Monday, March 4, 2019

The Down Jacket Craze . . . of 1976

The only thing "That 70's Show" got right about the 1970s - besides the fact that all the kids were smoking pot - was the down jacket (and vest) craze.

A lot of people like to romanticize the 1970s as an era of excess.  In the hazy filtered lens of retrospect, it seems that everyone was snorting coke at Studio 54 and driving enormous Chevrolet Monte Carlos and living the high life in simpler and more wholesome times.  It is, in a way, how we romanticize the 1950s and make them into something they weren't.

To begin with, things you think happened in one decade actually happened in another.   The film American Graffiti didn't take place in the 1950s.  Indeed, it's tagline was "Where were you in '62?"   A lot of what people think of happened to the 1950s actually happened very late in that decade or early on in the 1960s.  Similarly, a lot of things that people think happened in the 1960s often occurred very late in that decade, or early in the 1970s.  Remember that Woodstock occured only a few short months before the end of 1969.

As teenagers in the 1970s, we sought out styles that conformed to our own social group, which teenagers do in every generation.  But back then, there was sort of a hippie aesthetic that was popular. Indeed most of the 1970s was an impoverished era, what with stagflation and all.  So we never had a lot of money to spend.  The style for my peer group was dressing as a hippie - wearing old blue jeans, a work shirt, work boots and then maybe a down vest or jacket.

Wearing a down jacket back then was a practical matter.  The 1970's was a very cold decade, which is one reason why global warming seems so much more apparent today.  We had an awful lot of cold temperatures and snow in the 1970s compared to the 1980s and 1990s.   And before the "sunbelt boom" of the 1980s, most people lived in the chilly Northeast.  Having a good warm jacket was not just a luxury, but a practical thing.

But once again, creeping expertism raises its ugly head.  Back then, people were getting into things like hiking and camping outdoors, and having the proper expert equipment was part and parcel of that deal. Thus, it wasn't sufficient to just wear a jacket, you had to wear a down coat like the people exploring Everest or something.  So even though we had a limited budget for a clothing (mostly paid for by our parents) we wanted to have the proper expert gear.

Most down jackets back then were basically two layers of ripstop nylon sewn together into series of squares filled with goose down.  Of course, there were various levels of quality for down jackets.  I recall at the time reading in Rolling Stone magazine advertisements for various down jackets exhorting their quality differences.  We were told to look for particular types of goose down and eschew jackets that had cheaper variations.  Another design used small panels between the inner and outer layers of ripstop nylon to create a box-like formation that supposedly would hold more goose down and prevent it from clumping.  We all wanted to have that.

Over time, the down jacket craze started to fade from the scene. There were problems with these types of jackets. For one thing the down would tend to settle for the bottom of these square pockets in the jacket and you occasionally would have to turn it upside down and shake it to move the down around. And maybe it was the warming trend of the 1980s that led to the demise of the down jacket. Or maybe it's just the general trend in styles, where things become popular and then not popular as something else takes over. Wearing a down jacket to the disco would mark you as a dork - if the bouncer would even let you past the velvet rope.  Times were changing, and the down jacket was out, and the "leisure suit" was in.

It may also be a technological thing, too.  We had new synthetic materials like "thinsulate" which were warmer and lighter (and less hassle) than down.   Even in the better jackets, down feathers would find their way through the ripstop nylon over time.  And when the nylon wore through, well, it was a real mess.  So maybe changing tastes and new technology were why we left down jackets behind.

More likely, however, is that we started having more money in the 1980s and 1990s and could afford more than one jacket. Myself, I gravitated more toward leather jackets at that point, but back then I was into motorcycles and leather jackets were a practical thing to have. I only had one, of course, a real motorcycle leather, not some split leather "fashion" accessory fake bomber jacket that they sold at the trendy stores around the University.   Back then, the girls were showing up with white sweaters with green sections that had BENETTON written in large letters.  Who the fuck is "Benetten" and why is his name on your titties?   But it was a big deal for girls then - that and those "flashdance" sneakers that you never laced up - and potato chip clips in their gnarly hair.   I think that's about when I decided I was gay.

During our recent sojourns to Canada, we noticed that a lot of Chinese tourists were wearing puffy down jackets as if it was the 1970's again.  At first we thought this was kind of funny Chinese fashion trend - until we realized a lot of Canadians were wearing these as well.  We kind of thought it was an interesting throwback to the 1970s and perhaps a Canadian oddity.  Some of the jackets were just puffy, and clearly not down-filled.  They were thinner than the old down jackets and didn't look like you were wearing pillows sewn together.  The Canadians seemed fond of these types of jackets.

But the Chinese were wearing old-school down with some stupid patch on the shoulder.  It wasn't until we were back in range of WiFi that I logged on and realized these were a new trend in idiocy - a $1000+ down jacket that says "Canada Goose" on a patch on the shoulder.   And like clockwork, people are cranking out fake "Canada Goose" jackets or even just the patches (so you can upgrade your lowly jacket to fashion status with a needle and thread).

What the heck is going on here?  How did something as lowly as the down jacket become a high-fashion item that people are paying through the nose for?   Well, again, status rears its ugly head.  The whole point of having the "Canada Goose" patch on the shoulder of the jacket is to let the world know that this isn't some $100 jacket from J.C. Penny, but rather that you paid a lot of money for it, because you can afford it (so you think) and you are the kind of person who has nice things because you deserve that.

