The Filson of my dreams

A Seattle clothier makes a jacket so tough and so dear, it's hard to part with, even for a new one.
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A man, his truck, and his Filson. It's a beautiful thing. (Shasta Wilson)

A Seattle clothier makes a jacket so tough and so dear, it's hard to part with, even for a new one.

I waited a long time to buy a Filson jacket. I'm not a timber cruiser or a diesel mechanic or even much of a hunter. Their stuff seemed a little hard-core for my needs. Filson gear is also spendy, so I needed an unimpeachably poseur-free reason to drop the cash without looking like a walk-on for the Village People.

As soon as I found myself working construction sites, climbing utility poles and such, I went ahead and bought myself a Klondike jacket. It was a brand new style, forged from time-honored "tin cloth," with soft moleskin lining its collar and hand pockets, and a stout twill body lining. Couple of hundred dollars at the time, but the company had a rep for quality and durability.

I punished that jacket in various filthy conditions for 12 years. Built infrastructure in Beijing, put up 3.7 meter dishes in Onalaska, job-walked rail yards in Houston, and hung fiber in an Oroville blizzard. Dad and I did a little duck and goose hunting along the way. By the third or fourth year, it was well broken in.

When I started wearing ties again, that good old rag was interred deep inside a box in the shop of what turned out to be my ex-wife's garage. When I finally picked it up last month, one side of the collar was chewed apart by mice — actually, only the moleskin facing. Little rat bastards couldn't gnaw through the tin cloth, although I found the faint, nibbly scrapes left by their efforts.

A tie man no more, I started wearing it again immediately. The rest of the jacket looks funky, but is functionally fine. A little stiff, maybe, from repeated waxings, stained a raunchy rainbow of indescribable brownish hues — but perfectly functional, even if it embarrasses my wife when I wear it in public.

Yesterday, I finally got around to taking my ratty (but still resolutely waterproof) jacket into Filson's flagship store on Fourth South in Seattle. Figured if the collar cost around 20 bucks to patch, it would be worth the trip. While there, I could get a fresh can of wax to re-waterproof it.

The guys at the counter turned it over, examining it dubiously. There was muttering along the lines of "half an hour, maybe an hour," and "looks like you got a lot of good wear out of this."

It clearly was gonna cost some, maybe more than I'd budgeted. After all, they're built and repaired right there on Fourth Avenue in Seattle — and at union scale, too. Still, I was shocked when he looked up and said I should just get a new one. I mean, this is Filson, ferchrissakes! Stuff's s'posedta last forevah.

Swallowing hard, I asked him how much it would cost for that. His cohort had already fetched a new one "just to compare the size." The style is discontinued now, but they had one left in XL. I shrugged it on, and it seemed the right size for the now and future belly — but I had walked in with a perfectly functional jacket. All those places I'd gone in this jacket, and now they thought I should just put a bullet in it. "How much to ... exchange it?"

"It would cost us less to exchange it than to repair it."

I looked at him to see if he was kidding (he wasn't kidding) and if he meant what I thought he did (yes, it appeared that he meant it). I explained that I hadn't found any faults with my jacket. It just had some damage that was obviously not related to defective manufacturing. In twelve years, not a stitch had popped. There were no holes; just one patch of tattered soft felt inside the collar.

The sales guy was firm, and I capitulated. Sickened by my own weak will, I suddenly remembered why I never go to car dealerships: If I went in for an oil filter I'd end up with a Corvette.

So my old jacket was casually tossed into the "friends and family" stack of exchanged goods, probably to go for free because of its shaggy appearance. I was relieved that they wouldn't throw it away. It's probably good for another decade or two of energetic abuse. My old jacket will still work fine for driving a log truck, hunting elk, or telling lies in fern bars. Probably a little too gamey to wear to a wedding or funeral, but otherwise okay.

As for me? I signed their slip, pulled off the $149.99 price tag (discounted now that that version of the Klondike is discontinued), and walked out sporting my new jacket, complete with a can of wax in the pocket.

Grand total cost to me: zero.

I'm betting this jacket will last even longer than the first one, given that I've slowed down some. Durability is valuable to me. I rarely buy new clothes, and I'm not driven by fashion. Nor am I tempted by "technical garments" that require three hands to actuate all their zippers, fasteners, pop-out accessories, and solar panels. Active wear needs to work without demanding my concentration, so that I can pay attention to what I'm doing.

There remain two clothiers that I patronize for pricey new gear. Both sew wares of time-honored design, on-site, using local labor, and they treat employees well and guarantee their gear to my satisfaction forever. One is Filson. The other is Langlitz Leathers in Portland. Both are expensive, both are absolutely worth it, and both companies were born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. They make me a little bit more proud to live here.

They also keep the rain off pretty damn well.


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