Will Our Obsession With Neighborhood Gear Ever End?

Everyone's wearing Fishtown tees or Fairmount totes — and the trend is only growing.

Illustration by Michele Melcher

It started with a poster: the city skyline, up on people’s walls, in the early 2000s. Then it was “Philly” emblazoned in bold typeface on a tote — with a cute pretzel doodle or the Robert Indiana LOVE icon. After all the time Philadelphia spent apologizing for our hometown, it was suddenly a place to boast about. We were proud to show off our 215, and those who got it, got it.

As time has gone on, our Philly pride has only deepened and grown more specific. Today, our tea towels, coffee mugs and onesies champion “Old City,” “Bella Vista,” and “Rittenhouse Baby.” Valerie Safran, owner of Open House, says that when she opened back in 2002, her shop sold big-picture city items — upscale versions of the stuff you might find in an airport souvenir shop. But she eventually worked with local artists and added neighborhood-specific products. “I was surprised how much the individual neighborhoods sold,” says Safran, “especially those for Fishtown and South Philly.”

It makes sense: We all know Philly is a city of neighborhoods. Each has its own special charm and character. And where you choose to live around here says something about who you are: young EPX family? Wash West bigwig? Mount Airy free spirit? “People love products that show their local pride but are also well-designed and look good,” Safran adds.

As these hyper-local tags have taken off, retailers have rolled out more goods. Franklin & Poe sells minimalist Fishtown tees; Ali’s Wagon has Fairmont coasters; Manayunk’s Latitudes and Longitudes stocks a plethora of neighborhood goods, from MNYK-script display blocks to street-name totes, towels and wall art. And over in Old City, Philadelphia Independents boutique offers — among other townie swag — hand-drawn and hand-screen-printed maps of locales like Center City and West Philly to hang above your sofa. Some of these goods even serve as the apparel equivalent of inside jokes, like the popular South Philly t-shirt festooned with a folding chair. (You get it, right? Those South Philly folks love to save parking spots with lawn chairs.)

But maybe this trend is about more than just the chance to display our Brotherly Love. In a global society, perhaps we yearn to identify with our zip codes because we want to connect with our immediate communities — to feel like we belong somewhere tiny, specific and obscure: We have our people, and they get us, and we’re glad for that.

And now neighborhood pride can even sink into our skin: Up-and-coming local beauty brand Franklin & Whitman is naming all its luxe skin products after Philly blocks. There’s the Fitler Square face scrub, the Oak Lane mask, the Chestnut Hill cleansing serum, and the Cobbs Creek botanical steam, to name a few. All signs point to the fact that Franklin & Whitman is about make it big-time, so maybe everyone in the country will get to slather on a little Philly soon, too.

Published as “Home Made” in the November 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.