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  • Jan Flynn

Aging in Style

3 lessons from my denim jacket

Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

I’ve had this jacket for over 35 years

In clothing years, that makes my denim jacket a bona fide elder. But it would be wrong to call it a vintage jacket. It’s not some quaint item from a bygone era that gets trotted out and worn for nostalgia or as a period piece. My denim jacket has been in continual service for as long as I’ve had it, and it remains as much a staple of my wardrobe as it ever was.

When I bought that jacket I was out-to-here pregnant. I wore it over the embroidered Guatemalan peasant dress that I preferred to the insipid maternity clothes of the time.

The bump beneath that outfit is now a business executive in his mid-thirties.

In the 90s, my permed hair grazed the shoulders of my denim jacket, its collar popped over the blouses I wore tucked into high-waisted, pleated gabardines.

By the oughts, my hair had straightened out again, but the jacket looked just as good over a pair of low-waisted, bootcut black jeans as it did over a pencil skirt. It went hiking with me. It went to parties. It went to conferences.

It still does. Nowadays I’m more likely to throw it on over joggers or yoga pants than a little black dress, but I still pack it on every trip I take. It’s like a body part; where I go, it goes.

When not in use, it hangs on the same hanger in the same location in my closet. I bet I could find it blindfolded. That jacket is the thing I wear when I don’t know what to wear. Short of draping it over an evening gown, it’s always a solid choice. Even when none of my other clothes feel right, the denim jacket always works.

It’s only gotten better with the years

Other jean jackets have joined my wardrobe over the decades, but none have lasted. Except for heirloom jewelry or a few legacy items kept for sentimentality, there isn’t a thing in my wardrobe that has endured like that jacket.

Its value has nothing to do with what I paid for it. Knowing me, I bought it on sale, although I can’t remember where. But like a body part, my denim jacket is irreplaceable. In an age of fast, throwaway fashion and a youth-obsessed culture, that jacket offers lessons on how to age with panache.

One: be durable

The jacket has lasted this long because it’s made of tough stuff. Its sturdy, heavyweight denim components are firmly stitched together with stout cotton thread. It has survived being stuffed in the bottom of backpacks, used as a pillow on road trips, being drooled on by babies and slept on by a succession of dogs and cats. It’s been thrashed by countless trips through the laundry. Yet it holds its shape.

We human beings may not have much choice initially as to what material we’re made of. At birth, it’s matter of luck and genetics whether our fabric is the flesh equivalent of denim or chiffon. But unlike my jacket, we are equipped with minds. Mental toughness is something we can choose and cultivate, and it’s what will keep us from snagging on every thorn in our path. Life may put us through the wringer, but with enough attitude and resolve, we can come through most things in one piece.

Two: flaunt the tatters

My denim jacket, if it did have a mind, would find our human impulse to disguise the signs of aging to be absurd. It takes a lot of wear and tear to attain genuine coolness.

The jacket’s collar is frayed. The cuffs have been rolled up for so long that they’ve partly detached from the sleeves. The whole garment is faded and softened. That’s exactly what makes it so comfortable, so enduringly hip, and so preferable to any of the new jean jackets I try on every so often.

The thing about a good denim jacket with some age on it is that it’s not trying to be anything other than what it is. Over time, its flaws and worn spots have transformed it from off-the-rack conformity to a custom piece. That’s precisely why it can go just about anywhere like a boss. Its signs of age are features, not deficits.

The same is true of silvering hair and weathered faces. It takes a long time and a lot of living to acquire them. They’re achievements, not failures.

Three: good for now is good enough

The jacket has been through a lot with me: births, deaths, weddings, funerals, and a whole lot of day-in, day-out. In the summer, it keeps me from being chilled by overwrought air conditioning. In the winter, it’s a perfect layer over a sweater and under a down vest.

I had no idea, when I bought the jacket, how long it would last. I didn’t think of it as a permanent acquisition, something that would last through the ages and be preserved for antiquity. After all, it’s only a jacket. Sooner or later, it will either deteriorate past the point of repair or I’ll leave it behind on a train or in an airport terminal or somewhere else where I can’t reclaim it.

That’s an uncomfortable thought. As much as I take my jacket for granted, I’m attached to it. When I leave it in the car or forget to hang it up, I experience a small lurch of panic until I find it, and a deep relief when I do. I take pretty good care of it because I’d like it to last for as long as it can.

Alas, that won’t be forever. One day, one way or another, my good old denim jacket will pass out of my possession and not return.

I’ll be sad when that happens.

But if I focus on the fear of losing my jacket, I’ll never wear it. It’ll hang in my closet until it falls apart, or until somebody has to come along and deal with it, after I no longer have any use for it or for any of my other stuff.

As fond as I am of my jacket, it only clothes me. It does not contain me. Just like the familiar flesh that houses whatever constitutes the essential me, one day, willingly or not, I’ll have to let it go.

That day is inevitably drawing nearer. But there is no point in fretting about it. For now, my denim jacket is still here whenever I want it, and I’m grateful for it.

You can’t really ask more from a jacket than that.

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