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You Need This... I Promise

The Not-Jean Jacket

Ann in her backyard wearing the relaxed, lived-in Constance Jacket over a trim navy cardigan and blue jeans. She has on a pair of black Ray Ban Wayfarers to complete the look.
"sprezzatura" in sand cotolino

A jean jacket is a very useful thing. Not a lot of warmth… but a lot of cool.

Like most things I write about here, the jean jacket has been a kind of constant in my timeline of style. I have worn several throughout my life and each holds its own memories. I loved the interior not-really-a-lining that you could use as kind of a secret pocket. In those years, I could go without a purse and just throw a wallet and keys and lip balm in there. I certainly slid a can of soda (pop!) inside when sneaking my own snacks into the movie theater as a teenager. About a decade later in 1984, I made the mistake of bringing that exact same jean jacket as my only coat on my first trip to Europe with my brother. I was just out of college and I knew nothing. This was March, so it was damp and cold and definitely not as sunny as you wanted it to be. I can still feel the chill I felt walking the streets of Paris in a thin Laura Ashley dress and that stupid jean jacket. I wanted to look cool more than I wanted to feel warm, but man did I suffer. It did not occur to me to just buy a new jacket. Or maybe I only had enough spending money to get me to the next destination. It’s funny how you forget the exact circumstances after so many years, but you never forget how uncomfortable you were. The water in our borrowed apartment never really warmed up enough for a truly hot shower after a day on the streets. So I will forever associate Paris with grey skies and an insatiable desire to sit in front of a fire in a hotel I could never imagine being able to afford. Les Miserables.

A polaroid of Ann in the early '80s in her very first NYC apartment, wearing her go-to jean jacket.
the original jean jacket

Though I pass no judgment on wearing a jean jacket forever — Madonna and Debbie Harry would still look fantastic, even into their seventh and eighth decades, respectively — for me, that day has come and gone. I have passed down my original one from college (and Paris) to the next generation. I am not sure which daughter has it in her closet now. So I am not writing about a jean jacket. Today, I have something better… an alternative jacket that is just as maximally cool and minimally warm, but even more ageless. You need it.

The double-breasted cotolino blazer that we call the Constance. You might think this is just a lightweight summer blazer, and that you already own one, but it’s more than that. Let me explain.

No matter how old you get, there is the same deep desire in all of us to look cool when we are navigating a new environment… the need to be perceived with the confidence we are not quite feeling. For me, a jacket can help with that. I swear. It makes me feel pulled-together but not fussy… like I’m able to express myself. With a jacket like this, I feel what the Italians call sprezzatura. It’s an overused #menswear term, but you could also consider it “perfect imperfection” or “relaxed cool” or “looking amazing but not taking yourself too seriously.”

The OED defines it as “studied carelessness, especially as a characteristic quality or style of art or literature” as in “Rubens' famous sprezzatura.” Hmm. I’m actually not so sure I like the ‘studied’ part — that doesn’t actually sound so cool to me — but the point is that you don’t look too perfect.

Sid and I started our business back in 2007 with only a menswear brand in mind, and it would be a few years in before the bloggers got rolling and posting outfit pics from Pitti Uomo and going on and on about this kind of studied coolness. But they were not wrong to identify it this way. I witnessed it firsthand on those early sourcing trips to Italy with Sid. It is a way of life there. Neckties aren’t tied too perfectly, shirts come slightly untucked at the end of the day, the belts are not all color-matched to the shoes. They look like real people. Though the term is used mostly in a menswear context, I know quite a few women who embody this sense of ease. And for me, a jacket is a shortcut to achieving this. You can be wearing almost anything — a not-so-great dress, a pair of jeans that fit better last year, a shirt with a tiny stain at the hem — and throwing on a casual jacket can bring it up or down enough to make you look totally at ease in your own skin. You look cool. You look confident. In your head, you can say to yourself, “yes, I know my jacket is a little rumpled, but I have been wearing it heartily and confidently and the lived-in-ness of it is exactly what I’m going for.”

And it is in this particularly fantastic summer fabric that adds to the specific Italian-ness of this piece for me. It is mostly linen… but there is a boost of cotton and a little Lycra that keeps it from wrinkling so much that it looks like a mess. Sprezzatura. A little wrinkle is the point.

You can wear it with the matching pants as a suit (in white it is very Tom Wolfe if you want to copy!) It is just as chic head to toe in the buttery-colored one that will forever reckon Calvin Klein at his peak. (Back when I used to visit that showroom so often as part of my job as an editor, I used to marvel at ALL the color names that could be used to describe this particular color palette: butter… maize… straw... stone… I could go on.) Ours is simply ‘sand.’

But not everyone wants to go for the full suit. Not everyone has an occasion to wear a full suit. The jacket on its own is the real hero. Alone, it can go with so much from the summer side of your closet. Over your sundress (a cooler alternative to your cardigan in the air conditioning.) With jeans and a t-shirt, it makes you look twice as “dressed.” You can even throw it on with shorts if you are young enough to wear shorts in a non-athletic capacity. I am not, but I love the look. So amazing that would be. I will grab it to wear over a t-shirt and jeans to run to an estate sale on Saturday morning. I will go back inside to get it before Sid and I go out for a taco in the evening. I would put it on a young model in the photo studio, draping it over her shoulders with a skimpy camisole underneath. I would absolutely wear it on the flight to Italy. 

One of my favorite pictures of myself was taken by Sid. It was in the early years of our business — maybe 2010 — and we were taking a factory trip to Europe and flying by the seat of our pants. We left all the girls in the care of our oldest, who was 20 and home for the summer. I am pretty sure we also had a French teenager in the house, the daughter of a friend of a friend. Our haphazard version of a foreign exchange student. Six young women in the house with a stocked fridge and a neighborhood pool to go to. Good luck with the mosquitos, girls! See you in 10 days! I am walking ahead of him on cobbled streets in Lake Como, where we were visiting fabric mills. Our hotel room was booked last-minute on the cheap, but fantastic all the same. Oftentimes, we would wait until we got there to book a room… the beneficiaries of someone else’s canceled trip. So many things were fun and scary but also very special during that time. We were trying to figure out how to run a business, doing everything ourselves, and when I look at this photo, I feel all those emotions all over again. Fear and uncertainty and taking things one day at a time. But in this moment, I remember feeling like I looked perfect for the place and the season. I was in a navy cotton/linen blazer and blue jeans. There is almost nothing better than feeling like you’ve dressed exactly right. That is part of the reason why I write this column. That jacket made me feel confident… more confident than I should have, given the circumstances. It felt Italian. (And in fact, it was!) I wore that jacket every day we were there and it made me feel cool, even if I didn’t know the word sprezzatura at the time. This was that. It feels great, fourteen years later, to have our own version that can do the same. You need it. I promise.

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