Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell aren't lovers or sisters, but the chemistry between the duo behind the band Overcoats is palpable. It's the kind of synchronicity that prompts the two to finish one another's sentences and dress in coordinating-but-not-identical outfits, but it's perhaps most potent in the way their voices fit together in the tight harmonies woven throughout their music. And with co-signs from Maggie Rogers, Tennis and Mitski, plus a first album produced by Nicolas Vernhes of Dirty Projectors and The War on Drugs fame, it's a connection that seems to be working out well for the duo.
Elion and Mitchell started making music together in college, and the result was a genre-defying fusion of electronic pop beats with folk- and bluegrass-informed vocals. The vulnerability of sharing personal stories about heartbreak, family and loss in their lyrics is part of what helped the two land on the name Overcoats, which references clothing that the two see as a kind of shield.
"The name of the band represents a layer of armor to protect ourselves behind something kind of genderless and vague," Elion explains.
Elion and Mitchell have found strength in connecting with one another through their vulnerability — and collaborating with other like-minded creatives. Though Overcoats's onstage presence began with a dedication to wearing all white, ("the idea was to be a complete blank slate for the music," says Elion), their tour wardrobe has since evolved to include a growing number of emerging designers who have brought more color into the rotation.
"We're interested in supporting and collaborating with these female designers who are just starting to make a name for themselves, because we have a lot in common with them as women artists trying to break into a market that is quite difficult to survive in," Mitchell says.
Just before the band left New York to begin their current tour with Mitski, I met up with them in Brooklyn to take a few photos, then later called them on their tourbus to hear about their love for thrifting, how growing up all over the world has affected their style and why they love wearing "androgynous potato sacks." Read on for more of our conversation below.
You both grew up traveling a lot. Where did you each live, and how did that impact your sense of style sonically or sartorially?
Mitchell: I grew up in New York, England and Egypt.
Elion: I grew up in New York and the D.C. area, but traveled a lot to Thailand, Venezuela, Mexico and Uganda. JJ and I connected over that feeling of being wanderers.
Mitchell: And also figuring out how to make a home for yourself wherever you are, which has come in handy since becoming touring musicians. It's helped us be adaptable.
Elion: It's in the ethos of the music — we're not afraid to be an amalgamation of a lot of things. We always say that if you can tell the genre of the song, it's not done yet. With fashion, similarly, we're not afraid of multiplicity.
How do you like to shop?
Mitchell: I love thrift shopping. I think recycling clothes and being willing to make do with things that you already own but finding fun ways to reorganize outfits is what I learned growing up. We've got these specific thrift locations we love now in all these different cities because we've toured the country four times in the last three years.
Elion: Both of us were not as into the chain [stores] as thrifting when we were younger. I remember I studded a leather belt with my name on it. I don't do as weird of things now, I don't think.
Mitchell: I beg to differ. Hana's currently wearing some sort of sweater with full-length farmer's overalls and platform sneakers in the van. So she's doing alright for herself.
Do you shop online at all?
Elion: Both JJ and I are proponents of having like 40 tabs open on your computer of things you want to buy and never do. We kind of browse but don't buy anything, then shop in person.
Mitchell: That way when we're combing through racks of hideous clothes, we can find the gems we've been seeing online.
Do you pay attention to capital-F fashion?
Elion: I'm obsessed with fashion magazines and have been since I was a kid. The amount of money I've spent on them is disgusting. Love them; love runway. I don't look like I know about it, but I do.
Mitchell: More recently we've been really excited about local designers in New York. And thanks to [our stylist] Emily Ruane, we've had access to this whole world of designers like Mr. Larkin, who dressed us for this tour, Carleen, Charlotte Stone and Love Binetti. Last year during New York Fashion Week, we did something with Garmentory for Priscavera's new line.
How did the connections to smaller designers start?
Elion: Our stylist Emily personally knows a lot of the designers we're working with. That's important to us as well – we don't want to just be wearing whoever's clothes. We love Kelsy from Carleen and we love Mary from Kahle.
Has it been hard to figure out how to wear things together when you're appearing as a unit all the time?
Elion: It's really fun because there are a lot of options. You can dress exactly the same and be twinning, or you can kind of yin and yang and be opposites, but that's not totally our thing. It's been cool to be matching and coordinated but not always in the exact same outfit or colors.
What are the most important factors when you're picking what to wear onstage?
Elion: You've gotta be able to move in it; sweat in it. It's gotta be —
Mitchell: — cool as shit.
Elion: And a bit costume-y. We like things that are dramatic. That's one of the reasons we love Mr. Larkin so much. Her wide-leg pants aren't just wide-leg pants; they're huge wide-leg pants. Or an oversize blazer is like, down-to-your-feet oversized.
Offstage, how much does your style overlap?
Mitchell: Right now I'm wearing a collared shirt that Hana donated to me, a mustard potato sack that Hana bought for me in Italy and a thrifted plaid jacket and jeans and boots. Every single item is related [to her] somehow.
Elion (to Mitchell): I got the platform sneakers I'm wearing with you.
Mitchell: I also think what we're doing for Overcoats is either overtly or covertly influencing what we wear daily.
Elion: But we have slightly different personal style. I'd say that mine is eclectic, a bit boyish and athletic. Once in awhile I have an extremely feminine day where I'm like, in a blouse, but most of the time it's kind of third-grade boy.
Mitchell: My style is androgynous potato sack with a touch of the feminine.
What's next for you after this tour?
Mitchell: We're working on our second album. We don't want to give too much away, but album two is definitely going to be an evolution in terms of fashion.
Elion: When we first started our careers, we wanted to look quite minimal. As we've gone on, we've been able to see how fashion can be this layer of protection. You're singing about someone you've lost, but what you're wearing is giving you power. We've been getting more into fashion because it's for putting on a strength that you may not feel like you have inside, but that you want to channel.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.