Charlie Parsons on his favorite jacket…
The air is drying out. My lips are chapped. I’m discovering progressively fewer ants in my room. Do you know what that means? It’s chore coat season !! I woke up chilly this morning, October 30th, 2017. It’s finally cold enough to put on my favorite jacket and I am pumped about it.
My favorite jacket is a denim Lee barn jacket with a brass zipper, most likely purchased in the 1960s. It has a striped wool blanket lining and a very worn corduroy collar. The denim itself was originally a dark indigo color. Decades of hard wear caused the jacket to fade uniformly to a lighter shade of blue. I love the two slant pockets. I love the zippered chest pocket and I love the small, barely legible Lee patch double stitched into the garment. This jacket is covered in stains. Flecks of green paint and grease smears on the right sleeve. Bleach dribbles along the bottom hem. There’s fraying on just about every surface that could possibly fray and the most beautiful honeycombs faded into the sleeves from years of stacking in the same manner.
My grandpa worked in this coat for a couple decades before it got passed down to my dad. My strongest memories of this jacket are my dad wearing it to shovel snow from the driveway in the winter. Recently, I texted my dad and asked if he has any memories of the coat. He said, “My dad wore it quite often. My favorite picture is of him coming back toward the house with an empty food scrap bucket wearing the jacket, however, it was not originally his”. He elaborated on how this jacket came into my grandpa’s possession, saying, “After we left the farm, my mom worked doing home health care. She would clean elderly peoples’ homes. That would help allow them to stay independent in their homes. Her clients absolutely loved her. I think that after an aged gentleman died, his widow gave (my) mom the jacket for my dad”. The garment itself was produced between the 1950s and 60s. Although it’s not specifically dated, it’s probably around 60 years old. Hearing these stories in connection to a garment I wear today makes me feel connected to a side of my family I don’t know as much about. Beyond its aesthetics, my grandpa’s chore coat serves as a link in my family’s oral history.
One enduring component of contemporary menswear is maturity in garments. There’s a demand for worn clothing in almost every bracket of fashion, from distressed Gap jeans, up to pre-worn designer sneakers from commercial styles Golden Goose and Vetements to the more designers like Boris Bidjan Saberi. Sometimes these concepts involve reconstructing the old like in the case of brands like Needles Rebuild. More universal, and consistently popular cases involve destroying the new. Prolific and influential fashion houses from Helmut Lang to Maison Martin Margiela all the way up to Saint Laurent Paris’ iconic distressed styles of denim toy with the concept of pre-washed, worn, and often pre-destroyed garments. What about distressing and wear is so enduring to us?
“the ‘cool factor’ of adventure has only increased since distressing as a concept has passed through the filters of decades worth of subcultures”
I found myself stuck trying to explain the lasting appeal of this kind of destruction in garments, so I asked my fashion student/designer friend Derek about it. For Derek, there are three main components to the charm of worn clothes. Starting by addressing clothes that age with wear, like my grandpa’s jacket, or raw denim, Derek says, “The general appeal of distressed clothing, whether artificial or not, is that they project a story of the garments’ lifespan and its experiences”. This certainly makes sense for items passed down within a lineage, like a patinaed belt that tans and softens with time, becoming a highly personal good. As for clothes you can purchase distressed, like ripped jeans, Derek partially attributes the appeal to changing lifestyle: In 2017 the majority of us (live) a lifestyle with little to no physical labor (or) strenuous work where these clothes would get faded or worn significantly. Pre-distressing is a way for a wearer to portray (the) image of adventure where their clothes get beaten”. I think Derek strikes an interesting point here as well. Increasingly sedentary lifestyles may contribute to a form of nostalgia for ruggedness, which in turn expresses itself in the demand for excessively strained garments. I’d add that I think the “cool factor” of adventure has only increased since distressing as a concept has passed through the filters of decades worth of subcultures. The coolness of a faded field jacket worn by farmers like my grandfather is wildly distinct from the coolness we see in the loose threads of a shredded pair of crust punk jeans, but the individuality conveyed among this spectrum of styles creates a composite of adventure.
Beyond my lofty rambling, I think Derek’s final point accounts for a majority of the appeal of these kinds of garments. Distressed things look good. Or as he more eloquently puts it, “(One) goal of pre-distressing is to make an interesting composition with the garment, to make something beautiful by beating away and cutting at it, which is ironic in a way. No one just gets tons of holes in their shirts from regular wear. The designer is trying to make something unique by deconstructing the surface of the garment”. There’s beauty in destruction, whether its achieved through the life of the wearer or conceived by a designer and produced by machines.
My favorite jacket is my favorite jacket because of its look, its cut, its wear, and its history within my family. I certainly don’t think my grandpa could have predicted the jacket he wore when he needed to carry feed would be trendy 40 years in the future. Maybe that speaks to the lingering aesthetic appeal of the worn good.
Special thanks to my dad for letting me take this jacket to college and to the insights of Derek Knodt, who’s designs can be observed @derekknodt on Instagram.
All quotations transcribed for text conversations and edited for grammar and punctuation with consent of those questioned.