Indignity Vol. 1 No. 6: A Gleaming Memory


Indignity Vol. 1 No. 6: A Gleaming Memory

The Mystery of the Shiny Coats

THERE WAS A time—not long ago, but long enough—that exists only in human memory, yet not in any reliable sense in the extended memory we call the internet. I've written about this before: the Internet Event Horizon, the point beyond which ephemeral (and some seemingly less ephemeral) culture just wasn't immortalized online. But in that time, people wore clothing.

Specifically (I know this; I was there) people spent one and really only one fall and winter wearing work jackets made of a gleaming metallic material. The jackets had a plain, utilitarian cut but their fabric was opulently futuristic—luminous silvery green, electric silvery blue, silvery deep purple, silvery outright silver. On some level (work jacket, shiny!) I felt like I wanted one as well, but on the level that controlled my wallet I understood that I had as many existing jackets as I needed and I sensed that too many people had already bought these jackets; the trend was burning too hot.

And, indeed, the jackets went away: completely, before cold weather arrived again. I can't recall seeing a single straggler making the mistake of breaking one out. If you were the sort of person who would have worn a silver jacket then you were also the sort of person who would have known instinctively that the jackets were over. The metallic-outerwear moment was gone, one more abandoned future, like tears in rain.

At some point, years later, I remembered the jackets and went looking for them—on the internet, where one looks for things, and where one expects to find those things. I don't know why I was looking, exactly. Maybe it had crossed my mind that enough time had passed that it would be viable to consider wearing a silver work jacket, if silver work jackets still existed somewhere. It seemed possible, in the multiverse of long-tail consumer niches, that some workwear company might have quietly kept on making a few for some reason.

Not only did no such jackets exist, but I was startled to find that the very idea of them seemed irretrievable. The internet still did know, for instance, about satin Georgetown Starter jackets. Georgetown Starter jackets were old enough, or famous enough. Or Members Only jackets. But this one shiny '90s winter was forgotten.

I could not have simply imagined this thing. I asked people who were my age, who'd been in their 20s in the '90s, and they sort of remembered the jackets, or didn't, or thought they might? I considered the possibility that it had only been a regional trend in Boston, where I had been working at the time. Did Boston even have clothing trends? Finally I wrote to someone who I was sure had owned one, and he confirmed it: "I had one that was blue and quite shiny and almost certainly purchased at Urban Outfitters. I don't remember the trend more broadly, but if I bought it at Urban Outfitters..."

That was as close as I could get. I put the enigmatic jackets out of my mind again for a few more years.

And then, the other night, I sat down with my nine-year-old to show him Men in Black, the popular 1997 movie in which Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play members of a secret agency that supervises and polices Earth's contact with space aliens. Will Smith does an extremely literal rap number over the credits in which he describes the premise of the movie everyone just saw him in, which is a thing that used to happen back then and which the internet has enthusiastically not forgotten about.

But here's the point: just as the plot is really getting going, Will Smith—who is at this moment still an NYPD officer who favors flashy streetwear—shows up for the mysterious interview where he will be vetted for membership in the Men in Black, after which he will sacrifice his clothes and identity for a generic black suit and a single initial. A handheld flash device called a "Neuralyzer" will wipe away the memories from the other candidates, and from all the members of the public  he and Jones encounter in their work. When Will Smith gets in the elevator, on his way toward this life of combined adventure and oblivion, the overhead light gleams on...his oversized red metallic work jacket.

There it was! Not exactly the garment in my mind's eye—this one was a jac-shirt, with patch pockets and snaps down the front, while the ones I remember were more like zip-front versions of what Dickies calls an Eisenhower jacket—but the basic idea was clearly there, in a movie that made more than half a billion dollars worldwide. The metallic jacket was real, and everyone had seen it. It had just been wiped from their minds afterwards.


The Toy Aisle at the CVS I Stopped in During My Vacation to Wait for Prescription Drugs to Calm the Poison Ivy I got BEFORE I Even Started My Vacation.

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