Ode to a Leather Jacket

June 14, 2016

Ode to a Leather Jacket

“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.

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  • Natalie T.,

    Oh, how I relate to this. Leather certainly makes me feel way more badass than I am (though, truly I’m a JCrew gal at heart). My leather purchases were later in life unless you count pleather, the poor retail working girl’s attempt at leather. I also seem to find excellent deals on my coats. There was the burgundy leather trench I got for $20 on a lawn with the too-short sleeves; my equivalent to the career uncertainty and “armor” period. The Club Monaco one with the zipped up sleeves, my second layer during long winter days. And a recent purchase at a sample sale for Smythe’s Easy Rider jacket. I’m no Peter Fonda but this was my “got it” jacket. A symbol of the fact that I can buy and emulate whomever the person I want to be even if I hardly wear it. I love it so. Here’s the link to that jacket (I can’t find a bigger picture) https://www.pinterest.com/pin/460422761885262697/

  • Beautiful writing, Caroline!

  • Writing: beautiful. Timing: impeccable. I’ve been on the hunt for a good one as my old one is just starting to show signs of wear. Can you link to what you bought? I am finding it hard to find one that looks right on my petite frame, and I believe we are about the same size.

    Separate but related note, I’m doing a rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (aka the greatest show of all time) and her leather jacket + ballgown combo in the first season finale has always been my favorite look ever of all time and I really want to recreate it except I currently have nothing to wear a ballgown to. Can someone throw a ball, please?

  • Monica B.,

    There’s power in the photograph alone. It’s like an object of meditation. Hypnotized by this black beauty I am reminded of three leather jackets I’ve had throughout my life – two are long gone. One still here but in need of restoration. And I dream of bringing in another – a dark, rich chocolate brown three-quarter length coat. But what’s more powerful are all the words and images that come to mind. This would be a great poster sized picture hanging in an office. Thought provoking!

  • I have a suede jacket. Does that count as leather? I got it at Goodwill for $6 and it was beautiful. But now it is dirty and no one will clean it for me because it is such a light color and they can’t guarantee the results and suede is really hard to clean and I forget what all. I’ve stopped wearing it because I don’t want to get it even dirtier…. But now it’s just taking up space in my closet.

    Is there a metaphor in there somewhere?

  • I love your writing. This made me laugh… And remember a pair of black leather Lilly Pulitzer pants with palm trees I once owned… Your assortment of leather jackets is much cooler.

  • I love your writing. I found you from cup of jo. Hope to read a book from you soon!