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‘Who Runs Four Pins?’

Why the now defunct streetwear blog is somehow more popular than ever

On her way to a music festival in Miami in early May 2017, Twitter user @WizCoylifa posted a photo of the T-shirt she was wearing. It was black, with a DIY graphic ironed across the entire torso. “Who Runs Four Pins?” it read. A few minutes after the tweet went up, @Four_Pins retweeted her photo, and replied with an approving “ ”.

Nothing about the exchange should have been remarkable. Brands engage with social media users, and vice-versa, as a matter of course. But this brand, Four Pins, was a men’s fashion blog that closed its digital doors at the beginning of 2016. Eighteen months later, someone was still tweeting from its verified Twitter account, and that account’s following had grown by about 500 percent over the same period of time.

So who is running @Four_Pins? And why?

First, though, let’s back up. In 2012, Complex Media, a multimedia corporation headquartered in New York City with a focus on urban lifestyle and pop culture, added a blog called Four Pins to its broad portfolio of verticals and properties. The site would cover men’s fashion, and its signature voice — earnest, obsessive, incisive, absurd — quickly made it a cult favorite in media and fashion circles. (Disclosure: I occasionally freelanced for Four-Pins.com from 2012 to 2014.) It was namechecked in the New York Times and counted among its contributors Shea Serrano, The Kid Mero and other destined-for-stardom arbiters of internet culture. But Four Pins failed to attract sufficient advertiser interest, and in early 2016, Complex Media shut it down, explaining in a statement that “the future of the the [sic] best menswear site ever conceived in the long and sordid history of the internet is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.”

Writers and readers moved on. Four-Pins.com began redirecting to Complex.com/style. A farewell post went up with a photo of a cowboy riding into the sunset with the logo of cult skate brand Palace poorly Photoshopped onto his back and an iMessage speech bubble over his shoulder. “lmao nothing gold can stay bruh smfh,” it read.

And so, Four Pins was dead. But strangely @Four_Pins kept tweeting. The site’s Twitter handle, freed from the obligations of promoting the defunct website’s content, began posting menswear- and internet culture-related memes and racking up followers. Seventy-five thousand. Then 100,000. By March 2018, 26 months after it was severed from its host, the handle surpassed 600,000 followers. The blog may be gone, but @Four_Pins is more alive than ever.

But how? And why?

Starting with the question on the shirt, I DM @WizCoylifa (real name: Azariz Madariaga) to ask why she went to a rap concert wearing a homemade tee inquiring about the operator of a decommissioned menswear blog’s Twitter handle. “It’s just a meme I thought about idk,” she writes back. “I’ve been a fan of them for the longest. I honestly just wanted to know who runs the site.”

Odd as it may sound, this sort of thing is more common than you might guess. Search “Who Runs Four Pins?” on Twitter, and you’ll see screencaps of anime characters, preteens wearing BAPE and even a profile photo of an apparently real veterinarian from Massachusetts named Dr. Cloutman. Since the site shut down, the identity of the handle’s operator has become a speculative meta-meme/in-joke amongst the account’s dedicated followers, creating an air of gleeful mystery about the source of all these dank menswear memes.

So who does run Four Pins?

It could be anyone. “At this point,” writes Tyler McCall, deputy editor of Fashionista, in a recent email exchange, “@Four_Pins has a life of its own. It’s part of the #culture.”

Despite what Dr. Cloutman might lead you to believe, though, this actually isn’t that closely guarded of a secret. A few months after the blog shut down, McCall published an interview in which the blog’s former editorial lead, menswear media vet Lawrence Schlossman, who freely admitted to running the account. And to this day, “overlord @Four_Pins” sits in plain sight in the bio of his personal Twitter account.

“This thing ‘who runs Four Pins?’ is kind of weird,” says Schlossman, speaking from the offices of Grailed.com, a high-end fashion reselling platform where he now works as brand director. “It’s not a ‘don’t meet your heroes’ thing. […] The actual truth is just so not interesting. It’s just this lame dude, the former editor-in-chief of a site that nobody read, still getting paid to make jokes about Supreme.”

On the side, he tweets from the @Four_Pins account in exchange for an undisclosed monthly fee from Complex Media. To better understand why Complex Media continued to pay Schlossman to operate the handle — as well as if they have intentions to relaunch the blog, monetize the handle directly or something else — I contacted a company spokesperson, who didn’t provide comment before deadline. I also contacted Noah Callahan-Bever, executive vice president of brand strategy and content at DefJam, who served variously as Complex’s editor-in-chief and chief content officer before departing the company in December 2017, and who Schlossman says made the call to keep the handle going. Callahan-Bever initially responded, but then didn’t answer multiple follow-up emails. So simply put, that mystery, such as it is, remains unsolved.

As for Schlossman himself, over the years, he’s occasionally incorporated guest tweets and takeovers from other well-known personalities on the platform, like @BrandonWardell and @ZachFox. The additional voices may have added to the confusion over who fires off “Raf Simons crying” memes and fueled speculation that it was being operated by a cabal of Weird Twitter all-stars. But Schlossman says most of the account’s 38,100 tweets (“basically probably 99.9 percent”) have come from his hands/brain. There’s no good evidence to suggest otherwise.

