Clothes remembered

I used to have the best jean jacket,” she tells me over dim sum in Hong Kong. I left it in the taxi to the airport when I left Berlin. That was fifteen years ago. I still think about that jacket.”

My mind goes to my favorite garment, a green corduroy and laminate North Face black label jacket bought as a self present on arrival in Hong Kong five years ago. It’s been my favorite piece of clothing ever since. And then I remember my four pointed felt hat, black with two gray stripes, purchased in Shinjuku in 2003. And then to my partner’s comments, on looking through old photos this weekend, so often exclaiming oh my god that shirt!” or do you remember those shoes?” I do, of course, the photos tracking our relationship, yet many of the memories have faded, and require these pictures to access. My body, as I often write, has forgotten.

When this site began I worked in the garment industry, spending hours on fabrics, stitching, trim. I think back to those days, to the personal focus on quality that came out of that experience, and I remember things. Physical possessions. Expensive jeans, mostly, a hoped-for connection between the increase in garment cost, livable wages for the sewer, and water treatment facilities for the indigo dye. After a bit I remember my wool knit hoodie, Triple Aught Design, my first merino garment. It was purchased early on in our time in SF, and worn almost daily there. It’s hanging in my closet as I type this, more than ten years later. For a long time I never traveled without it, my one essential item. It has been used as a pillow in countless mid-tier hotel rooms, slept in on dozens of transpacific flights, and worn on every evening bike ride all the rest of our ten years in that foggy city.

In some ways these garments shape us, even years later. I wonder what events my friend took her jean jacket to, what she felt like when she wore it? I wonder if she’ll ever feel that strongly about a jacket again? Does that part of us fade as we age?

I think of my wife’s green jacket, which she’s had from high school or early college, which she wears now around Tokyo in the winters. How many of these garments are for cold weather, how many of them are rarely worn now, able to be pulled out intact for good memories? Or is that just because we moved to the tropics, and they so rarely feel necessary?

In January for a few days the weather cools. I wear my favorite garment everywhere I go. It’s something to treasure, feeling good in clothing, feeling good in a way we’ll remember.


There is a feeling, which happens with greater and greater frequency as we age, that some product is perfect for us. That we will need no improvement, and that any future iteration will probably be worse.

We’d like to freeze time, to have whoever makes whatever it is continue, indefinitely.

Occasionally we are lucky, and the product is of such mass appeal that the company in question does continue to produce it, with alternate versions in addition to the key product, for decades.

Occasionally the jeans we wear are the 501, and will be available effectively forever.

Occasionally the shoes we wear are the Adidas Samba, and have been brought back by our love for them, become the uniform for thousands of men looking for flat leather sneakers that will look good with any outfit and be available for half a hundred dollars world wide.

Occasionally we are comfortable in Hanes underwear, with Dove soap, Budweiser beer, or Coca-cola.

Even then, the products will occasionally change beyond recognition, for no apparent reason, as we still purchase them in similar quantities as we have prior.

Because of these changes, because of our awareness of the temporary nature of mass production and the consumer culture, we find ourselves with a new kind of worry, a new sense of desire. Not for one of an object, a hat, a jacket, but for an infinite supply, for an immediate replacement should anything happen to our treasure.

We will wish for another Adidas Marun, and know that, were we smarter, had we more money and storage space, we would have purchased two pairs at the beginning, rather than one. We would have purchased a second, a back up, for each of these items we so love.

The idea that we should be prepared for loss, that we should no longer rely on brands or manufacturers, on stores or models, but should instead stockpile, is not crazy. In his biography we learn that Steve Jobs had hundreds of his specific mock turtleneck. This can be seen as obsession, but also as anticipation of change, and the desire to avoid it.

Is this good? Sustainable? Desirable? Should we shift tastes forever as we age, constantly accustomed to new products and new surroundings, or should, at some point, our tastes coalesce into the person we will be, and our desire to be constantly replacing things we once loved with new fade into the background, become less important than it was in our teenage years, in the years of our first job.

It’s a strange feeling, to discover a new thing and immediately be concerned with its replaceability.