J. Kurtz on “Made to Last”
-By J. Kurtz
“Things just aren’t made like they used to be”
I’ve heard this phrase more than a few times at the local cigar den and family gatherings. There are many fond memories of square-bodied trucks with 400,000 miles on the dash, and cast-iron skillets so durable that your grandmother inherited the set from her grandmother.
On one hand, we are now living in a fully technological age. Items need to be replaced frequently in order to stay current. While this predicates our purchasing decisions when it comes to technology, “fast fashion” results in fleeting trends which die off quicker than ever before. Furthermore, planned obsolescence, cheaper materials, and a shifting business focus from the customer to the bottom line, are easy ways to make a man cynical about the modern culture of clothing. Today, we’re happy if a product lasts five years, and that’s assuming it hasn’t been tossed for being outdated by then.
Clothing-wise, I’ve experienced both ends of the stick. I’ve learned the hard way that some brands will wilt into threads after a few washes or a long day under the sun. Even the most rugged of “NavyBlazer” items are often imported from Mexico and Asia due to cheaper labor and an increasingly globalizing clothing market.
While a “Buy It For Life” movement is gaining popularity, it’s still too early to tell if anything bought recently will actually last a lifetime. For example, Saddleback Leather claims your children will “fight over your Saddleback bag when you’re dead”. How exactly, do we verify this claim just yet? I’ll be sure to motion in my will for an official decision to be made. In this mire of viewpoints, where do I personally stand? A recent acquisition sealed my opinion as to whether or not clothes really can be “made to last”, and if so, what makes them special.
Johnson Woolen Mill sits on the Gihon River in the little town of Johnson, Vermont. Four generations of family members have crafted the iconic wool clothing, offered here since antebellum America. The popular buffalo check, green plaid, and striped grey patterns are all sourced & made here in the Green Mountains of Vermont. I have had my eye on their products for a good time, and acquired a full-zip jac-shirt in “Style 44”, a bright red, green, and yellow plaid. In terms of utility, it’s a cross between a Field Jacket and Cruiser – trim cut, with a double cape of wool across the front and back. There’s no way of dating this item, but the vintage Mill logo says enough.
This particular coat’s history is something out of Whittier’s, “Snow-Bound”. Its previous owner donned the jacket for light use in upstate New York chopping wood and working in the barn. The warmth produced, both from its romantic past and the straightforwardness of 100% wool, make this one helluva jacket.
But… the jacket arrived with holes. If this jacket was new, where does it go – the trash, eBay, Goodwill, anywhere but my closet. Thanks to the gruff simplicity of wool, all I had to do was take this coat to the cleaners and have it repaired. Things would have been different if it was a 75% cotton/15% merino wool/10% polyester blend from the latest Instagram brand. As you can tell from the pictures, this sturdy beast is as good as new.
I look forward to many more years and many stories with this wool testament to “Made to Last”.