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Seeing Sarah Palin in her denim jacket made me remember that the jean jacket has been a wardrobe staple. Increasingly, though, my choices to top an outfit are softer and less constructed, and my once ubiquitous denim jackets hang unworn in the back of my closet. Do you think this is because of the pandemic, or have I just outgrown them? Is there an age limit to jean jackets? Should I keep them, or let them go to make room for something else? — Patricia, San Diego
Though the pandemic did indeed briefly cast a shadow over jeans (and with them, jean jackets), that cloud has largely dispersed. In January, Levi’s reported a 29 percent growth in net revenues in 2021, and said the upward trend was expected to continue.
So if you are still feeling conflicted about your jeans jackets, it may have less to do with two years of comfort dressing and more to do with a thornier issue that my friends and I discuss all the time: Just because you can continue to wear a certain style or garment as you age — just because it still fits — doesn’t mean you should.
But how do you know when the time has come to retire a much-loved item? When, to put it another way, have you outgrown it — not literally but perhaps psychologically and culturally?
The fact that most rules about what to wear when have largely gone out the window is both a liberating development and a recipe for confusion. And it has grown more complicated amid the conversation about responsible consumption, and the awareness that holding on to a garment and wearing it over and over is more desirable than believing it’s meant to be replaced. Which militates against retiring an object to the dust heap, or recycling pile, of history.
Which brings me to denim jackets!
A denim jacket is a rite of passage; an essential symbol of cool, of rebellion, of rock ’n’ roll, of democracy. It’s one that can get stuck in your own personal timeline, forever associated with a you of a specific moment in the past. (Clothes, like madeleines, serve as shortcuts to memory.)
But it’s also a very useful garment: perfect for transitional weather and so basic that it goes with almost everything. That doesn’t really change over time. What should change is how you wear it.
As Glenn Martens, the creative director of Diesel and thus something of a denim expert, said when I asked what he thought: “Denim has this unique quality of being totally transversal. The perception of the exact same garment will change depending on what you pair it with.”
When Sarah Palin, as you say, appeared in a faded jeans jacket over a black turtleneck and darker jeans at her libel trial against The New York Times, the act seemed calculated to underscore her position as a private citizen (though the judge ruled against her). When Michelle Obama wore a double-layer denim jacket by Alexander McQueen with skinny black jeans and a T-shirt at a college signing day in 2018, the look both connected her to students and, with its high fashion edge, set her apart. And when Jenna Lyons appeared in a buttoned-up shrunken denim jacket and shocking pink satin skirt at the Met Gala in 2012, it was the ultimate high/low statement.
All of which is to say: Yes, resurrect your denim jackets. And then mix and match to make something new.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.