This past Friday night, I was out at a bar with a few close friends, who happen to also share my interest in menswear, when we found ourselves caught up in the inevitable conversational boomerang that seems to arise every time we get together. Our discussions always start out the same way, on some obscure topic of men’s style that only we would be nerdy enough to actually debate, then it deviates (often intentionally) towards something else to break up the monotony, before arriving back at yet another point regarding the intricacies of our shared interest.
Now, admittedly I relish each one of these conversations. It’s my opinion that one should never take for granted those moments when he’s surrounded by kindred spirits who are actually willing to explore what most people would consider to be the more menial aspects of a given hobby. But on this particular night, as we sat around sparring over the merits of different American shirt manufacturers as if we were in Kennedy’s war room discussing the Cuban missile crisis, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had become too jaded to all this. At what point did my love for a good U.S. made oxford shirt spiral into me admonishing factories for not churning out durable enough buttonholes?
I often joke that the things I enjoy outweigh the things I hate, but it’s just far more fun to talk about the things I abhor. On that night though, I knew we’d gone too far, collectively allowing our fervor for this field to tip the scales in the wrong direction. So, I left that night feeling disillusioned with it all, a sensation that followed me through the rest of the weekend. Over the past two days, I searched for something to write about, but continuously came up dry. Had I run out of things worth writing about and abruptly come upon the end of all this? I found my answer late yesterday afternoon though as I looked up from my desk and saw the bright orange sleeve of my newly acquired vintage Mackintosh jacket jutting out of my closet. I was brought back to Friday afternoon, just a handful of hours before my disenchanting conversation, when a friend of mine pointed out that jacket to me in a consignment store not too far from the bar.
I grabbed the jacket off the rack, and even though some of the stitching has long come undone, the corduroy collar is marred by some mystery stain (I’m thinking ketchup), and it’s made entirely from polyester, I knew before I even tried it on that I would be leaving with it. While it’s intense color and quilted design were what made it intriguing enough to pick up (the “Made in Scotland” tag didn’t hurt either), the jacket’s story was the reminder that I needed as to why it’s still worth it to care.
I gathered from the label that it was likely produced during Mackintosh’s mid to late twentieth century push to expand their line beyond their standard rubber raincoats. Which would mean that not only is the jacket far older than I am, but packed into those diamond quilts is a history all its own. It began in Scotland, and wound up in my hands, but in between it lived just as you and I do, with the age marks and battle scars to prove it. You could even say that jacket began it’s life long before it ever hit the production floor, as a little kernel of an idea in someone’s head, inspired by the gamekeepers jackets of the past, and brought to life through the diamond quilting pattern that was just beginning to become ubiquitous at the time.
With the overwhelming amount of menswear related content being put out every day, it’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae and lose sight of why you started caring about all this to begin with. Clothes are an aesthetic choice no doubt, but that doesn’t make them any less significant for what they may mean beyond that. It’s why it’s worth it to constantly search for the good stuff that’s out there, because if I can have something in my closet that’s not only at least a quarter of a century old, but carries a history that’s even longer than that, than it’s not just about nice things to look good in anymore, it’s about who we are, and what stories we choose to carry around with us.