Smoking Jacket

Smoking Jacket

[October 22, 2017]

I was looking through old pictures today. It wasn’t a trip down memory lane. It wasn’t for nostalgia purposes. I was looking for something specific; a picture that means the world to me. Back in 1996, during my second year at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, I found a vintage turquoise corduroy smoking jacket with silk lapels and cuffs that I wore almost every day. It was not something that I wore to the College; rather, it was something that I put on at the end of the day, when I returned home to the student co-op in which I lived.

Although the jacket sounds fancy, it wasn’t. In fact, this jacket was worn out in all the right places and fit more like a comfortable sweatshirt than it did like a formal garment. That said, it was still out of place at everyday co-op gatherings making me seem somewhat precious and eccentric. Back then, however, I loved making a statement and looked at such labels not as judgments but instead as badges of honour.

I loved that smoking jacket! It looked great with a t-shirt and jeans and I could also dress it up with dress pants, patent leather shoes, and a crisp white shirt. No one could ignore the guy at a party (or indeed the dinning hall for dinner) wearing a jacket like that, and I lived for that kind of attention. When I wore that jacket, I had to be the type of person that could pull off that wardrobe choice. As a result, when I was in that jacket, I was funnier, more outrageous and never at a loss for words. I have since had clothes that have similarly made me feel confident, but that jacket was the first and, because of that, it will always have a special place for it in my heart.

I don’t have the jacket anymore. I wore it so often that it eventually just fell apart, and I threw it out. Though I looked all morning through old photographs to find a picture of me in it, I couldn’t even find one. When I close my eyes, I can see it as clear as day. I remember how it felt, how it smelled, but most of all I can remember how it made me feel. Never was I more popular or more self-assured than when I was wearing that jacket.

So why am I telling you about this old jacket? One that I have no tangible proof existed?

Even though that jacket wasn’t around in 2000, when I finally came out of the closet, it still played a small but important role in that fateful journey. You see apparently –back then – when people saw me in that jacket, I was just so fabulous, that they just assumed that I was gay. When I heard this, however, instead of abandoning my jacket and asserting my heterosexuality, like I would have done in the past, I decided that I didn’t care what people thought and wore my jacket with pride. Wearing that jacket – in the relative safety among my co-op friends –marked a turning point for me; one that displaced my homophobic past and left me open, thankfully, to a more inclusive and open-minded future. When I was in that jacket, I realized that people didn’t care so much about whether I was gay or not: they just simply wanted to be around the eccentric guy whose personality filled up the room. That jacket taught me a valuable lesson and, though it would still take me years before I could put that lesson to good use, what I learned was if you surround yourself with good people, no one really cares what your sexual preferences are.

I wish that I still had that jacket. I wish that I could try it on; feel its softness against my skin and bask in the comfortable self-assured feeling that I always felt when wearing it. In my head I know it would not feel the same; that I am not the same person that wore that jacket so many years ago, that I am courageous without it, but in my heart I long for it just the same.

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