Gray Area

Three lengths of cloth: two versatile and one downright irresponsible.  

Three lengths of cloth: two versatile and one downright irresponsible.  

    As far as I know, no one has seriously tried to document the various sub-species of clothing enthusiast.  And yet familiar categories exist—the sneaker obsessive, for instance, or the hard-boiled bespoke client.  Some groups are organized by things—those that collect and wear vintage clothing—whereas others more loosely gather  around a concept, like minimalism or, a crowd favorite, that which is deemed classic.  Lurking somewhere between all the limited-run tweed and fabled design is a small faction whose raison d’être is versatility.  I number myself in this curious group.  

    Oh to be a sneaker-head!  How satisfying it must be to chase the tangible!  Instead I snatch at an idea whose manifestations might seem harmless—a do-all blazer, the perfect flannel trouser—but require endless revision and numerous reissues.  How utterly self defeating; the repeated indulgence of versatility is admission that the premise is no more than a fable.  But ideas with compelling narratives can be dangerous things.   This is how the J. Peterman Catalogues found a following.  Who wouldn’t be drawn by the promise of a perfect travel jacket?

    My latest attempt at versatility was born in response to the success of an excellent brown herringbone tweed jacket.  Success is the slipperiest slope; if a thing is good, another, slightly different version must be better, no?  The brown tweed seems, indeed, versatile, and its limitations are purely theoretical.  Are the patch pockets too casual?  Or, is brown not a tad too brown for a night on the town?  And so a vision, foggy at first, appears.  Soon it focuses, and then hardens: a gray tweed odd jacket would be awfully versatile…

    For those less versed in the machinations that lead to this sort of an idea, permit me a brief explication of time, place, color, material and configuration.  An odd jacket (commonly sport coat) is a traditionally casual garment in that it is not a suit.  Of course any jacket these days is considered an attempt at dress.  Tweed is a casual, sports cloth that literally repels the elements but also figuratively repels associations with the worsted cloths of business or city clothing.  Gray, however, is what might be termed a business or city color.  Gray tweed, then, is somewhat of a chimera; a casual cloth in a downtown sort of palette.  The way in which a coat is styled also sends messages.  Patch pockets are rather casual, so on this coat, in an attempt to fine-tune that great unknown quantity, versatility, I’ve asked for standard flap pockets.  

    Versatility is less frightening an organizing principle when its faithful concede that everything, no matter how well conceived, has limitations.  Even the unicorns—the garments that perennially seem perfect—have one fatal flaw: a need to rest.  Rotation is the great slayer of versatility.  Perhaps this is why those of us who chase the notion can sleep at night; applied to a whole, say a wardrobe, versatility is a noble goal.