Is there really a correct jacket for L.A.?

Share
Model Lia Bass stands in front of a light brown backdrop with various high-end jackets draped sculpturally on them
Clockwise from top left: Gucci GG leather jacket in black; Evan Kinori Cashmere Field Shirt in Charcoal; Comme Des Garçons Homme Plus rose-print double-breasted coat; Wales Bonner Men’s Studio Track Top in Burgundy worn as a skirt; Jackets provided by Dover Street Market L.A.; Still By Hand Semi Double Easy Jacket in Umber courtesy of author
(Widny Bazile / For The Times)

This story is part of Image issue 10, “Clarity,” a living document of how L.A. radiates in its own way. Read the full issue here.

Among the great myths associated with Los Angeles (everyone is in show business, we all have Botox, we surf every day), none is quite as detached from reality as the tall tale that you don’t need outerwear in your closet. L.A. might be 72 and sunny more often than not, but we’re not some kind of climate monolith. When it’s cold in West Adams, it’s even colder in Marina Del Rey (and even colder in the Harmony Gold screening room on Sunset). My apartment is its own microclimate — absolutely frigid all morning no matter the weather, which makes walking outside feel like being born directly on the sun. We are not built for this. And yet, sometimes we must endure. We need some sort of outer covering. A thing to put over our other clothes. We need jackets.

If temperatures are variable and unpredictable, how does one find the perfect jacket in L.A.? I’m talking about the kind of jacket you can take from work to the gym to a restaurant; from Burbank to Inglewood to Culver City to CityWalk. Does such a grail exist? There is so much to consider: material, occasion, fit and, of course, the mythical vibe that we cannot describe but breathlessly chase for the rest of our natural lives. Speaking of mortality, let’s level set. You might have or soon will age out of some jackets. Not sure I’m going to be rocking a faux letterman jacket in my 50s. But when you get it oh so right, the jacket becomes an L.A. cheat code. The perfect jacket is unassailable and ideal for all occasions. Picking one is perhaps the ultimate challenge.

Advertisement

I began my jacket research journey where so many sartorial escapades end — with Kanye West. The Gap and Yeezy recently did another drop of their now-infamous Round Jacket, an absurdly large puffer jacket variation that comes in sky blue, black and cherry red. I pressed the buy button on this piece not long after the latest drop was announced. My regrets were almost immediate. Should I have sized down? Was the black one better for my dark winter wardrobe? Will people honk their car horns at me as I walk down the street?

Model Lia Bass stands in front of a light brown backdrop wearing Comme Des Garçons Homme Plus rose-print double-breasted coat
Art direction by neonhoney / Los Angeles Times. Set, styling and hair: Widny Bazile; makeup: Lia Bass; assistant: Jamal Wade; model: Lia Bass
(Widny Bazile / For The Times)

L.A. is not the kind of place where strangers offer compliments or heckles to passersby. Too much effort. What I did experience is a mild sweat while trekking to get coffee and a chopped cheese at the new cafe Bodega Park in Silver Lake. I felt like Method Man with my greasy meat sandwich and ostentatious puffer coat. Another strike against this jacket is that you can’t drive in it; I could barely reach the center console of my car while looking like my airbag had deployed by accident. This is the folly of designing for very particular circumstances. Some people don’t think about practicality with fashion. It’s about the silhouette and not the regular, everyday function of a garment. Maybe that’s the downside of the extremely wealthy designing clothes. Someone who never has to drive himself wouldn’t think of the practical concerns of being able to turn your car on while wearing a jacket.

To figure out what it means to be beautiful, you must banish the fear from your brain

The perfect jacket undoubtedly requires less material — you need something lightweight, flexible. Track jackets offer versatility and maneuverability, owing to their origins as athleticwear. One of the better options in that subgenre comes from the U.K.-based superstar artist-designer Grace Wales Bonner. The Wales Bonner burgundy fleece track jacket — zip-up, snug fit, lots of stripes and emblems — made me want to go run laps at Fairfax High School like Albert Brooks in the movie “Modern Romance.” That’s a great feeling, but I’m a traditionalist at heart, and this is far too casual to survive a proper dinner. Many of the city’s above-average restaurants naturally demand something more refined, like a blazer, of which I own enough to outfit a small advertising firm. One of my favorites is from the Japanese brand Still by Hand — single-button front, unstructured, in a light brown color that Mohawk General Store described as “umber.” Not amber, which 311 reminded us is the “color of your energy.”

