On Jackets

An Autobiography

I don’t know how other people periodize their personal histories, and as I get older, I may change how I do mine, but if you ask me today, I wrap the chapters of my life in jackets. Not book jackets, cloth ones: with two sleeves and, usually, a zipper.

Amongst articles of clothing, there is something compelling about the logic of chapters of jackets. In a writing seminar I attend, given the prompt of relating to clothing, one person wrote on flannel shirts, two went metaphorical, and three wrote of jackets. Weak evidence, but evidence still, that jackets are special. Jackets encompass, they embrace, they warm and protect. Most have big, safe pockets that can hold all your important belongings.

But more than that, jackets hold identity; they provide continuity. At least if like mine, your torso wardrobe still consists largely of T-shirts, you wear a jacket, likely the same jacket, every day. If rendered to a cartoon character of constant wardrobe, suspension of disbelief is needed for the never changing shirt or pants, but jackets believably remain constant. There are perhaps hints in language as well: jacket traces to old-french Jacque, a “generic peasant name”; the English synonym ‘coat’ is adapted into the heraldic ‘coat of arms’; the ‘mantle’ of honors and passed responsibilities means also in English a cloak worn “mainly by women” and Eastern Orthodox priests, both deriving from a cognate across Old French, Italian, Norse, and Old High German, now a common place word for jacket in modern German, Der Mantel. The point I belabor is that I don’t think its crazy to trace ones identity through jackets, and I do mine.

The Fall Out Boy Jacket

Presumably, I could construct a history into childhood, but by naive memory, the epoch of the eras of dominant jackets, the year 1 D.J.E., falls for me in late October 2005. Taken with the idea of dressing as a “scene” or “emo kid” for Halloween, barely masking a more sincere impulse, I walked into my local Hot Topic and purchased a black Fall Out Boy track jacket covered in Masonic Symbology. Pyramids and Glories of some description shown on the back, and on the right sleeve, an eye peering through a keyhole—likely a reference to their song “XO” off their then most-recent album.

The rest of that costume disappeared on November 1st: the black dye washed out of straightened hair and the skinny jeans discarded, but the jacket remained compellingly comfortable. And so it became a constant companion for the remainder of sophomore year— a mantel against the chill waiting for activity buses, a pillow as I fell asleep in AP European History, armor as I began my silly battle for class rank.

The Coheed and Cambria Jacket

While I am pretty sure there was a good period where Fall Out Boy black and tan was alternated with Linkin Park grey embroidery, the true defining jacket of latter high school was undeniable. The first day I wore the Fall Out Boy jacket, I had a spirited exchange with some older kids in my AP Computer Science class about ‘emo’ culture and music. Many things came out of those friendships, but one was that I was turned on to and became a fanatic of a band called Coheed and Cambria.

I attended several Coheed and Cambria concerts in high school, but I believe it was at the first that I bought the striking jacket I wore so long. The back was blank black, I believe, but the front was rife with imagery. In the background in white stood the geometric “keywork” galactic map underlying Coheed & Cambria’s concept albums’ sci-fi cosmology. In the foreground, in silhouette, stands the Prise, essentially an angel, Ambellina. Stretching to her sides, and either side of the zipper, are her outstretched wings: orange, engulfed in flames, burning sacrificially so that she may remain with Claudio, the protagonist of the story (as attested in the song “The Crowing”, a favorite of high school Donald).

I wore that jacket roughly every day for about 2 years. It so happens to be that they fairly neatly encompass the roughly 1.5 years I dated the girl whom I’d call my “high school sweet heart”. Though we dated 4 months during the era of the Fall Out boy jacket, it was in the Coheed years that we spent most days together and went together to Junior prom, amongst other shared experiences. I think I may even have dragged her to the concert where I bought it. I got the jacket around the same time she convinced me to join the high school chorus, returning me to making, as well as enjoying music.

Though I wore the jacket quite frequently, on my current Facebook, the front design is visible in only one photo — in which I sit with probably my two closest childhood friends to my right and Trip Rumble to my left, having just completed my Eagle Scout project. My then-girlfriend was present but is not in that photo. That photo, taken April 14, 2007, is probably amongst the last couple months of the jacket.

As school ended and summer plans were firmed up. I turned to planning my Eagle Scout court of honor—working overly hard to frame it as a “true” coming of age ceremony. She, meanwhile, was going on a mission trip to Mexico. She asked if she could take the jacket — it was warm and smelled like me, she said. I put my love for her above my love for the jacket and shed the mantel. It went to Mexico and never came back. She was apologetic, I looked for a replacement online but found the design was gone, replaced by new merchandise for new tours for new albums. I bought another design I think, but I didn’t wear it as much. Many Coheed t-shirts appear in photos thereafter, but not a jacket. To be fair, it was pretty warm that fall.

The MIT Sweatshirt

On December 15, 2007, I was admitted to MIT. While I had flirted with a Dartmouth track jacket for a while, and a Cornell zip-up had some traction in my wardrobe, around that time the MIT sweatshirt went on and remained on until summer. The girlfriend rotated through a few colors of outerwear but settled soon on Virginia Tech maroon and orange. Cardinal Red and Chicago Maroon remained similar enough for a while—we dated through senior prom and graduation, but with summer came the end of our relationship. My other official color became Steel Gray, however much my love of Burnt Orange has been seen elsewhere.

