The value of the jacket

In the four-year history of this blog, I have written little about clothing except for athletic uniforms.

Then I read Grantland, which was inspired by the next Star Wars movie:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, dudes wore dope space jackets. Judging from the just-released and possibly final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, that tradition — like Stormtroopers that can’t shoot straight — continues. And it’s all for the good. Just because there’s a devastating galactic civil war in progress that has already involved multiple planetary genocides doesn’t mean that a man can’t look his dashing best while bull’s-eyeing womp rats in his T-16, or zipping betwixt the lumbering legs of an AT-AT in a snowspeeder, or flying an X-wing into a superweapon’s utility trench. Say what you will about those scruffy, neosocialist Rebel Alliance hippies, but they understood the important branding message of looking rad. How else are you going to get people to sign up for a suicidal war or fly the Y-wing, the scrub vehicle of the Rebel Alliance?

Cool jackets are integral to Star Wars and the wider sci-fi/fantasy realm. They’re what separates a pop-culturally important work of imaginative fiction from the Star Wars kid; make your characters look cool or they will come off like nerds. From the trailer, it appears J.J. Abrams gets the cool-jacket aspect of Star Wars absolutely right. Which is yet another reason the Episode I-III prequels were unmitigated space trash. Those movies contain zero dope jackets. Because of the overtly wack Jedi focus of those films, every dude was stuck wearing those lame-ass brown monk bathrobes and loose-fitting, rough-spun kimono tunics. Also, pro tip: When a Jedi starts wearing black robes, maybe keep an eye on that person. Just a thought. …

Now that we’re done running through what didn’t work and disqualifying these cosmic affronts to fashion, here are the definitive Star Wars jacket ratings:

1. Luke Skywalker’s Battle of Yavin Medal Ceremony Jacket, A New Hope


This look is untouchable. Equally at home in the vast galactic void, the roller rink, or on your princess/sister’s bedroom floor, this maize-colored space-satin-and-polyester lady slayer is the jacket that started it all. Accept no substitutes.

2. Han Solo’s Cloud City Casual, The Empire Strikes Back


Han wears this dark navy space-cotton windbreaker for basically the entirety of The Empire Strikes Back. Smart man. When you’re trying to smash with royalty, you want to look cool, of course, but equally important is looking like you don’t really give a shit if you smash or look cool. This jacket says, “I’m awesome, I know it, and so do you.” Han even wears it while being brutally tortured on Darth Vader’s rack-of-random-car-parts machine.

3. Han Solo’s Hoth Parka, The Empire Strikes Back


Want to look fresh as uncut conflict diamonds while tucking your too-turnt best dude into the sliced-open stomach cavity of a dead bipedal pack animal? Then this military-style anorak with fur-lined hood is for you. Canada Goose — which accounts for two out of every three winter jackets in New York City — legit charges almost $1,000 for knockoffs of this coat.

4. Han Solo’s Jacket, The Force Awakens


Old-ass Han Solo, meanwhile, is — as per usual — still rocking out with a rakish fashion sensibility even if this jacket isn’t quite as awesome as others he’s worn throughout the series.

Han always knew the value of a great jacket. And what are those three metal vials on his left breast? High-caliber bullets? Space whippets? Corellian Viagra? Whatever they are, it’s probably illicit. Smugglers gotta smuggle.

Han-related aside: My low-key favorite part of Return of the Jedi is that everyone in the rebel raiding party sent to Endor, including Luke and Princess Leia, are wearing forest-green camo ponchos and helmets — the better to blend into the sylvan woods — and Han just wears a cowboy-style duster and his regular vest-over-shirt look because, like, whatever. The whole galaxy depends on stealthily turning off the new Death Star’s energy shield? Doesn’t mean you can’t still look great. …

6. Finn’s Bomber, The Force Awakens


Take a look at our man Finn (John Boyega) and his possibly Empire-issued leather quasi-bomber jacket, which is pretty OK from a Star Warsouterwear perspective.

Finn is giving off that vibe of like “Hey, this jacket is OK and hopefully I get a doper one for the sequel.” It actually looks cooler from the back.


7. Bossk’s Yellow Flight Suit and Greedo’s Biker Jacket, Empire and A New Hope(Tie)


You see Bossk for only like 30 seconds in Empire, which meant that owning his action figure was a mark of status among the neighborhood kids. Owning a Bossk figure said “I know Star Wars.” I prefer Bossk’s flight suit to the semi-wack jumper Luke wears in Empire when he goes to Dagobah. Greedo, meanwhile, doesn’t get enough credit for the two-tone biker jacket he wears under his totally unnecessary but very Star Wars–ian vest. The guy — or fish or seahorse or whatever — really knew how to accessorize his skin.

