#5: Waxed-Cotton Field Coat

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Dear Ralph,

This is harder than I thought. I’m already off schedule, running a little bit behind, and generally, feeling a little lost about the whole thing. For example, this is the second letter I’ve written you about the jacket pictured above. The first letter is so insanely dull, close to a thousand words, and it really doesn’t do what I want it to do—what I want these letters to do.

Let me summarize: I bought this jacket on sale, thinking it would be a fine substitute for a Barbour. Barbour, as I’m sure you know, is the brand-ultimate maker of waxed jackets. The jacket above, though beautiful, didn’t quite quell my lust for a Barbour. Eventually I bought a perfectly distressed one, cheap from eBay, spent a ton of money having the musty odour removed and the jacket reproofed only to find all the patina gone. Twist ending here: I wear yours all the time and like it more than my Barbour.

Ok. Even in a paragraph it is still a tedious story. But I was sure it meant something, until I read back what I had written and realized that it just isn’t there.

I wanted to be able to explain why my waxed jacket had to be a Barbour, sort of like the way my ultra-boring mackintosh had to be a Burberry. Or my desert boots have to be Clarks. I wanted to give you a little insight into the way I think about other brands, so we could put my love of Polo into context.

But maybe that isn’t what these letters are supposed to do. Maybe if I can explain to you why I care about this stuff – and believe me, it is a puzzle – than maybe I’ll be able to explain it to myself. I know why I want the Barbour jacket, I know what it represents; I think I even know why things like English country life exert such a pull on my imagination. It isn’t that hard to guess.

I’ve just started reading Simon Reynolds’ book Retromania, and so far it seems to suggest that the weight of the past, the piling of a hundred years’ worth of recorded sound, all of it available at the click of a mouse and a couple of quick keystrokes, is becoming a singularity. The past has gathered such extreme density that it is sucking the present back into it, leading us into a cycle of endless rehashings and revisitings. You don’t have to dig far beyond the runways to see that it is the same in clothes.

So it isn’t that I want to know why Barbour appeals to me; I just want it to stop. I want to find a way to not have the things that I love – this goes beyond clothes, into music and movies and books –be bolstered by some sort of mythic past. I want to find a way to dress for today. The big problem is, everyone looks so shitty.

Best,

S

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