Although Rolling Stone anointed Phoebe Bridgers as one of her “generation’s sharpest songwriters” last spring, this interview is not about her particular style of music. And yes, that’s weird on some level. After all, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter is nominated for four Grammys for her second album, Punisher, which has been captivating sad-girl TikTok, indie-rock enthusiasts, and anyone with taste since it debuted on the Billboard charts in mid-2020. If you want to know what Bridgers is reading or references, or a relatively comprehensive diagram of her sonic and social universe, well, that’s already immortalized on the world wide web (in The New Yorker, no less). And while parsing the lyrics to “I Know the End” (yes, the one she punctuated with a much-discussed guitar smash on Saturday Night Live) is an excellent endeavor, that’s not what we’re here to dissect.
Today, we’re going to talk about suits (both the tailored kind and the skeleton iteration) and her now not-so-secret love of Brandy Melville. Yeah, you read that right. So buckle up, dear readers—it’s time for a deep dive into the sartorial world of Phoebe Bridgers, a land where surprises abound. And for those who are interested in hearing more directly from Phoebe herself, be sure to download her episode of our new podcast, Who What Wear With Hillary Kerr, which features the full-length version of this interview.
I know most people want to talk about music, which makes sense, and we’ll talk a little bit about that. I actually want to talk more about your personal style and aesthetics, in general, and how you use fashion in your work, and explore your thing with skeleton costumes. If that sounds okay with you?
Totally. Okay, good.
So you like a skeleton moment. You were wearing a skeleton costume on the cover of your second album, Punisher. You wore one in the video for your Grammy-nominated song, “Kyoto.” You wore a custom one by Amber Doyle for your Saturday Night Live performance. And then you had a Gucci version of a skeleton costume for your second song on SNL, which looked like a black gown with a pearl-encrusted rib-cage situation, and it was stunning. What’s up with skeletons?
You know, I’m not really sure. It wasn’t even that deep of a concept; I just thought it was cool. I was a ghost for my first record and thought that a great graduation from that would be a skeleton. I was just a skeleton for Halloween in 2019 with my band, and then had a bunch of costumes laying around. I like a costume because there’s nothing more stressful than being about to play a show and picking out your outfit. I like wearing the same thing for every single show.
How does one go about having a Gucci skeleton rib cage made? How did that process work? Did they come to you and say “Hey, we’d like to do a fashion version of a skeleton for you.” Or did you say, “Knock, knock. Hi, Gucci? Can you make this for me?”
They were like, “We want to make you something,” and I was like, “Will you make a skeleton thing?” Then they sent me a bunch of samples drawn up beautifully. And that was the one I picked. But yeah, it was just such a cool experience. They’re so classy.
It seems like you are a fan of uniform dressing, in general. For example, I read that for your meetings with your record label (when there were meetings back in pre-COVID times, and even on Zoom) you almost exclusively wear suits.
I do. And I actually have a record label meeting after this. So that’s why I’m wearing this suit.
What is it?
Is it Max Mara? I think it is. It’s like a gray skirt suit, which is my new obsession. I normally go for just pants, but I feel like I do that in my music already, so to separate it, I wear skirt suits.
That’s very Hitchcockian of you. It’s kind of like a Grace Kelly moment.
Totally. Yeah, he dressed Kim Novak in gray because blondes don’t look good in gray normally. And he just thought it would be kind of jarring. But I think she looks gorgeous, and I like wearing gray.
I think it’s cool. We always say gray goes with nothing, so it goes with everything. So how do you find all of your suits?
I think I got this on The Real Real, which I love just because I like a little bit of shopping done for me like. That’s why I like couture because there are only eight things to pick from. Beyond that, I go to a lot of thrift stores, like St. Vincent DePaul. And then I’ll spend my money instead on getting it perfectly altered to my body. So I’ll spend $8 on a suit, and then spend $150 on the alterations. It’s so worth it.
So how do you know that that piece is for you? How does the suit jump out at you?
I have very specific rules again. I’ve started warming up to gray suits lately, but other than that, I don’t really wear anything other than black. So I’m looking for anything black., Even in stores like Vince, which I really love, I’ll just go to the black rack. And I do the same thing at thrift stores. It just makes my life a lot easier.
Is this something you’ve always done? Or is this a simplicity technique that has come along the way?
I wish that it was something I’d always done. Photos of me in high school—before I figured it out—are just so dark. I had a dress that was covered in melons. I think it was bright yellow. That was rough. I think I just realized that all the things in my closet that were black were the most flattering. If you just invest in a great pair of shoes or something, then you can get away with really whatever. And once I figured that out, I was off to the races.
I feel like it’s also kind of a rejection of internet culture, and specifically, Instagram culture, where it’s like you wear one look, you take the picture, and then you can never wear it again.
