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All of the Jackets You Need for Summer in San Francisco

How to dress for the most confusing weather in the country.

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I like to be prepared. Maybe it’s because uncertainty makes me anxious in a way that even a crisis does not. A crisis I can perhaps prepare for, or even expect — and when a crisis occurs, there’s nothing to do but deal with it. Uncertainty, the simple not knowing, drives me mad.

So of course I moved to the Bay Area, which objectively has the most confusing weather in the entire country. It’s not that the Bay Area’s weather is more unpredictable; it’s just that changes of even the smallest degree (pun intended) are deeply felt and immediately noticeable.

When I lived in New York, there were a few weather permutations I could rely on, based on season. In the summer, the only option is to wear as little as possible outside but also wear seven layers of cardigans inside in the extremely high air conditioning until you can escape the city for the weekend.

An illustration of jackets

In Los Angeles, the weather was incredibly reliable except for the few days it wasn’t. Any East Coaster who’s experienced rain in LA has rolled their eyes at the alarm experienced by Southern California residents at water falling from the sky. But even then, you were likely to be in a car anyway — as long as you had an umbrella and water-repellent shoes, you were fine.

But damnit, the Bay Area is something else. 30 Rock’s Jenna Maroney once summed up the weather thusly while taunting a career opportunist: “Poor baby. Can't hack it in the big city? Gonna move to the Bay Area now, pretend that that was your dream the whole time? Have fun always carrying a light sweater.”

An illustration of fleece jackets

When it comes to clothes and accessories, I’m incredibly exacting. And even though I used to be satisfied with one reliable winter coat and one lighter coat for breezier spring and summer days, the Bay’s weather fluctuates throughout the week — hell, the day! — in such particular ways that one jacket simply can’t cut it.

I suppose one possible solution would be to buy a fleece from some place like North Face or Patagonia; water-resistant, wind-resistant, and style-resistant. Yes, there’s always a fleece — there are fleeces everywhere.

But I refuse to go down this path. In fact, I didn’t even consider it. Instead, in my first month or so living in San Francisco, I began hoarding spring-weight jackets. But spring seems to last only moments in New York, so it took me a while to build up an arsenal of appropriate outerwear.

The Denim Jacket

I don’t know when exactly I started covering this Ann Taylor denim jacket with pins and patches, but my guess is it was probably early last year, after a trip with a friend where we drove from LA (where I was still living) up to the Bay.

An illustration of a denim jacket

Before we headed back we stopped by Community Thrift Store, and I ended up trawling through a box of pins for whatever appealed to me. I got this jacket a few months before on sale, but it didn’t really become mine until I started sticking pins and slapping patches on it. Considering it was in fashion this time last year, it seemed like a natural fit.

It’s perfect for a day with a light breeze, or whenever you end up wearing a dress without pockets — this jacket has six of them. The real bonus, though, is people always thinking I’m a Bay Area native when I walk out wearing it.

The (Faux) Fur-Lined Jacket

I bought this coat one day in early December, when I was visiting San Francisco before I became a resident. I walked into a Goodwill, shivering from the chill; I still hadn’t gotten it through my head that it could be cold in California in the winter.

An illustration of a fur coat

This style of coat is perfect for that kind of cold that can crawl under your skin if you’re not careful — not quite the frostiness of the East Coast, but still mean enough to nip. Plus, the faux-fur on mine is sparkly, just like the sidewalks of the Mission where I bought it.

The Raincoat

It finally started raining in the Bay — real, heavy, anguished rain that went from mild to medium to torrid in a matter of moments. I already had a Calvin Klein raincoat from the East Coast summer, but even with a hood it was no match for the wind that turned the rain sideways.

So I picked up a giant violet raincoat from a vintage store in Rockridge. It doesn’t have a hood, but it fits well and covers my legs, which means no more soaked jeans (and sweaters and socks and so on)! It’s perfect paired with a cheap, $3 umbrella. If you’re moving to SF, add one of these to your closet.

An illustration of a pink fluffy coat

The Fluffy Pink Coat

This is an oldie but a goodie from LA, where this coat kept me warm on the kind of chilly nights out that ended covered in dance sweats. I have yet to wear it this season because I just haven’t had one of those nights out yet in the Bay. But as the jacket implies, I’m more than ready for one.

The Leather Jacket

I’ve never been one for leather jackets. I know! But the trendy ones never seem to fit over my broad shoulders or nip in properly at my waist, and they always seem too expensive to ever be worth it. But in a downtown Oakland vintage store, I found two for under $50 each.

One of them is perfect for throwing over cardigans, which keep me cozy while the leather keeps the wind from fighting against me. The other is heavy and sharp enough to throw over a cute dress, but interesting enough to work on its own when going out.

An illustration of a white jean jacket

The Super Soft White Jacket

This one’s just nice to throw over outfits that are too busy for the denim jacket, or too complete for a cardigan. Kind of feels like I’m wearing a blanket. Invest in something like this.

The Quilted Puffer

Before I bought the faux-fur lined jacket, I bought this one, which is covered in tiny white stars. It’s for those days when it’s not windy enough to warrant a leather jacket, not chilly enough for the faux-fur lined jacket, not dreary enough for a raincoat, and not mild enough for the denim jacket. You know, for when it’s just a little cold.

The Trench

Unlike the leather jacket, I’ve always been a fan of the trench. With the right sunglasses, it makes me feel like a 1960s spy. This is great for when I’m wearing an outfit that already works on its own (so I don’t need a cardigan) (if you couldn’t tell, I’m a bit of a cardigan queen), but I don’t trust the weather conditions enough to go without any cover-up.

An illustration of a quilted puffer jacket

I mean, I never trust the weather conditions in the Bay Area, but the length and ease of this trench — which doesn’t have buttons, but ties at the waist — makes me feel extra protected for that wind that always seems to pick up after one of those fancy, bare-legged dinners out.

The Wool Coat

Just. In. Case.

Of course, these past few weekends it’s been in the 70s. I complained about it recently to a friend who’s a Bay Area native — I bought all these jackets! I made all these rules! I finally got the hang of things around here! — who said coolly: “Enjoy it while it lasts. Summer is here.”