It’s time to play another round of What Works/What Doesn’t. This is the game where I analyze a wardrobe item that’s been puzzling me. It could be something I made, or bought, or accepted as a gift or hand-me-down. Some things about it appeal to me, but other things do not.
If a garment meets any of these qualifications:
- I’ve worn it more out of a vague sense of obligation than of pleasure
- I’ve passed it over not only when planning the day’s outfit but also when donating to charities
- I keep thinking “This has potential!” but have never bothered to define what that is
then it is a great candidate for What Works/What Doesn’t.
This game arose out of my aversion to the age-old advice to ditch wardrobe items you haven’t worn in a year. (Umm…that rant deserves its own post.)
Let’s get started. Today’s garment is the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket. I’m guessing it dates from the mid- to late 1950s.
I bought this maybe ten years ago at a cute little antiques store that had a rack or two of vintage clothes and hats.
I remember marveling at the perfect fit and the smart lines. It had a wool zip-out lining in an improbably backwoodsy-looking plaid. I liked how I looked in it. And it was a very reasonable price, to my mind: $25.
I removed the beat-up, original, gray leather buttons and found the best substitute I could: these brick red buttons available in sizes to fit both the front closure and the sleeve tabs. I knew at the time they weren’t a perfect choice.
Either I didn’t know when I bought it or else I optimistically overlooked the fact when I tried on the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket that it scratched like the dickens. Which probably explains why it was in such great condition. It didn’t get worn a whole lot.
Still, somebody, or a string of somebodies, kept it all these years, for sentimental reasons or because It Had Potential. And I carried on the tradition.
Oh, I did wear it a few times, to work on library reference desks, feeling equal parts smartly dressed and maddeningly itchy where the sleeve lining ended and the wool rubbed my forearms, and where the collar was in contact with my neck. I did find a maroon turtleneck sweater with three-quarters-length sleeves that solved the itching problem but made me feel like my own blast furnace. I have never experienced a hot flash, but maybe this sweater-jacket combination gave a similar effect.
Now that could be another reason this jacket didn’t get a lot of wear over the decades.
So perhaps this jacket was meant to be worn outside–except that the sleeves were only three-quarters length. Now it’s obvious to me that the jacket was begging for long gloves. A few years ago, though, I just didn’t get this. I went around with forearms ungloved outdoors and unbraceleted indoors. Ignorant, I now know.
In short, I acquired a garment minus the operating instructions and fell short of understanding, much less fulfilling its potential.
Still, I sensed this jacket and I could have a fine life together if only I could figure out how. I would drop it in a charity donation pile only to give it a furtive reprieve and hang it back in the closet.
I finally told myself, Don’t keep not deciding. Whether I was going to send the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket back into the flow or keep and wear it, I would have to understand the reasons why.
When my photographer visited three months ago I enlisted her in my quest. We pushed the dining room table and chairs to one side and pulled back the draperies. I donned the jacket over a neutral top and pants while Cynthia stood on a kitchen stool focusing her camera and encouraging me to act natural.
Be good enough to overlook my acting ability and check out this jacket. It does work. It just needs the right supporting cast. I’m realizing that after asking What works? and What doesn’t? it’s useful to ask “What does this need to work?” Because even a wardrobe item that’s wonderful on its own can be disappointing if it’s not part of an ensemble that works.
Rummaging around I found my only pair of long gloves, a gift from a vintage-loving sister. See how these gloves enhance this jacket? Such a difference.
Playing up the burgundy flecks in the tweed I wore my plush Ignatius Creegan hat. Now I can imagine having long burgundy suede gloves to match–maybe a whole burgundy theme: sweater or blouse, pants or skirt, hose, shoes.
I was drawn to the texture of the tweed and the lines of this jacket but had always had reservations about all the grays in it. It’s only recently that I realized that there are grays–deep ones like charcoal, and warm-toned grays based in the red, orange, yellow and chartreuse Color Tool cards–that work well for me.
I also recognize that, given my coloring (I’ve been identified as a “contrasting Autumn”) and style preferences, I’m happiest playing up contrasts.
This jacket has a lot of contrast potential:
- Chunky lines over sleek lines: pair with very simple, streamlined pants or skirts
- Coarse over smooth: play up the tweed against flat weaves or knits
- Coarse with napped: pair the jacket with plush hats, suede gloves and shoes
- Neutral shades with bright color, like greenish yellow
- Neutral shades with deep color, like burgundy
- Dark neutrals with a lighter neutral skirt or pants and a shot of color in the top and accessories
I may have missed a few possibilities, but still, I can see that this jacket could be an active part of my wardrobe. The coordinates I already have, and the ones I could add through buying and sewing, would work with a lot of my other garments in color, style and fit. That’s key: determining not only “What works?” but “What does it work with?”
Something else that’s key is noticing whether these coordinates and outfits I have in mind feel like a natural fit with my tastes, occasions, activities, roles I play, and where I see myself going. They do.
However, my ideas need to be road-tested. In 2014 I’ll post a follow-up about whether the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket really has become the wardrobe staple I imagine it could be.
By that time I may even have learned how to act natural.
(Photographs of me are by Cynthia DeGrand.)