By Fok-Yan Leung

The chore coat in the chore room

One of my favorite pieces of all time is an indigo-dyed sashiko chore coat from a brand called Blue Blue Japan. I tend to be obsessive about specific types of garments, something that is not uncommon on Styleforum – I’ve seen picture of shoe collections that would be the envy of many medium-sized footwear stores - and since I purchased that first coat, I’ve acquired different versions of sashiko chore coats from different designers. But that initial coat from Blue Blue Japan, which is a few years old now, remains my favorite.

I wore sashiko for many years before I learned what it was called, because it’s also the thick, embroidered material used for jiujitsu uniforms - a sport with which I’ve long been involved. Gi uniforms worn for jiujitsu and judo are extraordinarily durable, made to be grabbed and pulled over years of use - mine had been intimate with many gym mats before I learned the name of the fabric. Transliterated from Japanese as “little stabs,” sashiko is, at heart, a simple technique; the use of a running stitching to create an embroidery pattern that reinforces garments and prolongs their useful life. The sashiko fabric used for jiujitsu and judo gis features dense lines of heavy embroidery thread sewn on sturdy cotton canvas, and in addition to being used for martial arts (kendo practitioners also wear sashiko uniforms), it is traditionally used by Japanese fishermen and for Japanese firemen’s uniforms.

It had never occurred to me that this cloth was anything special until I saw the Blue Blue Japan chore coat at Hickoree's in Brooklyn, a few winters ago. It was a slimmed-down version of the simple chore coats that are used for yardwork, with two patch pockets at the hip and one at the chest. I’d seen plenty of similarly-shaped jackets at tradeshows over the years – the shape being a staple of workwear-inspired brands as well as “real” workwear brands that you can find in any general store throughout the country. I’d always found them ho-hum until I saw the Blue Blue Japan version and realized what a frickin’ awesome idea it was to make a chore jacket (a shape that I’d passed over on racks many times) out of a material I associated only with sweaty martial arts dojos. I liked the combination - the commonplace shape and (to me) commonplace material were combined in a way that produced a very special piece of clothing. There is a tendency, when you see as many garments as I do, to become bored and jaded, and good design brings you back to life; gives ordinary items a sense of discovery that is easily lost with familiarity.

The Blue Blue Japan version uses thick but soft sashiko cloth, the same weight as the stuff used in my gi. Many other sashiko jackets are made of a much lighter material that, while superficially the same, does not have the same heft and sturdiness that I’ve come to appreciate during long hours of work at the gym or outside. While other versions sometimes have nice, neat taping along the seams, the Blue Blue Japan version is trimmed in the same thick cotton twill that is used in my jiujitsu uniform, which means that the jacket that can really be put through the ringer. It’s nice to know that my chore jacket can (and is) regularly used to do chores.

The jacket is dyed in indigo, the traditional dye for sashiko cloth. Because the dye doesn’t deeply penetrate the surface of the woven threads, the color will fade quickly, particularly in areas of stress and abrasion, and the owner of a jacket like this will be left with an indelible and honest account of how the garment was and continues to be worn. For me, this gives a garment heart. It’s not a lifeless mass that hangs off a mannequin, nor is it something otherworldly and intangible that exists only in the glow of you pinterest feed (sashiko is really popular on pinterest). Clothing grows and changes, and ultimately, gets old. That’s just an invitation to wear the crap out of it - which, once you get your hands on a sashiko piece that you love, is what you will want to do anyway.

P.S. I just found out that you can buy this season’s version at Unionmade in San Francisco or at La Garconne, and do the same.