- Riverdale -All Your Favorite TV Boyfriends Wear The Same Jacket
Guys on television don’t wear their tortured hearts on their sleeves. Travel north just a bit, though, and you’ll find what you’re looking for in the furry collar of their coats. Let me explain: Pop culture has found a way to make "soft boy" literal, dressing TV boyfriend after TV boyfriend in a particular form of outerwear that's rough and working class on the outside, yet warm and fluffy on the inside — the sherpa jacket. And as sensitive male leads continue to dominate television on series like Riverdale or The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, the jacket itself has become even more pervasive. But while the trend may currently be on fire, it isn't new — it's been smoldering (much like the jacket's hosts) for decades.
No matter how different each series featuring the coat over the years might be, the sherpa jacket remains the same, as does the very specific personality of the person who wears it. After all, what better way to represent the duality of man than with the duality of fabric, right? Even cowboys get the chills, etc. The sherpa jacket guy is not rich. He's sensitive. He's more L.L. Bean than Tom Ford. And, on TV, he's everywhere. Once you spot Sherpa Boyfriends, you won’t be able to stop.
The '80s and '90s
One of the first Sherpa Boyfriends is a little on the nose: Wolverine, from the animated X-Men series from the '80s and '90s. This is significant for two reasons: 1) He’s literally a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and, 2) Wolverine is an aspirational protagonist for the Gen X and millennial storytellers working in Hollywood today. He was the one who taught us that the macho, outdoorsy characters we grew up with could have soft centers, too. Wolverine also represents the extreme and sometimes toxic side of the very specific type of masculinity exhibited by Sherpa Boyfriends — the tough jean, leather, or corduroy exterior hides what’s inside. (What's inside? Emotions. The wool lining is emotional availability. That’s what’s inside. I don’t need to go back to grad school to see that.)
Then comes Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto), the prototypical Sherpa Boyfriend, another notch in the ever-expanding belt that is My So-Called Life’s legacy. Wolverine leaped so Jordan could brood in the hallway. He was the platonic ideal of teenage love interests: empty and mysterious enough for girls to imprint whatever we wanted on him, frustrating enough to never quite be attainable and therefore always attractive. He couldn’t read, but still contained multitudes. Look at his fur-lined jacket! (His emotional side is in there, I swear, you just can’t see it because it’s the lining.) Viewers wanted him; subsequent TV boyfriends wanted to be him — and have his wardrobe.
Just see the successor of My So-Called Life's heartthrob, born a decade later: Friday Night Lights' Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), who is easiest described as a Jordan Catalano who plays football. Seriously, long hair and dyslexia and a sherpa jacket? The show basically tried to reincarnate him.
During the course of the 2000s, though, the trend itself showed significant emotional growth. Take the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain, starring two sad boys who wear an array of sherpa jackets. They’re practical for the type of work Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) are doing, but this movie is all about fleecy emotion lining the surface. They really are the ultimate Sherpa Boyfriends, if you think about it.
And there are more layers yet. Gilmore Girls’ Jess Mariano is a more intellectual Sherpa Boyfriend (though, if I must be perfectly honest, Jess is equally known for his leather jacket and both Lorelei and Rory also wear sherpa jackets on Gilmore. Still, he counts). In this particular case, I suspect the jacket signifies not only the soft underbelly of a sarcastic teenage boy, but a Los Angeles-based costume department trying to figure out what people wear in New England in… what do they call it? Winter. Still, Jess has endured so much as a character not just because of his relationship with Rory, but because he’s got those soft bad boy qualities. He’s a Jordan Catalano who reads Jack Kerouac.
And to close out the decade, Dan “Lonely Boy” Humphrey is introduced in the Gossip Girl pilot wearing a corduroy sherpa jacket that immediately sets him apart as an outsider in the glamorous world of the Upper East Side. Interestingly enough, as he gets sucked into that world... we never see him don a sherpa again.
Then came Jughead Jones and the present-day Sherpa Boyfriend revolution. The CW made the bold choice to adapt a canonically asexual character from the Archie comics as Betty’s love interest and a mysteriously sexy Jordan Catalano (again) type who leans against things and pushes people away.
The sherpa jackets that Jughead wears are as emblematic as his weird weirdo beanie. All of the sherpa boyf traits pioneered by the fictional characters that came before him reside in Jug. He’s (say it with me) rough on the outside, but soft on the inside. He’s from the other side of the tracks. He’s a little less emotionally repressed than the sherpa boyfriend forefathers because he’s learned to write things down and process on the page, yet he still struggles when it comes to relationships and intimacy.
Once Riverdale took off, imitation sherpa boyfriends started popping up everywhere — Stumptown, Stranger Things, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Harvey in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina probably bought his at the same thrift store as Jughead, since they take place in the same fictional universe. In the old '90s Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Harvey was more of a himbo boy-next-door type. But Chilling Adventures’ Harvey has an alcoholic father. He has to go work in the mines. He’s edgy, folks! Couldn’t you tell by his tender working man’s attire?
By now, The CW knows what it's doing. Michael Guerin on Roswell New Mexico, the bisexual alien bad boy, wears an embroidered sherpa instead of talking about his feelings. Even Supergirl’s take on Clark Kent wears a sherpa jacket when he’s in disguise. Love, Simon is a Greg Berlanti production and therefore CW-adjacent in my eyes — and what does its protagonist, a boy scared of letting people see who he is inside, wear? A friggin’ sherpa…
This is also the decade when sherpas began transcending genre. When it gets cold on The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes wears a sherpa. (Traditionally masculine? Check. Emotionally stunted? You got it.) Lee Scoresby on His Dark Materials has a similar type of sherpa. Heck, Jon Snow compartmentalizes his sad thoughts with a cape infamously made from an IKEA sheepskin rug.
And even when Paramount tried to do a Heathers TV show, infamous antihero JD was styled in a sherpa instead of the signature trench coat the character wears in the movie. It's a dark wash for a dark comedy. That's huge. Putting JD in a sherpa shows how much these jackets have eclipsed other types of outerwear in the TV zeitgeist.
Bomber jackets are no longer bomb. Leather jackets are lowkey basic. Varsity jackets give us Glee flashbacks. Members only? Member of what?! It’s a Sherpa Boyfriend world, and we’re just living in it.
Image: The CW