At Least Three Sizes Too Large - On Dean and John's Old Leather Jacket
I know I’ve been writing about this topic a handful of times before, but it simply remains a topic I am interested in and that happens to cause a tidal wave of emotions every single time as - whether consciously chosen by the creator of “Supernatural” at the time or not - this piece of clothing serves as such a fitting symbol and metaphor for Dean’s life from age 4 onwards. So what am I talking about - I guess the title of this post gave it away, didn’t it? ;) But yes, it’s John’s old leather jacket. The huge, beat up, faded, bulky leather jacket that Dean used to wear up until S5.
Now this may be a very unpopular opinion, but I always despised that jacket. And for more reasons than the obvious: that it didn’t fit Dean at all. Though that aspect is a vital and integral part of why this clothing item serves as such a massive symbol for a multitude of things connected to Dean’s story and his place in the narrative as well.
Because you see, the first thing that catches ones attention when looking at Dean in the early seasons when wearing that jacket is that it simply looks at least three sizes too big for Dean. The shoulders of the jacket don’t sit on Dean’s shoulders, it reaches far below his hips and just overall it looks as if Dean’s getting swallowed in all the material. Essentially that jacket not only makes Dean disappear almost, he looks lost in it. And he does so for good reason. His father was taller, had broader shoulders, was a very different built than Dean, he filled out that jacket. None of that can be said about Dean when looking at S1 for example where the fact that this jacket was not meant for Dean or rather that Dean didn’t buy it himself (unlike the purgatory jacket, but more on that later) is most striking.
Now the following is total headcanon, but I like to think that John passed down the jacket to Dean as a form of “recognition” or “act of pride” (I can’t quite find the right for word in English), basically a gift for Dean doing a great job with something, something like a sign that for Dean was connected with being valued, accepted and “a man” maybe to say it very broadly. Essentially I think to Dean that moment of receiving that jacket may have fallen together with a moment of pride and a sign of “love” and “attention” and “recognition” from his father that he craved.
Keeping this headcanon in mind, Dean wearing that old jacket, turns tragic rather fast - but then again, that may be just me as I am simply someone tending to focus on the drama/tragedy/more serious aspects of the narrative. Because while the jacket may have been meant as an honest gift out of the wish to show pride to his son, in the end to me this jacket symbolizes and highlights in such intricate fashion that Dean from the age 4 - and as he verbalized latest in 12x22 “Who We Are” - had to be so much more than any kid should ever have to be.
Because the way I see it, the fact that Dean is swallowed by that jacket and disappears in it almost is so telling and fitting to how Dean was forced to fill a role and walking in shoes two sizes too big - or rather a leather jacket at least three sizes too large - that he never could have. Yes that jacket to me symbolizes and captures the much too big responsibilty that was placed on Dean’s shoulder when he was a kid and was asked to serve as mom, dad and brother when he wasn’t even double digits - something any person would be overwhelmed by at any age but especially so when you are a child yourself.
So yeah, the fact that the jacket literally didn’t fit Dean and was passed down to him by his father (which is headcanon yes but bear with me) can be read as a direct pass down of “role” as well, a role not meant for Dean to play and fill, but that he tried to take up anyway, because that’s what Dean did and what he still does (though not as much as he used to, now it’s more that people try and manipulate him back into being what they want him to be because it’s easier for them, see Dean’s treatment by his loved ones such as Mary over the course of S12): trying his best no matter the circumstance and how unfair for him.
So the sheer size, the fact that Dean couldn’t fill his father’s jacket captures all of the above perfectly imo, furthermore however the fact that Dean practically swims in that jacket, as I said - seems to disappear in it - also describes rather disturbingly what happened to Dean after his mom died and his grieving father was unable to provide the love and nurture a growing kid like Dean after such a traumatic loss would have needed: Because with Mary’s death and what was asked of Dean and of what he needed to be and become, Dean the child (“Hunters are never kids, I never was”), Dean himself, the person he truly is or would have grown to become without the tragedy that followed his family ever since he was born, disappeared, was swallowed up and hidden like Dean’s body was swallowed by John’s jacket.
I know many people mourn the departure of that jacket (I actually secretly thank the person who stole it from set lol), but to me it couldn’t come soon enough. Because even though Dean is no longer wearing that jacket, it’s ghost still lingers on - even as far as into S12.
It’s also noteworthy how Dean used that leather jacket aside from simply wearing it - which was as a blanket. To me it almost carries a notion of “armor” in that regard, something like a “safety blanket” - which is especially an interesting aspect to ponder when keeping in mind that we see Dean sleeping fully clothed after Hell (the implications and conclusions drawn from that aspect alone are freaking devastating, I tell you) and often times using the jacket as his blanket. One may analyze that as a wish for (fatherly) protection that Dean didn’t receive and I won’t even go into how this whole topic gets all the more complex when taking into account how Dean later learns that his father did not break, when Dean did and what that does to Dean’s psyche and already more than fragile sense of self and self worth.
Tbh I actually was happy when Dean packed up John’s jacket when he decided to say yes to Michael (though you can draw a hell of a lot of very sad conclusions here too about how Dean sees himself and how important he deems himself opposed to his father or Sam), as one could have read it as him rejecting a persona and role he was forced to fill - BUT the reason why and how it happens is so tragic because essentially saying yes accounts to suicide for Dean, meaning he gives up playing his father’s role to literally give up his body to an archangel and giving up himself completely. There is nothing not absolutely tragic and sad and enraging about this, because Dean gives himself up again and again within SPN (that’s why he’s the true christ figure and will always be). Needless to say the jacket is right back in 5x22 “Swan Song” (if I remember correctly, I can’t check as I’m siting on the train - if he isn’t wearing the jacket there just scratch all of this paragraph) when he goes and tries to get through to Sam and protects his brother and stands with him, tries to keep him safe right until the end - the one thing both of his parents always failed at: keeping Sam and Dean safe. And once more in that moment as the whole episode with Chuck’s monologue fro the off and the story of the Impala replays the Winchesters’ story alongside the Impala’s and engraved into that is also the story of Dean, a young boy, who tried to be mother and father when all he should have had to be was himself, because just that, being Dean would have been more than enough.
So yeah, I was happy when that jacket was gone, even if Dean wasn’t freed and still isn’t from it’s symbolic power. That is why I loved it so much to see the next leather jacket he wore after he abandoned his father’s (even if maybe only because it was lost BTS) was in S7. You know, that gorgeous reddish-brown one that sadly didn’t survive purgatory (and even that you could analyze outside of the fact that the creators didn’t like the look of it on screen - idiots they are - with Dean being stripped off everything in purgatory). But the fact remains: Dean at some point during S7 went out to buy himself a leather jacket, a conscious decision. A leather jacket just for him. A leather jacket that fit. That he wasn’t swallowed by but that he owned, a leather jacket that highlighted just one simple thing: that it was Dean’s. Because being Dean is all Dean should ever have had to be.