The Death of Men’s Jackets

The other day I found myself perusing the new Lands End catalog.  In a wonderful stroke of luck, I happen to receive a new version of this publication approximately every third or fourth day, all year long, so I was not particularly in the dark about current offerings.  But something did catch my eye, something on the suits page.  It was this: you could not order a men’s suit jacket.  Only suit pants.

This brought back a frustration I have had ever since I entered male adulthood: What a shame it is that men don’t get to wear jackets anymore.

I am not talking about jacket jackets, like rain coats, or shells, or parkas.  Those are ubiquitous on the male form.  I am talking about how — unless you work on Wall Street or in the legislature or at a white shoe law firm (do they really wear white shoes there?) — there aren’t a lot of chances for a men to wear blazers, suit jackets, or sport coats anymore without looking like a dandy.  For me, it’s weddings and graduations and the occasional formal event and that’s it.

That’s really too bad — because men’s jackets are great.

First, they look good.  They broaden your shoulders, but are slim and tapered through the sides. They layer colors: a white shirt and khaki pants is one thing, but a white shirt, khaki pants and a blue jacket is far more striking.

Plus, jackets are sturdy and practical.  They’re warm (especially heavier materials like wool or tweed).  They’ve got those great, big, roomy breast pockets inside where you can slip a piece of paper, some pens, or your phone without making your pants pockets bulky. 

Plus, most jackets are amazingly durable and wrinkle-resistant.  I wore one during the most distracted and clothes-abusive period of my life: high school.  My jackets stood up to everything 16 year-old me could unwittingly dish out. You could wear your jacket to class, throw it over the back of your chair, leave it in a heap in your room, accidentally step on it, stuff it in your gym locker after practice, then put it back on the next morning and it would still look great.  And because it’s such a big part of the ensemble, it can cover over lesser more wrinkled components. (You know what pretty much always looks wrinkled?  Dress pants and dress shirts.) 

But if you have a dress coat on, no one notices.  The jacket covers up your laziness.

I don’t know.  People used to look at me pitying about having to wear a coat and tie every day in high school, but I always thought it was a good deal for guys.  I could wear the same jacket pretty much every day and no matter what else I’d rolled out of bed and put on, I always looked respectable, with very little thought or effort.  I felt bad for the girls at our school. They had no similar clarity and it must have been much harder for them. I myself have been searching for the same clarity ever since. Do I wear a sweater and dress pants and lean-in on the avuncular look? Or try for a polo and khakis and look like I work at Radio Shack?

Why have jackets gone away? There’s a great article here that describes the generalized push of American fashion toward the more casual, the more common-place, and traces this back to good, old-fashioned democratic ideals.  The writer considers the trend “part of a 400 year history that inverts classism. The expansion of democratic power is inextricably linked to how much we celebrate working class people and their aesthetics.”

Is it better, on balance, to be able to wander around in shorts and a t-shirt in the summer than to be all buttoned up at all times? Of course. Is it better to have a more leveled dress code and to worry about more important things? Surely.

But what can I say? I just think jackets look sharp and do so pretty easily. You look like a grown man, not some guy who’s still dressing like he’s eight. Watching a middle aged man out to dinner while wearing cargo shorts and a tank top sports jersey of another man raises a number of questions for me. Are you carrying a credit card in your pocket, or a squirt gun? Will you be heading home after this to watch the news, or to play video games?

I guess I just miss men’s jackets and I hope they come back someday.