Eleven years ago, film bro culture was forever changed with the release of Nicolas Winding Refn’s (“The Neon Demon”) “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) and Carey Mulligan (“The Great Gatsby”). Gosling’s character, known as “Driver” — he’s simply too cool to have a name — is a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. His quiet disposition and proclivity for long, brooding stares prove his ineffable coolness, and he says just 116 lines in the film’s 100-minute runtime.
But the coolest thing about Driver isn’t his tranquility in the face of violent crime, nor is it his brooding tendencies — it’s his jacket.
Words cannot describe the grip Driver’s white satin bomber jacket with a flippable collar and golden embroidered scorpion on the back had on film bros everywhere after the film’s release. GQ recognizes it as a career-defining look for Gosling. Vogue recently published a deep dive investigating the jacket’s inspiration and creation. Know Your Meme records a whole slew of memes that resulted from the look, many of which continue to flourish today. The memes do not refer to the jacket itself but rather how it was co-opted by the online “Sigma Male” community, who saw the jacket as a reflection of themselves as “equal to Alpha (men) on the hierarchy but living outside the hierarchy by choice.”
My predominant fashion philosophy is simple: Wear what you want. But who am I kidding, the jacket from “Drive” is not suited for someone whose life includes no risks greater than taking an unprotected left on the way to the grocery store. This might sound harsh, but by recognizing these men’s flawed identification with the jacket, I speak to an issue larger than fashion.
In our clothes and the way we present ourselves, we imbue our identities: who we believe we are and how we hope others perceive us. When Sigma Males and film bros alike ooh and ahh at this jacket, even buying replicas for themselves at times, the jacket’s draw is more than the stitching; they idolize what this jacket — worn by a Hollywood heartthrob playing a character with a gangster’s swagger — represents. The jacket is a touchpoint for their idealized version of masculinity. What they fail to realize is that, just like Driver himself, the jacket is not as cool off the screen.
Driver embodies a common daydream — what would it be like to be mysterious and brooding? We’ve all had days when we hoped to remain mysterious and aloof but ruined it by inevitably sharing our thoughts and feelings with all the uncoolness of a regular person. Yet where we might fail, Driver succeeds, and his allure to male audiences goes beyond his charismatic silence. Despite saying little, he is exceptional at physical, traditionally masculine activities like driving and fighting, all while wearing his iconic jacket. What he can’t express with words, he speaks through action. Driver spends much of the film concerned with protecting his love interest Irene and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos, debut) from the scorned career criminals who are after them. As Driver stomps the face of a would-be attacker in an elevator scene with Irene, we see the scorpion on the back of his jacket interlaced between brutal shots of the attacker’s face becoming unrecognizable beneath Driver’s shoes. Ultimately, Driver’s appeal lies in his status as a protector, and his jacket is ever-present in these scenes, cementing the jacket’s iconography with the protector archetype. Big surprise: The masculine idol is strong and protective.
What we don’t talk about enough is that, despite the allure of maintaining mystery and strength, it betrays a lonely existence. Violence isn’t a compelling love language, even if it’s in the name of protection. Driver might be there for Irene in dire, life-or-death situations, but how would he be there for her after she has a tough day at work, or when she has a problem that requires a multi-sentence response? It’s borderline comical to see Irene fall for Driver despite his inability to speak more than a few words to her at a time. I’m sure I’d also find it charming to have my life saved by someone who looks like Ryan Gosling, but at the end of the day, Driver is a one trick pony. A one trick pony in a dope-ass jacket.
To the men out there who put Driver and his jacket on a pedestal, be free. Tell people how you feel, ask people how their days are, speak more than an average of 7.68 words per sentence, who cares. My intention is not to echo the hundreds of memes out there that mock not-very-cool dudes for wearing a jacket prescribed to a cool dude. My intention is to convey that maybe he’s not so cool after all, and despite the jacket’s chic exterior, its connection to hollow masculine ideals is enough to abandon your cart before hitting purchase.
Senior Arts Editor Sarah Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.