A Jacket's Not a Jacket When It's a Sweater, See?
New York Times - September 14 2006
Soon after we moved from New York to the warmer climate of Northern California, my three daughters unanimously decided that the article of clothing commonly known as the jacket did not exist.
At first I tried not to take it personally when, on chilly mornings, my two teenage daughters pretended not to understand English as I recommended they bundle up. They shivered off to school in flimsy sweaters. On windy days they stared blankly at the hooded jackets I pointed out in the closet. Foggy days? Sweaters. A heavy downpour? Soaking wet sweaters.
But after a family ski trip to Lake Tahoe — where a then 8-year-old Clementine insisted on riding the lifts swathed in multiple layers of ice-encrusted sweaters that made her look like a tiny Abominable Snowman — I was finally forced to recognize the outerwear war for what it was: one more brilliant salvo in my daughters’ long-running campaign to drive their mother crazy.
Or was it?
One day a year ago, as I was on my way out the door to walk the dogs early on a brisk September morning, I grabbed the first warm-looking thing I could find.
It turned out to be a long gray cardigan that belonged to one of my teenage daughters or to one of their friends or to one of their friends’ friends. (In our house the practice of clothes swapping has reached such epidemic levels that I would not be surprised if the World Health Organization showed an interest in containment.)
Generally I’m suspicious of fashion trends embraced by the young, which explains why you don’t see me sporting a nose stud or eyeliner as thick as tire treads.
But the sweater was a revelation. Knee-length, it was long enough to swing like a jacket. Cable-knit, it was warm enough to cut the chill of the early morning air, yet the knit felt light. Over the next few days I grew attached. I learned that the sweater’s simple, long silhouette looked casually elegant with jeans and a white T-shirt. It looked polished over black pants. It even created a striking slim line when worn with a slightly longer, straight skirt.
Maybe my daughters were right about jackets. Within a week I was ready to forsake mine, too, in favor of this much more versatile article of clothing: the utility sweater.
Then disaster struck. The long cardigan met the same sad fate as many other favorites. Like my steel-blue camisole, like last season’s white button-down shirt from J. Crew and like ticking-stripe flip-flops from two summers ago, the sweater vanished as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come into my life.
“What gray sweater are you talking about?” asked Ella, 15, while I searched frantically for it.
“I’ve never seen you in a gray sweater,” Zoe, 17, added. “Have you, Clem?”
“Mom wears jackets,” Clementine said in the sort of careful monotone that made me feel like a dupe in a Hitchcock movie.
“Did you hallucinate having a gray sweater?” Ella asked gently. “Like that time you thought you were missing a steel-blue camisole?”
They eyed me implacably. They suggested a nap. They offered me a cup of herbal tea.
I’m not crazy. I know the sweater existed. And to prove it, as autumn once again loomed last week I went online to try to find a facsimile to support my claims.
I found plenty of long cardigans. Quick visits to online clothing stores like Vivre.com and Bluefly.com were all it took to confirm that I’m not the only one embracing the elongated shape this year. I pored over pictures of sweaters that were dubbed coats, like the Ya-Ya Gitana Sweater Coat ($385 at Shopbop.com, gray or black, “words cannot even begin to express how excited we are to wear this sweater”). I scrutinized Ralph Lauren’s Black Label long cardigan with dressy ruffled trim ($898 at Neimanmarcus.com) and Vince’s Handknit long cardigan with pouch pockets, ($295 at eluxury.com).
Squinting at the pint-size images, I understood the reason behind the sudden popularity of the long sweater. Its profile looked just right when worn with another of this year’s trends, leggings. While I would never endorse the legging look for anyone much older than Clementine (who has embraced it wholeheartedly, cutting off the feet of last year’s tights and wearing the remains under skirts), I marveled at the long sweater’s unusual versatility.
Still, I kept searching for a simpler one, one without pockets or a ruffled trim. Something that wasn’t heavyweight enough to qualify as a “sweater coat.”
Then I found the Demure Duster. Offered in two colors online at Whiteandwarren.com ($350, in loose-knit cable cashmere). The medium heather gray reminded me strongly of my old friend.
But the quality of the online photo was poor. I couldn’t see details like the cuffs or the hem, and it was hard to tell from the headless mannequin on which it was draped how it would hang on a live nonplastic body.
Time for fieldwork. I found the duster at a nearby boutique, tried it on and loved the swing and weight of it. I bought it.
What was it about the duster that so appealed to me?
I phoned Barbara Warren, who designed it.
“It’s a classic, it’s going to look good for years, and we like to put together a collection that includes staples that you will reach for, for years and years, and figure out different ways to wear with new trends,” she said. “You can belt it, you can leave it open, you can wear it with high heels and jeans, you can put on a skinny skirt with it and go to the office.”
The particular secret of her Demure Duster, she said, is the just-right weight of the fabric.
“It’s a new twist on the classic cable knit, but in a weight that doesn’t feel chunky,” Ms. Warren said. “There’s nothing fattening about this sweater.”
Later, I modeled the sweater for my daughters. They looked at me blankly.
Then Clementine said, “Nice jacket.”