I read this book, I forget what it was called; it’s like a young adult book, but barely. It’s really a kid’s book, but it was about this girl who has a closet full of the same black dress. She becomes a detective, and when I read that, I was like, “That’s my dream.” Like a superhero [who wears] the exact same thing every day.
What jeans do you like?
My guitar player, Harrison [Whitford], is almost my exact same size, and when he is done with jeans, I take them because he has great taste.
You like a broken-in jean!
I love a broken-in jean. There’s nothing I hate more than brand-new jeans. I like high rise. I like [Levi’s] 501s, but really anything that Harry gives me. Hand-me-down “boy” jeans are the best.
I’d also like to point out that there is little in this world that sounds more luxurious than having your own personal private jean wearer, which is what you’re describing.
I’m so spoiled. I think 100% of my jeans used to be Harry’s.
You’ve also said that you’ve been a Dr. Martens person forever. I’m curious: What are your essential wardrobe items?
I’m trying to buy less leather lately, so I am kind of collecting vegan-leather versions of shoes and jackets. I have this really old Schott jacket that I got when I was 20 that I’m obsessed with. I have this A.P.C. coat that’s gray and black that I am obsessed with. I have a bucket hat that I love. Harry’s jeans. I love my Tod’s little-old-lady church shoes. Always a big pair of sunglasses, and then 400 of the same black dress.
Are the [dresses] from all over? Or is there a brand or a style, in particular, that you like?
I love a mid-thigh length with a three-quarter sleeve; just like a really simple one I had from American Apparel forever ago. But now I am more likely to find something like that at A.P.C. or ACNE. Lots of thrift-store everything. I really like Christy Dawn; there are so many beautiful patterns and stuff. Sometimes I do just pick a beautiful color instead of something black! I feel like my deepest, darkest secret is the amount of shirts that I have from Brandy Melville.
I did not see that coming.
Yeah, no, they have really soft black shirts. Even the boys in my band wear their T-shirts because they’re supposed to look like boyfriend T-shirts, but they also just fit boys.
Last year you were supposed to be on tour with The 1975 and touring to support your own album. How do you pack for a tour? Do you think of off-duty versus on-stage clothes? Do you make lists?
The years I’m really, really on tour, I do have a list. Because I am definitely predisposed to forgetting all my medication or whatever. (Or my phone charger.) I do have a list—I’m getting so much better at it. That’s something that I wasn’t really expecting—to just be good at packing—because I used to be so bad. Like, just the whole half of my suitcase would go untouched. I’d pack a weird pair of jeans that didn’t fit because I’m like, “Oh, I might wear these if they’re in my suitcase.” Lots of layers. I feel like the hardest thing to do is literally just pick one jacket and like two pairs of shoes. Good walking shoes, good show shoes, maybe some sneakers as well for exercise or whatever. But just being realistic. And also, I acquire so much on tour. I feel like one of my favorite things to do is pack light and then go thrifting in every city. I love Portland thrifting.
Let’s talk about the Grammys. Are you working with a stylist?
I’m just kind of brainstorming at this point. I’m so excited. I am kind of trying to find a permanent stylist. I’ve never had one. I usually just style myself, and it works out great, but it’s a lot of work for the amount of stuff that I do. And also, it’s way more fun to just play dress up and not wear your own clothes for stuff when possible. It’s fun to wear samples and then be proud of your own closet but not have worn it on the cover of magazines so that when you walk down the street, people are like, “Oh, that’s Phoebe Bridgers in a Phoebe Bridgers costume,” you know? [I’m] trying to find a stylist. I think it’d be really nice to collaborate with someone.
Do you have a specific idea about what you’re going to do [for the Grammys]? Or is it still up in the air?
Let’s talk about beauty stuff. So you’ve mentioned your love of supplements, including Moon Juice’s SuperYou supplements. What are beauty and wellness essentials for you?
I take vitamin D. I take probiotics. I’m a crazy vitamin person. As far as products, I love Kosas. I love R+Co. I just got this Lenore Greyl mask. I’ll put it in my hair and then sleep with it. And Olaplex. I use that every once in a while because my hair is pretty dead. I really like Unite; they have a great shampoo called Blonda.
I like the fact that you experiment with the way that you style your hair for shows and shoots. How have you figured out what works for you?
I think there were lots of mistakes. In high school, I cut my own bangs. Once I did box-dye black. I had a red bowl cut. I shaved my head. I like shaving my head. I will definitely do that again when I’m done with the bleach, which keeps getting punted down the line. I think having the bleach as a base has been really fun. Like, I did yellow for a couple of weeks. For Better Oblivion, I did purple. There are so many new brands of temporary color that I really love. I love Good Dye Young, Hayley Williams’s company. They have the most fun colors. I feel like after the Grammys, I’m going to go full-on something weird. It’s time.