It is no different than people paying $200 (or much more) for status sneakers which cost $10 a pair to manufacture in China or Korea.   It isn't that you are going to do jump shots or run a marathon, but rather that you want people to see the unique design and know you spent a lot of money on shoes.   Status works that way - it is all about trying to impress people you don't even know by putting on a show that you have money - even if you don't.

What got me started on this was a weepy piece in the Atlantic written by some lady who spent nearly $1000 on what she thought would be a "Canada Goose" jacket, but turned out to be a counterfeit.   What is funny about the article is not that the jacket didn't fit, or that it didn't keep her warm, but that the patch on the shoulder wasn't authentic enough, and thus if she wore this jacket, people would quickly think she was a wanna-be.  Kind of hard to feel sorry for someone who is willing to spend nearly a grand on a jacket that costs maybe a hundred bucks to make - or is unwilling to explore cheaper alternatives that are out there.

By the way, I am not sure why the patch says "Canada Goose Arctic Program" on it - almost in a pidgin English phrasing - perhaps their target audience is Chinese strivers?  If so, they hit their demographic target.  Make no mistake about it, no one is exploring the arctic in these fashion jackets. But again, the "Arctic Program" nonsense makes it appear this is expert-wear, and thus you can become an expert arctic explorer if you wear one, just as you can become an expert cook if you buy an expert stove.  Or an expert SUV driver if you get a "professional grade" GMC.

It was sad - pathetic almost - how this lady in the article justifies "treating herself" to a $1000 jacket.   She admits money - as a writer - is tight, but thinks that this jacket will last the rest of her life, which she believes to be 30 years.  At that rate, it is only $31 a year for the jacket!  And she can leave it to her daughter in her will!   This is, of course, insanity.   Even if she got a "real" Canada Goose jacket, it likely will be hopelessly out-of-style in about 2-3 years tops (if indeed, the trend hasn't already peaked, after all, I am noticing it, which means that it has filtered down to the bottom of the pond).   It will be relegated to the back of a closet for several years, and then donated to charity - if it hasn't in fact fallen apart before then.

May I suggest buying something sturdier and cheaper and putting the balance in your 401(k)?  As a legacy to your daughter, that money, compounded with interest, will be much more appreciated that some moldy 30-year-old moth-ridden coat.   This is what the author ended up doing, perhaps after reflecting on the folly of buying trendy fashion clothing.

Paying a lot for stuff these days is kind of silly, considering most everything is made cheaply in China - or can be found cheaply there.   Rather than blow money on stupid crap that is "trendy" it is much smarter to either buy things on the cheap and toss them when they wear out, or buy quality stuff that doesn't go out of style or wear out quickly.   I still have a leather jacket, made by Perrone Aviation Apparel and it was kind of expensive, but has lasted more than two decades (I actually sent it back to have a new zipper installed).  It was a few hundred bucks, but it weighs a ton, as it is real leather - heavy leather.

My first two motorcycle jackets from the 1980's, I outgrew over time.  But I was able to sell them to a "vintage" leather store for $100 each, as "distressed leather" became a style thing in the interim.  That pretty much meant I broke even on those jackets.   Don't expect anyone to pay $1000 for your "Canada Goose" jacket at a second-hand store, 20 years from now - or even ten.   I suspect that the fate of "Canada Goose" crap will be more along the lines of Abercrombie or Aeropostal junk, which were once the objects of desire, and now can be found at thrift shops for pennies on the dollar.   When something shoots way up in price, it has only one direction to go.  I'd put Canada Goose right up there with Cabbage-Patch kids and Beanie Babies.  It's a fad, people.

In addition to my leather jacket, I also have some jackets that cost a lot less.  We went to one of these stores that gets goods by the containerload from China - in Provincetown, no less.   It was cold out and we had neglected to pack jackets.  For $99 you can get a nice leather jacket that will last a few years - or at least it has lasted that long so far.  But I beat that at a Boot Barn in Arizona (which also sells inexpensive and long-wearing Wrangler jeans) that had a really nice insulated denim jacket with a corduroy collar.  It is snuggly warm and has a lot of pockets and the moment I put it on, I realized it fit perfectly (the sleeves are nice and long, a pet peeve of mine - so many shirts and jackets cut for my size end up with short sleeves).   When something fits so well it feels good on me, I tend to buy it.   Maybe it isn't a fashion statement, but it was on sale for $40 closeout - not much demand for winter jackets in Southern Arizona, I guess.

We are going back to Canada this summer - Vancouver Island again.   And once again, I will get whacked in the head by a charming young Chinese girl brandishing a selfie-stick and wearing a "Canada Goose" jacket.   And no, that is not a stereotype, it has happened to me more than once during previous visits.   When you see a busload of 20-something Chinese girls arrive at a tourist site, run for you lives.  They will bruise you - and then blame you for "getting in the way."   No lie!  They are so cute, though, it is hard to stay mad at them.

Leave the real down jackets to the wilderness campers and real arctic explorers.   But if you really think you just have to have one, just drop by REI - they have all sorts of camping gear, and down jackets starting at $68 - about 1/10th the cost of a "Canada Goose" jacket.   I guess that patch on the sleeve costs $600.

People are freaking idiots, no?