It’s virtually impossible to walk the streets of Brooklyn without seeing multiple dudes wearing chore jackets. They’re a signature part of the yupster Fall 2020 look book — usually paired with black boots (or Converse high-tops if the wearer is under 30) and faded black jeans, rolled or cropped at the ankle. Look for the Carhartt beanie folded above the ears and the Uniqlo T-shirt base layer.
For a few years now, the chore jacket — also known as the shirt jacket, or shacket — has been heralded in mainstream menswear as the solution for fall layering. Thin and light, it won’t make you overheat in the sun, but the hybrid garment maintains enough heft and structure that you’re not freezing by the end of a chilly October night. It’s the in-between garment perfect for an era in which we’re living life on a spectrum; climate change has made weather nearly impossible to keep up with anyway.
Or that’s the bullshit story we’re telling ourselves to self-soothe with another $100 jacket. In reality, the chore coat kinda sucks. Its lack of comfort fails to meet the moment — and as a now-iconic piece of modern menswear, it leaves me feeling cold.
On most chilly days, the chore jacket is simply impractical. I bought my first one, a mustard-yellow Roamers number from a boutique in the Poconos, while I was on “detox” from the city earlier this year. Hoping to be one of the cool kids when I got back to New York, I purchased the garment for $60, self-congratulating for supporting a small business and getting a steal (Pennsylvania has no sales tax on most clothing). I’ve never really gotten my money’s worth. The cut of the jacket is too long to layer but too stiff to be tucked in. It peeks out from other coats, a constant reminder that I’d have been better off eschewing it all and wearing a cozy winter parka.
What’s more, the chore jacket is another example of how fast fashion has turned working-class uniforms into a marketing ploy aimed at comfortably paid office drones who still think of themselves as adventurers. I fell for the hype, and now look: I will never change your oil, but I’m walking around looking like a Halloween “mechanic” costume.
Roamers bills itself as a “sustainable product for life on the road”; its Facebook page logline reads, “We create contemporary apparel for the modern explorer.” What should’ve been a sartorial match for my aspirationally transient life failed to fit my admittedly more sedentary existence. I’m not rustic; I’m a Brooklyn transplant originally from the Chicago suburbs who drives his dad’s used 2004 Honda Pilot. I’m not traversing mountains or climbing down the shores of a river, like a Taylor Stitch model. If I ever leave my apartment, it’s a weekend trip upstate via Zipcar. I have no business wearing a chore jacket; I’ve done no chores.
The chore coat wasn’t always utilitarian for aesthetics. It served the true sense of the word since the start of the 20th century. “The tools and machines became bigger, and manual laborers needed tough clothing,” Ashley Clarke wrote in a piece for retailer Mr Porter on the history of the blue French workwear jacket. Stateside, Carhartt started producing jackets in 1923 for railroad workers out west and a secondary jacket lined with blanketing for Northerners working mines and factories in cold climates.
Then, around 2018, men’s lifestyle publications like GQ and Esquire started praising the chore jacket as the latest must-have in menswear. It’s part of the workwear trend that’s seen Carhartt and Dickies go from blue-collar staples to white-collar hipster wear. Only the most rugged fabric will do for the startup employees scrolling all day in warehouse co-working spaces built by the manual laborers this jacket was meant for.
Writing in 2019 about how the athleisure brand Outdoor Voices turned life-improvement into a job itself, New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino wondered, “Am I taking care of myself, doing sun salutations in my motivational crop top, or am I running survival drills for life under an advanced capitalist economy?” Like preachers in $5,000 designer sneakers or Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a “stay woke” T-shirt, wearing chore jackets is another way to avoid feeling like a sellout (while, of course, still signifying upward mobility). We want to pretend we’re not part of the problem, so we embrace working-class cosplay — like post-divorce Armie Hammer “doing construction.”
At one point, the chore jacket was a necessary invention to hold the wrenches and screwdrivers that welded our capitalist society together. Ironically, it’s now become a uniform for the people who benefit most from capitalism: white dudes with office jobs and 401(k)s who use the pockets for PAX vapes, power bricks and cashless leather card holders.
Really, though, this isn’t about the chore jacket at all. It’s not like a jean jacket is a more ethical alternative. It’s more about shopping responsibly, aware of who benefits from your spending. Sourcing clothes from local businesses, thrift shops and Etsy might feel like an actual chore, but if there’s no wrench in your pocket, it’s worth throwing one in your schedule.