I still have the 1970s Lee jean jacket I swiped from my Dad’s wardrobe as a teenager in the 1980s. He wore it for function, when working in the yard or out in the country visiting Canadian prairie farms as part of his job as an agronomist. The edges were worn and frayed even then, and when one elbow tore he relegated it to the back of the front closet only to be worn in the backyard — or not at all, if my mother had her way.
Both of my parents were confused when I started donning the oversize, shabby denim jacket over skinny tops and full skirts with tights and ankle boots. It’s not like they couldn’t afford to buy me a brand-new jean jacket. In fact, I may well have had one, but new, stiff denim wasn’t my style. I wanted old, worn, torn, faded and frayed. My Dad’s jacket fit the bill perfectly and I soon affixed a handful of small band pins to the upper left yoke and collar — The Clash, U2, Dead Kennedys, Strawberry Switchblade and The Smiths). It was also short and hit just at my hipbone, making it perfect with the gathered skirts I’d taken to wearing almost daily.
The jean jacket, whether new or old was an ’80s staple, for both men and women (though the men I knew tended towards the Levi’s faux-sheepskin lined variety — perfect for the cool Canadian autumn and spring). Denim-on-denim was typical — jeans worn with a jean jacket. Denim-on-denim-on-denim — jeans worn with a jean jacket and chambray denim shirt — was too much, but that didn’t stop people from doing it. Today’s denim-on-denim revival is a bit of retro fashion kitsch that makes me smile, denim x 3 only causes me to roll my eyes and sigh, exactly how I did 30 years ago.
That’s not to say I’m not glad to see the denim jacket back — I am. I fish my Dad’s old Lee jacket out of my front closet, where it has lived since I liberated it from my parents’ house so many years ago. I try it on (with a skirt, tights and ankle boots) and decide that torn up jean jackets on 43-year-olds isn’t the best look. I consider buying a new one. Maybe new, stiff denim isn’t so bad after all — and I still have the band pins.
1. Steven Meisel for Vogue, October 1986. Jacket by Judyth van Amringe.
2. Peggy Sirota for Seventeen, February 1987. Jacket by Pepsi Apparel America.
3. Georges Marciano/Guess, Vogue, August 1987. Photograph by Wayne Maser.
4. Brooke Shields Jeanswear Collection, Seventeen, August 1985.
5. Esprit Jeans, Elle, November 1987.
6. Steven Meisel for Vogue, October 1986. Jacket by Guess.
7. Calvin Klein Sport, Elle, December 1987.
8. Calvin Klein Jeans/Nordstrom, Elle, November 1987.
9. Tyen for Elle, March 1988.