8. Lando’s “I’m a General Now” Officer’s Jacket and Cape, Return of the Jedi


I’ve always been confused at the ease with which various characters got promoted up the ranks of the Rebel Alliance. In Empire, Lando betrayed our heroes to the Empire, which got Han tortured, frozen, and hung on Jabba’s wall like a Rothko. Yes, he had little choice and felt bad about it, and he later helped Leia, Chewie, Luke, and the droids escape, but facts is facts. Then, by the middle of Return of the Jedi, Lando was not only accepted into the rebellion, but he became a general. I guess beggars can’t be choosers; if the rebellion turned away everyone who used to snitch for the Empire, who’d be left to volunteer to fly suicide missions into the new Death Star? …

10. Ponda Baba’s Orange Biker/Bomber Jacket, A New Hope


Ponda Baba is an Aqualish pirate and thug who you may remember as the alien who tried beefing with a young Luke Skywalker only to get his arm sliced off by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Which is sad. Not because of the arm — those, as we’ve seen time and again, are easily replaced in the galaxy far, far away — but because that saber slice ruined a perfectly fly jacket.

11. Luke’s Dagobah Jacket, The Empire Strikes Back


The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, so it’s kind of weird Luke so rarely wore a jacket with a poppable collar. Sadly, it’s the weakest sartorially of his non-Jedi kimono jackets, a tan canvas safari number. Which, yeah, he was in the swamp.


Two other jackets in the wider sci-fi/fantasy realm deserve attention.

Star-Lord’s crimson Han Solo–inspired space jacket:

sw_jacket_starlordMARVEL STUDIOS

Jaime Lannister’s “Going to Dorne” jacket:


Whether it’s in outer space or the Seven Kingdoms, cool dudes wear cool jackets.

Or dope or wack jackets, apparently. But this is not a new development. In the real world, flight jackets date back to the first days of military flight, World War I, though they started to shorten from overcoat length toward World War II.

… World War II fliers wore what became called “bomber jackets” because the jackets were warm at high altitude in nonpressurized airplanes. That didn’t mean jackets weren’t worn in slightly inclement (as in Great Britain) weather, of course.

The weather for ground troops got dicey as well, and once the Army figured out what it had wasn’t appropriate for a worldwide war, the Army developed …

… a jacket that could be worn underneath a longer wool coat for layering. However, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower requested around the same time a jacket that looked like the British “battle jacket,” though more distinctive. So Eisenhower’s idea for a jacket became known as …

… the Eisenhower jacket, or the “Ike” jacket, in part because of Eisenhower’s popularity among his troops.

After World War II ended, police found that a waist-length jacket allowed better access to guns, batons, clubs, etc., and so police started wearing them:

Yes, that photo depicts fictional officers Malloy and Reed of “Adam-12,” but creator Jack Webb was a stickler for accuracy, much more so than others in Hollywood:

You might reasonably ask why a Navy pilot assigned to San Diego, which has arguably the nicest weather in the entire country, would wear a leather jacket. Because style, man. (There are bigger issues with “Top Gun” than what Tom “Maverick” Cruise is wearing.)

In the post-World War II days leather jackets started showing up in pop culture …

Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”
James Dean
Elvis Presley

I have served in neither the military nor the police (bad eyesight, among other things), and I’m not an actor. But I recognize the value of a stylish, yet usable, jacket. In fact, I have managed to accumulate several leather jackets, though I don’t have the first one I purchased due to its 1970s/1980s reddish-brown color. (I purchased it with $104 of my own money in 1982. One week later for unrelated reasons my first girlfriend broke up with me while I was wearing that jacket. It’s a good thing I bought it then anyway, though, because one week after that my first employer closed its doors.) I do have a black Top Gun-style jacket with zip-liner, a beaten-up-brown bomber jacket, a black leather blazer, and a longer (though not trenchcoat-length) brown leather “car coat.”

After our oldest son was born, I found myself in Sheboygan to do a story near Sheboygan Harley–Davidson. With a bit of time to kill, I walked into the store not to look at the motorcycles, which I was not about to purchase, but in the clothing session. And there I saw a toddler-sized leather-looking biker jacket. I didn’t have a cellphone with camera at the time; I just called Mrs. Presteblog and said we have to have this. The three of us wore black leather for a family photo.

The jacket with sentimental value, though, is not leather:

UW Band jacket

This is my UW Band jacket from my five years in the world’s greatest college marching band. It obviously is similar to a letter jacket (though reversible for going incognito), which I never got to wear because of my athletic suckage. You have to buy the jacket, but the band W goes to those who complete two years in the band, and the pin on the collar goes to three-year marchers. Obviously I have almost no opportunity or reason to wear it, but at least it fits again now that I weigh about what I did when I graduated from UW–Madison.

Back to science fiction: Stylish jackets also can be found in the Star Trek universe, though they are much harder to find …

… and elsewhere in the TV universe:

Col. Ryan’s jacket in the movie “Von Ryan’s Express …”
… ended up on “Hogan’s Heroes” …
… while the A2 was also worn by Steve McQueen, one of the Three Cool Steves. As for the other Steves, I found no photo of the Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin, wearing a leather jacket, and why would Steve McGarrett wear leather in Hawaii?
“Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” where Captain Crane flies the Flying Sub while Admiral Nelson apparently is the navigator.
Starsky and Hutch also wore leather jackets, despite the temperate weather in Los Angeles, or “Bay City.”

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