lives by Kyle Chayka
This is a long and lovely essay about why gray is the color of the 21st century. Spoiler: It's about anxiety! Also comfort, conformity, and privilege. An extremely 2017 story.
Weddings of the 0.01 Percent by Julia Rubin
Hello, yes, I am Julia Rubin, executive editor of Racked and author of this list. It feels weird to put my own story on here, but a hell of a lot of you read and shared this piece on how the wildly wealthy get married! Come for the world’s best wedding planners and their ultra-secretive clients, stay for the 20 kilos of caviar and performances by Katy Perry.
Who the Fuck Is Kat Von D? by Cheryl Wischhover
Profiles are rare for us, but this one was a no-brainer: Kat Von D is a former reality star and tabloid mainstay who parlayed her fame into a wildly successful beauty empire. In other words, before there was Kylie and Kylie Cosmetics, there was Kat Von D and Kat Von D Beauty.
The Impossible Question of Public School Uniforms by Stephie Grob Plante
A fifth of American public school students wear uniforms; these kids are disproportionately poor and also tend to be kids of color. Do school uniforms further marginalize these students, or level the playing field?
Would You Take Out a Loan for a Pair of Jeans? by Susie Cagle
A startup called Affirm sure hopes so. Some shoppers have as many as 50 of the company’s high-interest loans out at any given time for items like pants and shoes, and all were approved using Affirm’s predictive (and possibly discriminatory) algorithm. Susie Cagle’s compelling comic illustrations really make this piece sing.
When Bergdorf Served Chitlins and Champagne by Rikki Byrd
There is a curious history of soul food — black American cuisine — being served at or sold by department stores — retailers that largely cater to white customers and have long stumbled over how to deal with race relations. This is a fascinating look at what happens when fashion, food, and race collide.