What Works/What Doesn’t: Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket

Readers,

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.

The Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket dates from the 1950s. It has a zip-out wool lining.

The Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket dates from the 1950s. It has a zip-out wool lining.

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.

I replaced the worn leather buttons with brick red buttons. I know there's a better button choice out there.

I replaced the worn leather buttons with brick red buttons. I know there’s a better button choice out there. I like the collar, which can be worn down or up, buttoned or open.

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.

Impromptu modeling in the dining room.

Impromptu modeling in the dining room.

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.

When I saw this photo I noticed this felt like a good proportion for me. The three-quarters-length sleeves call out for gloves or bracelets.

When I saw this photo I noticed this felt like a good proportion for me. The three-quarters-length sleeves call out for gloves or bracelets.

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.

Accessories! Now we're getting somewhere!

Accessories! Now we’re getting somewhere!

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.

Long gloves and a hat begin to make an outfit.

Long gloves and a hat begin to make an outfit.

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.

This tweed has flecks of other colors in it.

This tweed has flecks of other colors in it.

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.

I used to think gray was gray. Now I see that gray can have green or yellow in it...

I used to think gray was gray. Now I see that gray can have green or yellow in it…

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.

...or red or orange in it.

…or red or orange in it.

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.

Instead of wearing black with the jacket, I can wear gray brightened up with yellow.

Instead of wearing black with the jacket, I can wear gray brightened up with yellow.

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.

Add the matching scarf for even more eye-popping color. What color gloves would be fun?

Add the matching scarf for even more eye-popping color. What color gloves would be fun?

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 threw on this favorite yellow raincoat just for fun. I'm looking at the color, first, and the lighthearted feel. I want that feel in the outfits I create with the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket.

I threw on this favorite yellow raincoat just for fun. I’m looking at the color, first, and the lighthearted feel. I want that feel in the outfits I create with the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket.

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?”

The long version of this topper from 1956 bears some similarities to my jacket. Notice the short gloves.

The long version of this topper from 1956 bears some similarities to my jacket. Notice the short gloves.

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.)

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3 thoughts on “What Works/What Doesn’t: Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket

  1. I love the pairing with the yellow- greens you played with. Knowing you and seeing you in person from time to time, this is a great coloration for you! I agree about the buttons, the perfect ones will show up when the jacket reveals you to yourself. I love the fabric and can see why you went for it… it is a garment that is very reflective of your expression. That part of you that is emerging is the part of you that kept retrieving the jacket from the discard pile… which means, she is getting ready to introduce herself to you. (Sometimes, we are the last to know when a key part of our personality is ready to befriend us)

    • Aha! I wonder what other items around the house are getting ready to introduce themselves! This is an intriguing idea. Thank you, Shelly!

  2. I love Shelly’s take on the jacket! Chunky tweeds have always been a weakness of mine for whatever reason, so this jacket looks great to me. Keep working on the styling and you’ll hit on the perfect look! Interesting how many coats and jackets from the 40s and 50s have 3/4 sleeves. I can remember my mom having elbow length leather gloves to wear with her mink coat.

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