Can we talk about the Who What Wear shoot a little bit? When we were prepping for the shoot, you said you prefer black, maybe a little white, but that you were very open otherwise. And you were open to different styles and different silhouettes. Was there a look, in particular, that you really liked from the shoot, or something where you’re like, “This is cool, but hell no,” in real life?
I mean, everything was so fun. There were some gladiator shoes I really loved. And the [Paco Rabanne?] dress with the diamonds and you see basically like my whole skin… that one was so fun to wear and made me feel great. But also, the one with the crazy white sleeves was beautiful. All the suits, like, I think it was a Dsquared suit with some clear detailing. I just really love the suit so much.
So let’s say someone has never heard your music before. What song on Punisher would you say you should start with?
Maybe “Garden Song,” honestly, which is the first song on the record. I think it describes my lyrical and production style pretty concisely in one song. I’m proud of that one. So, yeah, just the first song on the record.
And if someone knows your work really well, what song would you say they should listen to first?
I’m really proud of “Graceland Too” on the record and “Moon Song,” which are two sadder ones. So I don’t usually play them as a one-off. [I’m] proud of them and [I] think that they’re representative of what I want to do next.
With any creative project, there are some pieces that come together like no problem. And then there are others that are torturous and seem to take forever. I’m curious: What song worked its way out easily, and what was more of a struggle?
“Garden Song” was really easy. I had a very streamlined idea for that, which is to have my tour manager sing the courses with me. And I think it was just like a cool production choice. And then “I Know the End” was the hardest. It had the most tracks. I knew exactly what I wanted to do for it, but it just took a long time to record.
They must all feel very precious to you in their own way. But do you have a favorite song from this album?
I think “Moon Song” is my favorite. It’s very sad, but that’s what I tend to gravitate towards.
Your lyrics are really thoughtful, interesting, nuanced, precise, and painful. And I just love them. What is the best lyric that you think you’ve ever written?
I like lyrics that are kind of a joke to myself. In “Kyoto,” I like “I’m gonna kill you/If you don’t beat me to it.” I think that’s funny. And then in the second chorus the “I don’t forgive you/But please don’t hold me to it.” I like that those mean the same thing. You still care about someone even though you hate them, basically.
You also started your own record label recently. I’m curious about what the impetus was behind that?
I like having power over an industry that can feel very elusive. There’s not a lot of music in the music industry, as they say. I like being able to hear something, and think, What can I do for this person? What resources can I give them? I like having that power now.
What’s it like being on the other side of things? Are there things that you find yourself really good at and things that you find yourself not as good at? Does any of that surprise you?
I love marketing so much. It’s just fun. It’s as creative a job as anything else if you do it right. Taking some of these ideas and being like, “Ooh, we should go into this weird studio and do interpretive dance, if that’s what you’re into. We can work that into the campaign, or what do you want your billboard to say?” I just love that stuff. And then I’m worse at administration, like answering emails and remembering who I talked to about what, which is nice to have people work for me for that reason because it kind of keeps me organized. And, you know, the next day, my manager Darin will be like, “We talked about this and you’re going to text this person.” I was like, “Oh, right. Fuck, I forgot.” So I need people to keep me accountable for those types of things. But I love the creative side of it.
So what are you looking forward to after the pandemic’s done?
Everything. I’m looking forward to everything, but I’m also looking forward to this year. I feel very lucky that I had an album campaign throughout all this, and maybe when the world starts again, I’ll be on an endless endless tour. So I’m just trying to take stock and be grateful and kind of spread the wealth wherever I can—whether it’s mutual aid or charities that I care about. Just being able to hop on Zoom and play charity shows and stuff is just so cool. This year just has a lot less uncertainty attached to it with the political sphere and vaccines and everything. As uncertain as we are, we lived through a whole year of this already. So I’m looking forward to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but also just kind of appreciating what I can do right now because I feel very lucky.
Speaking of thinking, what have you learned over the past year? What’s been your biggest takeaway?
So much. I started going to therapy for real, so I’ve learned a lot. I think there’s just a lot of stuff that I need to sift through in my own psyche. I think before I’m able to function fully in the world, I think there are a lot of unhealthy patterns that I cling to to make my life easier to live. But then eventually, it’s harder and harder. So kind of like doing an inventory of my own brain has been nice. I’m learning tons about myself.
The Grammys are coming up. Life is happening. What are you working on now? What are you going to do next? Like, are you working on a new album? Is it rude for me to ask that?
I think I’m always working on something. I am always writing songs. I’m always having ideas for stuff. But who knows? Like, I definitely haven’t started recording or anything. What’s next is a break. I want to be taking in more than outputting for the next year. So that’s my plan.
Photographer: Emman Montalvan
Stylist: Donna Lisa
Hair and Makeup: Nicole Wittman using Oribe and Danessa Myricks Cosmetics
Creative Direction: Alexa Wiley