The Reversible Striped Jacket

And indeed, as summer wore on and I packed for the move to Cambridge, the maroon disappeared from my constant wardrobe. Mostly this was because I knew it would be silly to walk around MIT in an MIT sweatshirt. Making one of the last stops at the Virginia Beach surfshops that provided much of my high school wardrobe, on the way out the door, a zip-up caught my eye. It was reversible, what I perceived as the outside was pure black with some black reflective scrollwork screen printing. What I saw as the inside was thick horizontal stripes of jersey grey, steel grey, and black, punctuated by a few thin strips of cerulean. I thought it’d be a pretty cool liner to peek out from inside of my hood as I returned to wearing all black.

When I got to MIT, that’s not how it worked out. Pictures of freshman winter and spring will show you those stripes all day, e’ry day. It appears when I went to New York City in October of 2008 to meet up with my high school friends to see the 4 day Coheed and Cambria concert (after which my listening loyalty to the band sharply drops off). It appears in every picture from my first Toons retreat. And indeed, its last Facebook appearance is dated July 2010 paired with not one but 2 pairs of orange shutter shades. Notably this is more than a month after MIT Ring Delivery when I got my Brass Rat. And if the date is accurate, it falls around the middle of a certain period that I wore another ring. That ring I wore until October of that year. By this point the zipper on this jacket was broken off, the sleeves were quite literally worn through, and it was fraying at the collar. About the time that ring came off so did that jacket.

October through December of 2010, you’d find me in a black sweatshirt with a red man engulfed in orange flames. Symbology shockingly reminiscent of the Coheed jacket, sans wings, this was the (3rd?) reissue of the EAsT camPUS sweatshirts baring the ‘Burning Man’ logo dating back to at least 2003 (with the first run sweatshirts Fall 2004). While possibly not entirely coincidental, this symbology is not directly related to that of the event in Black Rock City, NV. I wore this sweatshirt the other direction physically and ~politically to Washington DC to visit my sister and for “the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear”.

The New Striped Jacket and “the Hobo Jacket”

In December, two new jackets entered my life that remain with me to the present. First, my mother kindly gifted me for Christmas a sweatshirt rather reminiscent of the worn out striped one. The color palette is roughly the same, but the cerulean stripes are now as broad as the monochromes and you find also added those of royal blue and white. I’d like to think the blue is less shy in this jacket. This lighter-weight jacket appears in the photos of the much happier tour to Disney after what I’d venture to call the Renaissance of Toons.

The same week, browsing the after-Christmas clearance racks, I picked up what I tend to call politically-incorrectly my “hobo jacket” from American Eagle Outfitters. While it is doubtful you would be reading this (let alone this far) without being familiar with this jacket, at the very least from appearance in a social media profile picture, I’ll describe it briefly. It is a brown-tan canvas jacket with cut of roughly an M-43 Eisenhower field jacket; a jersey gray, waffle-weave hood with drawstrings is attached and stitched in such a way to give the appearance that the hood is from a separate garment worn under the outer jacket. I gave it its somewhat distasteful moniker, I think, because it brought a mental image of a homeless veteran, à la Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump.

I wore this jacket throughout junior spring and senior year of MIT, as I continued in my role as Toons president and 5E keeper of room 666 (the interceding summer I took on the exclusive grey track jacket with “facebook” screen-printed over the shoulder, that I thought looked so cool). It is this “hobo” jacket that was accused, by a friend, of being my “cartoon character outfit”. It still appears in most of my social media profile pictures. It has a certain Zoolander- “derelicte” hipster-chic I allowed myself to identify with for a time—the same time that I hinged much of my identity on love of craft beer and nice bourbon. At least one winter day, even though it was too light for the cold, I wore the jacket out purposely to “feel like myself”. (I own a Krotus hoodie, but its has been on long-term loan at times; I don’t really think of it as my own).

The Present and Future

Both those last jackets remain in rotation, but the blue one is too light for many situations and wearing thin at some seams, the “hobo” jacket has lost most of its (sleeve and pocket) buttons and, as I lost weight in 2013 and 14, it has gotten big about the shoulders. I had a TripAdvisor fleece for a while, but I never really found it comfortable. There was a run of special charity: water staff sweatshirt jackets… a few months before I started: I never got one.

The last couple winters, there are a couple other jackets you will find me in. There is a burnt orange North Face jacket. My uncle, who worked for the parent company “VF Corporation” textiles conglomerate, got it on discount a couple years back just before he retired. I wear it from time to time. I like the color, its a solid make, and I appreciate where it came from, but 10 years out from having been a credible outdoorsmen and not liking the “yuppie-chic” associations of the brand that inspired the “The South Butt” parody brand, I don’t really fully identify.

And then, elided from this account thus far, there is my heavy winter jacket, which I wear regularly and have for many years, when it was too cold for others, going back to at least 2008. Like a lot of my clothes (some might say “too many” for this point in my life), my mommy bought it for me. She bought it from the L.L. Bean catalog after I got into MIT, or at least when we knew I wanted to go there, because it is pointedly red and steel gray. It is a good jacket. To this day, after 5 or 7 seasons of wear, it remains warm and protects me from cold, rain, and snow. It keeps the world outside when its too harsh for me to bare directly. The jacket has assuredly lived up to L.L. Bean’s ideas of radical customer service. But the pockets are wearing out finally—the bottoms torn through to the lining.

As I apparently do with jackets, I can’t help but see the symbol here. That I perhaps need to learn to depend less on the pretty, if stark, MIT colors and the embodiment of my parents’ warm love to protect. Not because I can’t depend on these thing (I still can!), but because I need to keep changing to be my own person, to be an adult.

One day soon I will go shopping and buy a new lighter-weight jacket to fit my trimmer torso. Or maybe I will like the design offered by a future employer. Only time will tell, as seasons change. We don’t live in George R.R. Martin World: Spring is coming.

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