Task Rabbit, Meet Chore Coat

While at work I want to wear what I think of as real clothes. In the days when we all went to the office, that was usually an L.B.M. 1911 blazer over a button-down Oxford and jeans. Now, donning a blazer to sit in a chair wearing headphones for daily video stand-ups would leave me feeling as though I had entered some “realness’’ category at a vogueing ball. All the same, I want to put on something I can later remove to signal quitting time.

The chore jacket is that garment. “It’s been percolating for a while, but suddenly it’s become the ‘It’ thing,” said Todd Snyder, who happens to make one of the more covetable models around, in washed Japanese denim with brass shank buttons. “We’re generally going back to kind of minimalist, simple-is-better, utilitarian clothes.”

Men’s wear retailers, those beleaguered professionals, tend to look upon the chore coat as a form of salvation, something to sell to guys who may never again put on a suit. “It’s a chameleon garment,” said Bruce Pask, the men’s fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. “You can wear if over a T-shirt, over a turtleneck or with a coat and tie.”

Like Goldilocks, I choose the middle path. Each morning I still slip on a button-down and some jeans (while remaining shoeless, because, why not?) along with my chore jacket, generally alternating between a denim one from Quaker Marine Supply Co. and a moleskin model from Le Mont St Michel. And, if sometimes in doing so, I feel as if I am impersonating Henry Higgins, though without the meerschaum, I can live with that.

It almost goes without mentioning that an item as seemingly blameless as a chore coat would attract haters. Take the blogger who recently railed against it as a useless fad. Terming the chore jacket a default in the “yupster Fall 2020 look-book,” this writer then went on to detail the elements — Converse high-tops, jeans with the cuffs rolled, Carhartt beanie and a base-layer Uniqlo T-shirt — of the typical wearer, a stereotype that struck me, as I read it, as having grown whiskers longer than those of a beard farmer in Billyburg.

Never mind all that. I intend to stick with this sack-like garment, one with origins among 19th-century laborers in England (workers using steam-powered “donkey engines” to excavate the Manchester Ship Canal were fitted out in durable “donkey” jackets) and street sweepers in France.

For the greater part of his work life, my old colleague Bill Cunningham wore blue chore jackets exclusively. Bill bought his on the cheap at La Samaritaine, the working-class Paris department store, and would likely have sniffed at mine as too fancy. For all Bill’s ostentatious humility, though, he retained a lifelong appreciation of what he called “good goods.” Somehow, I feel confident he would have given my chore coat the nod.


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