But even if “who runs Four Pins?” is relatively easier to answer, it leads to a more perplexing pair of questions: 1) How has it managed to stick around; and 2) what does its staying power signal about menswear and media?

On the first count, I call Jon Moy. The freelance writer from Detroit was one of Four-Pins.com’s most beloved and distinctive regular bylines, and was a major influence on Four Pins’ singular presence. I ask him: “Are the tweets now different from the blogs then?”

“You know how people will like, try to figure out how to travel into time, and one of the ways is you orbit the earth and go as fast as possible, as close as possible to the speed of light, and time is slower for you there? And then you can come back, and a couple months is actually a couple years on earth?”

I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I mutter an affirmative anyway. “I feel like that’s what the Twitter account is,” he concludes. “It’s just like, up in space, just hyper-evolving.” In other words, freed from the terra firma obligations of menswear service-blogging, @Four_Pins hit warp speed. Instead of tweets promoting links to content (because there wasn’t any), it began trafficking in something less labor-intensive: menswear memes.

“No one wanted to read the site,” says Schlossman. “But when it became this super barebones shitposting meme account, it struck a chord.”

This was a breakout adjustment, and it had precedent. “If you look at the greatest early hits of @Four_Pins” when the blog was still publishing, says Skylar Bergl, a former Four Pins editor who now works at Edelman (the PR firm), they were all link posts with memes attached. “The image was what was popular. The post about it was whatever. It got clicks and a bunch of people read it, but it was the meme, the photo that was the successful thing.”

There was the “Jonah Hill fit watch,” for example, an ongoing and seemingly earnest catalog of street-style photos of the Superbad and Wolf of Wall Street actor. (“I love Jonah Hill, and I love his outfits,” says Schlossman matter-of-factly.) Shia LaBeouf is another celebrity fixation, and one that tends to manifest a bit more weirdly. “Your most swagless homie” is usually paired with a photo or GIF that expresses disgust or embarrassment. “Jawn” or “jawnz” is a catch-all term to describe anything — usually products, but also entities as abstract as the style-conscious musician John (“Jawn”) Mayer — that the account deems impressive or covetable. Hence, its banner image: A PornHub-style logo that reads “JawnHub.”

“That’s the one that makes me giggle,” says Moy. “We all used ‘jawn’ on the site. Philly people fucking hated when we’d say that. They’d be like, “Stop fucking using jawn!’” (The term is also a closely held colloquialism in the City of Brotherly Love.) It was prime example, Moy adds, of the Four Pins hallmark of “just antagoniz[ing] our own readers.”

That mirthful commitment to insider vernacular and ouroboros humor, which plays so well on Twitter, may have sealed the blog’s fate. (After all, Four-Pins.com was at least nominally meant as a utility for men buying clothes, and it’s a truly niche dude who wants his denim buying guide rendered in purposefully dense language.) “The site existed as an actual resource for some people,” says Jake Woolf, a former managing editor of Four Pins who went on to be a style writer at GQ, but “if you’re looking for actually new information on products, you wouldn’t follow @Four_Pins.”

But then, why would you follow @Four_Pins? It’s not like a meme-only account is a novelty in 2018. From @FuckJerry and @beigecardigan, to @tanksinatra and @GirlWithNoJob, there are thousands of meme curators out there. It’s a field dominated by massive accounts (many owned by semi-professional “tweetdeckers” who aren’t afraid to steal content) that had a big head start on @Four_Pins back in 2016.

“The only difference between @Four_Pins and, like, any of these dumb fucking meme accounts,” says Schlossman, is that he doesn’t steal jokes. It also has a much tighter focus than the mainstream memers; its content is either directly related to menswear, or at least tangentially aligned with it. Still, Schlossman is reluctant to attribute its success to any one factor. “It’s literally just a shitposting meme account,” he says, but one that happens to “make fun of streetwear.”

But that might be exactly why it works. “If you think about it, fashion and memes are actually perfectly suited for one another,” Emilia Petrarca, a staff writer for New York magazine’s style vertical The Cut, tells me via DM. “They’re both about responding to what’s happening in culture at any given moment.”

The self-referentialism seems to help, too. “Four Pins has always been winking at the camera,” Moy explains. “It’s annoying, but I think that makes it perfect for social media.” (Retweeting photos of followers wearing shirts asking who runs your account, for example.) Ironies (and corresponding subversions of irony) are an essential thread in the argot of Extremely Online, and modern menswear as a community “really metastasized online,” says Petrarca, who writes a column, “WTF Are You Guys Talking About?” that dissects the ever-changing patois of digital menswear discourse. @Four_Pins treats clothes as “just a joke,” she continues, but “[t]he irony is that no one cares more about clothes than the Four Pins reader.”

It stays relevant as well. Despite being run by Schlossman, who has an entire other job, the account “keep[s] up with the breakneck pace of the zeitgeist,” writes Jian DeLeon, another Complex/Four Pins alum who is now editorial director of HighSnobiety, via email.

