Last weekend, seeing this Facebook Memories post from five years ago floored me a little bit. What started as a simple nostalgic attempt to recreated a beloved piece of clothing from my post has now become a vital component to my self-identity. But, first, a little necessary background…
Back in the ‘80s, I was one of those high schoolers who placed pins and patches all over their denim jacket. For this particular teen, it wasn’t just a means of self-expression. It was also a weird form of defiance. Despite getting reasonably along with my peers, I felt very much like a social outcast. Figuring that there was little that could be done to change that, the pins, patches, and the peace symbol bleached into the back of the jacket became a way to proudly proclaim my independence from the high school social order and make the feelings of ostracism my own.
I loved the hell out of that jacket.
However, I retired it upon becoming a college freshman. Stepping foot onto the campus of Drexel University was my big chance to find social acceptance for what felt like the first time ever. I wasn’t going to blow it by flying my weirdo freak flag (the decision was enabled by the fact that the bleached-in peace symbol was starting to fray apart and threatening to put a giant hole in the back of the jacket.) In retrospect, it wasn’t the best decision. In fact, I was doing things backwards – college is the perfect time to fly your freak flag and find the weirdos who get your own eccentricities. I still found a way to express my individuality, but it was certainly a restrained, genteel version of it.
(In retrospect, that wasn’t the only thing I did wrong during college – especially after I transferred to Rutgers-Camden – but since my past experiences and decisions put me where I am today, the lesson of Guster’s “One Man Wrecking Machine” absolutely applies here.)
Growing up in a world dominated by Baby Boomers meant that graduating from college signaled it was time to play by the rules. Student loans needed to be paid, and although the ladders for career advancement held no interest for me, having a stable profession was essential for the kind of middle-class lifestyle that I strived towards. So, dressing my age and cultivating/maintaining a certain kind of appearance were essential components to achieving that particular goal.
After 15+ years of muddling along that path, I started taking advantage of the opportunities presented by a transition to working from home full-time. Rarely needing to appear in the traditional office setting made it easier to unfurl my personal freak flag. It helped immensely that Sally encouraged me to embrace my inner weirdo. Initially, this meant more regularly wearing the kind of geeky t-shirts I loved and building a larger collection of them. Then, in the spring of 2018, I decided that I no longer wanted to continue wearing the kind of boring light spring jackets that were age-appropriate for the middle-aged crowd.
I needed to once again own and regularly wear a denim jacket covered in patches and pins.
After finding an unadorned thrift store jacket that was the same shade of blue as my high school jacket, it was remarkably easy to acquire a combination of patches for it – far easier than it was to do so in my teen years. In fact, it was far too easy to find the kinds of geeky, sociopolitical, and just plain weird that appealed to me. As a result, I quickly accumulated more pins than needed. Didn’t seem like much of an issue, however, as pins could easily be swapped out, replaced, and moved around as the mood struck. The 2018 version of my high school jacket brought large amounts of joy.
The only issue was that I kept finding and acquiring additional pins that just spoke to me. It didn’t take long before I also found myself wanting to purchase additional patches despite the fact that there really wasn’t enough room left on the jacket for them – at least, not without feeling like I had overdecorated the jacket. Yet, I basically resisted and was essentially happy to wear it whenever the mood struck.
Then sometime after the pandemic hit, I simply felt the need to create another one, this time with a different color of denim. Once again, it was far too easy to find sufficient patches and pins to adorn it with. After that, the notion of acquiring multiple jackets in such a manner just felt right. Within relatively short order, I found myself with a large collection of them.
Along the way, the realization hit that the jackets were serving multiple functions for me. As well as providing a means of self-expression, they allowed me to channel my creativity in way not possible with the creations I made using my Lego collection. In addition, the patches and pins themselves became a kind of temporary tattoos, and as the number of jackets grew, I found myself reaching for particular jackets that seemed appropriate for the mood I was experiencing at that time.
Most importantly, though, the jackets had become my armor for navigating a world that seems to be increasingly hostile to my sensibilities. Being a woke, middle-aged, cis, hetero, white male, I am aware of just how much my subset of species collectively has done regards to fostering racism, misogyny, tribalism, homophobia, and a host of other reprehensible sociopathic behaviors. I’m also aware of how much my subset of the species is clearly acting out against and clearly feels threatened by a world that is more open, pluralistic, queer, and not willing to put up with toxic forms of traditional masculinity.
Each of my jackets contains patches and pins that absolutely engage in virtue signaling. However, the intended audience is not minorities, women, or members of the LGTBQ+ community; the target is other middle-aged, cis, hetero, white males who are trying to stand in the way of what I believe is a better world. I want them to know that while I may look like them, I absolutely want to part of the type of society they are trying to defend and reassert. Wearing these jackets makes me feel more at ease, more secure. Hence, armor.
I am now in the process of decorating my ninth jacket. Amazingly, no two are the same color, and there is very little in the way of using the same patch or pin on multiple jackets. They are significant reason why I feel like I am now living my best life. I also believe that teenage me would be thrilled if could somehow see what I’ve done during my middle-aged years. At that age, even though felt wrong, adopting certain tenants of traditional masculinity seemed essential in order to be socially accepted and draw attention away from my natural non-normative behaviors. These jackets are a part of my openly embracing my weird true self.
And, I couldn’t be happier.