If you aren’t nearly as stuffy as I am, a blazer is going to feel like a pair of handcuffs. Los Angeles is a casual place. Some of the best outerwear is made by Supreme, the brand that still defines much of the culture on the stretch of Fairfax between Melrose and Beverly. A navy blue Gore-Tex windbreaker from Supreme is waterproof in a way no blazer ever will be, so on the off-chance it rains, you have a modicum of protection. The problem is, a jacket like that will run you $348 at Dover Street Market.

A cheaper, more versatile option is the coach’s jacket. Nylon exteriors are breathable, easy to clean and make tons of noise when you move your arms, which helps if you want people to hear you from a block away. A navy blue Palace coach’s jacket costs a more manageable $168. Commes des Garçons coach’s jacket is my perfect variation on the theme. I recently bought one in black, my preferred color choice for everything up to and including underwear. Black is the perfect base color for someone with a deficit of time to decide on an outfit. I can grab it from the closet and pair it with just about anything. It’s the ultimate utility player.

Advertisement

Practicality like that might not seem like a major concern in laidback Los Angeles, but L.A. is a city of doers; people who have things to do. Form does not always correlate to function, however. The coach’s jacket, like the track jacket, was designed for a very particular athletic purpose. If that purpose is not being met, there might be a cognitive dissonance between the object’s utility and the context in which it’s being used. Overshirts and chore coats, a phenomenon you see all over the city, are the domain of the laborer. In L.A., the look of the blue-collar worker is a strange fixation for those who don’t make things with their hands. And yet, many choose to invoke the stolen valor of the working class. If you can drop $1,015 for a heavyweight, dark gray cashmere piece from Evan Kinori, you might not stand out for the right reasons.

The CDG 100% polyethylene trench will get you noticed in a different way. If I tell you the price, you might choke, but the striking head-to-toe flower-print motif makes it a truly unique piece that feels amazing and will turn heads everywhere you go. If that’s what you want. Polyethylene is not going to keep you warm, unless compliments warming your soul is enough to sustain you.

Model Lia Bass stands in front of a light brown backdrop with various high-end jackets draped sculpturally on them
(Widny Bazile / For The Times)

The perfect jacket must be an everyday piece. The foundation of a wardrobe that works in every environment. The jean jacket, a favorite of the Highland Park IPA illuminati, is free of the problematic associations of the chore coat. It’s ubiquitous and has been for decades precisely because it’s not as fussy as a blazer and it isn’t directly tied to an activity like a track jacket or a coach’s jacket. I prefer a good denim when the situation calls for a relaxed, approachable look. But it’s also a bit too casual to make it to the evening.

Lose a button. Exposed chest hair is the accessory of choice in the desert, where rules can be bent ever so slightly.

True outerwear nirvana can be found only one place — in the cozy embrace of the leather (or faux leather, for vegans) jacket. Leather can take you all through the day and isn’t too warm for our more temperate winters. Some might say leather is too sexy, too sleazy or just too much. These are all true things, but this is Los Angeles. We’re a city that has sex, sleaze and too much in our DNA. Denying those bacchanalian tendencies would be to forget why we live here in the first place. Gucci has a leather jacket with its all-over trademark print that will melt your bank account, but it’s a personal favorite of mine because it’s also a blazer. A biker jacket from Sweden’s Acne Studios is better for moments of sublime Swedish understatement.

But really, leather is almost never that understated. It calls attention to itself because it draws the eye not with adornments or branding but with attitude. The leather jacket is designed practically, to keep a motorcycle rider from tearing up his body in case of an accident. But it has managed to transcend function because we love the form. It has the same beguiling contradictions as our city itself: sensual but rugged; simple but extravagant; soft and hard all at once. Whatever you choose to get you through these sub-60-degree temperatures for the next few months, remember not to be ashamed that you’re shaking from the cold when the sun is out. This is Los Angeles. We’re just built different.

And just because not everyone in our city can enjoy these colder months, please take some time to donate to a nonprofit, such as the Downtown Women’s Center, that help get outerwear to our unhoused neighbors. If you’re going to buy any of these jackets, donate an old one.