That’s why Serrano, a two-time New York Times-bestselling in addition to his Four Pins days (and a Twitter master in his own right), attributes the handle’s success squarely to its operator. “The people in charge of it are smart, funny and internet savvy,” he writes in an email response. “You need all three of those things if you’re gonna make it, and oftentimes even that’s still not enough.”

On the other hand: @Four_Pins is pretty repetitive. “[I’ve] just been kind of retreading the same four or five jokes over and over,” Schlossman admits, laughing. “Because it’s all just coming from one guy.” For most meme accounts, going back to the well too regularly is a risky gamble, because general audiences crave a constant flow of new content. But pick any dozen consecutive @Four_Pins tweets, and you’re likely to encounter at least a few of the account’s well-worn jokes.

But somehow, the repetition seems to work to the account’s advantage. “They’ve created this whole kind of universe where I want to feel like I’m a part of it, like I’m in on the joke,” McCall explains. Once you learn the handful of memes on rotation, you’re free to participate. Make a hot “swagless homie” meme, and there’s a good chance @Four_Pins will retweet it. That may be why Schlossman’s self-described tendency to fixate on a joke and “tweet it into the ground” isn’t the kiss of death it might be for another meme account posting versions of the thing again and again.

Schlossman’s singular voice and knack for meme curation aside, though, the handle’s triumphant resurrection also reflects remarkable shifts in menswear, media and maybe even masculinity itself. Consider the growing stature of men’s fashion in mainstream pop culture. From the rise of Yeezy, to the ever-expanding success of Supreme (quantifiable by its recent valuation as a billion-dollar company worthy of serious private-equity attention), evidence abounds that menswear has burst from the bushel basket it was under when Four Pins started blogging. Memes have followed a similar trajectory, albeit on a totally different corner of the internet. Once the esoteric tender of fringe digital communities (messageboards, Reddit, 4chan, etc.), memes have begun to enjoy mainstream appreciation as platforms that enabled effortless consumption of them (Twitter, and later Instagram) were widely adopted by non-geeks.

It follows, then, that memes about menswear have become legitimate cultural touchstones, too, and that menswear commentary — on its products, designers and rituals — is accepted as a means to its own end in mainstream discourse (or close, at least). You don’t have to be researching your next purchase to nerd out over a new pair of Japanese sneakers or the next season of Raf. Menswear, packaged as meme, has become social entertainment, and @Four_Pins has ridden the wave that it helped create.

To even think about a widespread willingness among men to passionately discuss fashion online “even 10 years ago was flat-out ridiculous,” says Bergl. He’s right. Looking at @Four_Pins’ timeline today, it’s easy to forget that not long ago, men “performing” a concern for appearance for a social audience would’ve been considered un-masculine (at best) or homosexual (at worst). Menswear outlets themselves often perpetuated this framing, continues Bergl. “Pre-2008, menswear media was ‘wear this suit, wear this shirt, wear these jeans… to pick up a woman at the bar.” Men could be interested in fashion only insofar as it helped you get chicks, bro. As a blog, Four Pins was part of a new wave of voices that challenged this orthodoxy. As a Twitter handle, it seems to be enjoying a loosening of boundaries that its intellectual labor helped (in part) precipitate.

And make no mistake: The hidebound heteronormative parameters of masculinity in pop culture are loosening. Think of Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert, says Bergl, both of whom have subverted gendered expectations in part with their wardrobe choices. “We have this sect of celebrities who have embraced this sort of experimentalism in clothing.” Perhaps as a result, he speculates, “The readership of @Four_Pins has become just as experimental and abstract” — more than it ever was, or could have been, when it was a site. Or better put: Four Pins may have been a partial cause of that change as a blog; its success as a Twitter handle is likely an outcome of it.

“You maybe see more menswear memes because menswear is a smaller and more digitally native community,” hypothesizes Petrarca. “But women can speak meme, too.” And they do. Schlossman assumes most of @Four_Pins’ followers are straight men, but you don’t have to dig through that many of the handle’s mentions to find women — from industry insiders like McCall and Petrarca, to random teenage Jonah Hill enthusiasts — who follow along. Not only is the conversation about menswear changing; the participants of that conversation (online at least) are becoming less gendered, too.

“Maybe this is your thesis,” says Schlossman toward the end of our conversation, slipping back into editor mode. “Four Pins the website was before its time. Four Pins the shitposting Twitter meme account is hitting at the perfect time.” Still, he continues, “I’m kind of hoping like in the next 10 years Twitter isn’t, like, a thing anymore. Then I can finally stop. Because at this point, when will it ever end?”

“Whatever this thing is, it’s bigger than any one person,” he offers as I stifle back a laugh thinking about him hunched over his phone posting “Jonah Hill fit watch 2k28” memes.

His reflection is on my mind a few days later when I DM with Madariaga, the woman who made the T-shirt that kick-started my Four Pins curiosity in the first place. I ask her: “If I knew who ran Four Pins, would she want me to tell her?”

“Nah,” she replies. “I was told to never meet your heroes.”