“One leather jacket solves the coat problem for many years,” Einstein is quoted as saying. Yet somehow, I have owned five, all of them fraught with meaning. Here, a tribute to that most rebellious wardrobe staple…
“Mildred: Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against? / Johnny: What have you got?” — The Wild One
Age 12. Brown leather, three sizes too big. Decades before, it belonged to my dad, which disturbs me on multiple levels. First, that he used to dress “cool,” but second, the realization that there was a time before me. There will be a time after me. Mortality feels heavy on my adolescent shoulders, so I drown it out with No Doubt.
“Colored leather is my favorite. To me, there’s nothing more fun than wearing a cobalt blue leather skirt or a fuchsia leather jacket.” — Mindy Kaling
Age 16. Butter yellow, blazer cut, birthday gift. Not quite my style, but easy to overlook, as I don’t actually have a “style” yet. The pockets are perpetually stuffed with folded love notes written on lined notebook paper. The prose is terrible. My lips are compared to roses and I am compared to light. But I am impressionable, and attention plus effort is more than enough to win my affection. I heard something recently, about the nature of experience: Our firsts often persist as our bests, because at the time we encounter them, we have nothing else to compare them to.
“I once had a leather jacket that got ruined in the rain. Why does moisture ruin leather? Aren’t cows outside a lot of the time?” — Jerry Seinfeld
Age 23. Black, collarless. Slightly androgynous. I walk through the city feeling like Neo from The Matrix. (Do I want to be Neo, or do I want to date Neo? Maybe neither. Maybe both.) Horrible attire for an argument in the rain. I cannot remember the source of the conflict, though it feels so important at the time. Both jacket and relationship will be gone soon enough.
“My heart is still a leather jacket I’m waiting to give to someone sweet.” — Andrea Gibson
Age 25. Cropped, three-quarter length sleeves. My most expensive purchase to date, back when splurges felt more thrilling than stupid. In the years that follow, it hangs in the closets of five different apartments. I wear it until the lining disintegrates, and then I wear it some more. It never succeeds in keeping me warm, but if I’m honest, that’s not what I was after.
“Study finds owning cool leather jacket more rewarding than raising children.” — The Onion
Age 31. Motorcycle jacket. What we call a crisis purchase. “In an alternate universe,” my friend tells me, as I wear it home from the store, “you did stay together. There are millions of alternate dimensions, with all the paths we didn’t take.” I consider this for a moment: dimensions that surely contain homes and children, corner offices and penthouse apartments. This feels both exhausting and dumb. I walk over bridges, listen to entire albums and resist the urge to kick figurative hornets’ nests. Months later, evaluating scratches and scuffs, I will see this jacket for what it really is: more armor than outerwear. There is more at stake now, there is more to protect.
Age 32. “I bought a leather jacket,” my friend tells me, moments before launching into a monologue about career uncertainty and romantic upheaval. “It looks nice,” I say, and mean it.