Picture this: it is fall. You are on your way to a seasonally-appropriate event: apple picking, something involving pumpkins, a spur-of-the-moment bonfire on a beach, an artisanal cider pressing. The weather is tricky—hot in the sun, chilly in the shade, with an occasional stiff breeze that holds the promise of true winter. A down jacket is too heavy, a top coat too formal, and maybe you want to feel a little more festive than that North Face Denali fleece in the back of the closet. According to fashion, the current answer to this conundrum is a shacket, the transitional outerwear of choice that was big for fall last year and remains so today.
Much like racism and pornography, you know a shacket when you see it: plaid, usually heavy flannel, occasionally lined, and whimsically oversized, as if the wearer filched said item from the closet of their big burly boyfriend and threw it on over a cable-knit sweater vest before leaving the house for a matcha lavender oat milk latte. It’s yet another example of a highly functional garment adopted temporarily by fashion; any store selling traditional workwear for men will have a few lined flannel shirts meant to be worn over sweatshirts by contractors and construction workers doing roadwork in the cold.
In the 1955 Douglas Sirk melodrama, All That Heaven Allows, Rock Hudson wears an iconic shacket: red Buffalo plaid, made of a material stiff enough for the collar to be perennially popped. Hudson plays a landscaper who falls for a rich and beautiful widow, and his clothing throughout the film reflects both his fictional occupation and the bucolic New England setting. A shacket is a sort of WASPy palimpsest. It gestures to the crusty old Vermont farmer of days gone by, as well as the aimless scion of generational wealth raking leaves on the ample spread afforded by that inherited fortune—and on top of that, there’s a layer of mass-market fantasy in the person of the Hallmark Channel Christmas tree farmer or the white woman who loves fall. Plus, it is really the perfect layer: trendy yet timeless, baggy in a way that comes off as unstudied and cool, and also warm enough to wear over a t-shirt or under something heavier, if layering under an enormous down parka on your way to the Arctic is something you need or want to do.
Though I have no real desire to farm Christmas trees in a Hallmark movie or go to the Arctic—and, in fact, often run hot—fashion media convinced me that the jackets I currently own are not sufficient. And so, my search for a shacket started in last autumn’s chill and ended, tragically, a few weeks ago, when I resigned myself to the inevitability that actually, I hate shackets and also they make me look as if I might burst into song, specifically “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins.
Last year I bought a tragic shacket from Target that I convinced myself was perfect, because it met my very low price requirements and felt appealingly out of character. I gave this thing the old college try, like a prep school quarterback in some boy’s tale from the 1930s, gamely wearing it out of the house to a birthday brunch and an experimental walk to the bodega, but I felt like I was trying to be someone I wasn’t—a hobbyist ceramicist or someone who would buy an $88 hand broom. That particular varietal is no longer available online, but this mistake lives on in my closet. Everything about it is wrong, but the fit is the biggest offender. If I were taller, or if this thing were shorter, it could work, but the way this garment hits me at the knees makes me look and feel shorter than I am, and also swallows my frame in a way that is not cute. (It was a pleasant surprise to unearth this thing from the depths of my closet, and I will attempt to sell it at Buffalo Exchange, where I will receive $2.50 for my efforts.)
Undeterred, this year I returned to the shacket search spurred in part by a frantic early morning trip to Target in search of whatever was left from the Rachel Comey collaboration. Blessedly, the racks were full. My vision was to snag that turtleneck that everybody else will have, but when I saw this harrowing vision in grey on a rack, I could not resist. At the store, the shacket was almost everything I wanted: neutral, comfy, soft. At home, after some serious consideration, I realized it was giving chimney sweep—all that’s missing is some soot on my face and one of those large brooms Dick Van Dyke used while dancing across the rooftops of Londontown.
My vision was to feel comfortable, cozy, like I was running late for a haunted hayride; the result was the direct opposite. The sleeves were too long, the fit overwhelming, and the cut of the shoulders all too close to Succession’s saddest boy, Jeremy Strong, a great actor but was not blessed in the shoulder category. The shacket sat with its tags still on for a week, glaring balefully from my clothing rack. A few days before the return window closed, I marched back to Target and exchanged it. Maturity looks different for everybody, but learning when something no longer feels right for you—and making the decision to get rid of it before it’s too late—is one of the blessings that come with age. I am not a shacket gal (though this option is screaming my name) and for once, I am at peace.