In 1994, Charmaine Simmons, the costume supervisor for Seinfeld, had a problem: People wanted to dress like Kramer, Jerry’s eccentric, ever-interrupting neighbor, played by Michael Richards. This was one of the better problems a television series could have: Seinfeld was the most popular show on American television that year, and its idiosyncratic style and humor had started to influence pop culture far beyond its Thursday-night time slot. But the problem existed nevertheless. As Simmons explained to The New York Times back then, the general public had begun to buy up all of the clothing she needed for Kramer’s wardrobe: “Fashion-wise, we’ve really created a monster.”
The monster seems to have reawakened. Kramer’s old uniform—camp-collar shirts in colorfully printed silk or rayon, sack pants that pull up a little short at the ankle to reveal white socks, clunky-soled shoes, a thin gold chain—is new again. This summer, the stylish young men I’ve seen around New York have continued their rejection of the once-inescapable skinny pants and check shirts in favor of something a little looser and decidedly more louche. Years of stretch fabrics that really needed the stretch have given way to breezy textiles and retro short-sleeved knits with a natural slouch, idiosyncratic prints, a lot more color, and maybe a little bit of embroidery. There are fewer sneakers and more loafers. And then there are all those camp collars.
All of which is to say, 25 years after Seinfeld went off the air, people are once again snapping up clothes in service of dressing like the oddball next door, whether or not they’re aware of their apparent inspiration. Kramer’s look is unmistakably back. Call it the summer of Kramercore.
Fashion trends can be inscrutable, but this one needn’t be. There are many reasons that Kramer is the right man, at the right time, with the right wardrobe. I should acknowledge up front that Seinfeld was a show obsessed with clothes. A puffy shirt, a Gore-Tex parka, an Armani suit, a designer suede jacket, a discount cashmere sweater, and a box of vintage raincoats were all fulcra on which entire episodes turned. Seinfeld’s attention to sartorial detail has paid off in enduring fashion influence; the past several years have seen a particularly robust re-embrace of some of the show’s central sartorial themes. Three of the four members of the show’s ensemble are normcore icons: Elaine with her ditsy florals and oversize blazers, Jerry with his dad jeans and bulky white sneakers, George with his mix of preppy staples and what we’d now call streetwear. In 2022, Jerry Seinfeld himself even fronted an ad campaign for the hypebeast emporium Kith.
Kramer has been comparatively absent from previous reappraisals of the show’s aesthetic legacy. Some of that absence can be attributed to Richards, who torpedoed his career in 2006 with a racist, slur-filled rant onstage at a Los Angeles comedy club. (He later apologized.) But a significant part of Kramer’s slightly delayed entry into the contemporary fashion conversation can be explained by the clothes themselves. It’s also why the clothes are suddenly so popular.
The issue, specifically, is that Kramer was a man out of time. True to the character’s recurring interest in old or used clothes, Simmons told the Times that she and the show’s costume department sourced much of his wardrobe from thrift shops and antique stores. The garments were largely from the 1950s and ’60s, which is why it didn’t take that long to lose easy access to them when some fans picked up the look—the era’s used-clothing ecosystem was far less robust than what Americans have now. With the remaining selection depleted, the costumers instead scrounged up vintage textiles and made Kramer’s clothes from scratch: things like short-sleeved button-ups in silk dupioni, jackets in nubby textiles with idiosyncratic details such as fur collars, colorful wool suits. Unlike what the other characters wore, Kramer’s clothes were untethered from the show’s era. Whereas Jerry, George, and Elaine fussed over clothes from big ’90s brands such as Calvin Klein, Nike, and Timberland, Kramer was unwittingly buying up George’s dad’s resort wear from the local vintage store after George sold them to make a quick buck.
For much of the past decade, many of the retro trends in fashion have focused squarely on ’90s tropes. Kramer, eclectic and timeless, just wasn’t the right kind of ’90s dresser. By now, though, the retro revival among young shoppers has spilled far beyond the bounds of a single decade. Tired of the sameness and omnipresence of new clothes and nostalgic for a past that many of them don’t remember, young people have plunged themselves into thrifting and vintage resale, hunting for weird or interesting things from the ’90s and early 2000s. Kramer, always looking to swipe cool old jackets and sweaters whose original owners had tired of them, acts much more like a Zoomer with a Depop account than like a Millennial trying to snag a pair of new, limited-release Jordans on Nike’s SNKRS app. (The latter is much more Jerry.)
Whether or not most of the people embracing Karmercore realize they’re dressing like a fictional character from long-ago network TV is sort of beside the point. Many of them likely have no idea, and a preponderance of short-sleeved silk shirts, gold chains, and collared knits can also be found in plenty of other places—The Sopranos is another source of aesthetic nostalgia. But some people surely do get it. Seinfeld, thanks to its long-term accessibility in syndication and on streaming platforms, as well as its omnipresence as a cultural and comedic reference, has already had its other main characters picked clean of any remaining aesthetic references, including by people who are far too young to have watched it when it aired. When you get sick of dad jeans and sneakers, Kramer is waiting right there with a look that’s more interesting and thoughtful. And the cohort of people who are highly invested in the clothes and culture of many different eras also tend to be the people who are willing to get a little weird, thereby starting trends that lots of other people eventually follow without realizing where any of it came from. Now even mass-market stores such as J.Crew stock breezy, boxy camp-collar shirts in wild prints.
It’s also, I think, not a coincidence that Kramer’s whole vibe resonates at this moment in particular, in the heat of July and after years of pandemic disruptions. As the fashion critic Derek Guy wrote in 2018, Kramer’s look, with its light fabrics and frequent seaside motifs, embodies summer. He’s also Seinfeld’s resident bon vivant—a man who’s constantly doing things like stealing lobsters out of commercial traps, golfing on the beach, spontaneously relocating to Los Angeles, and charming women (sometimes unintentionally) with his strange sexual allure. He’s by far the least anxious of an incredibly neurotic bunch, and he goes where life takes him. And who doesn’t want to feel like that right now? Down to the details, the clothes fit the man: My favorite Kramer shirt, which he wears again and again in the first half of the show’s run, features tiny embroidery of the nautical flag used to signal man overboard.