From Sarah Jessica Parker’s monogrammed Burberry poncho to Norma Kamali’s Sleeping Bag Coat, fashion has long embraced blanket-inspired styles. During a time when most socializing takes place outdoors, would you wear one outside the house?
Blankets, a symbol of coziness and warmth usually relegated to the indoors, can also be a great piece to layer for fall and winter outfits. Though temperatures are just starting to drop in New York City, WSJ. staffers have spotted a few in the wild—mostly while outdoor dining, which New York City recently extended permanently. (It was originally set to expire ahead of the winter months, on October 31.) For the first time in recent history, the preferred environment for socializing has become “anywhere outside.” And during a pandemic and period of worldwide unrest, most people are seeking comfort more than ever. As a replacement for the timeworn going-out top—obviously better suited to the indoors—the going-out blanket suddenly makes sense.
Over the years, blankets have inspired fashion, from the upscale Burberry blanket poncho that Sarah Jessica Parker wore in 2014, personalized with her initials, to Norma Kamali’s famous blanket-adjacent Sleeping Bag Coat, which she first designed in 1973. In 2012, Lenny Kravitz went viral after being photographed by paparazzi while ensconced in an enormous scarf on his way to buy groceries. Six years later, he defended the accessory on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “But Lenny,” Fallon said, “this is not a scarf. This is a blanket.”
While companies like Pendleton and Hudson’s Bay that are known for their blankets produce coats reminiscent of their bedcover designs, fashion brands like Hermès, Loewe and The Elder Statesman all sell blankets themselves.
A blanket as a top layer isn’t a new idea to Emily Bode, the founder and designer of menswear label Bode, who always keeps multiple blankets in her car just in case. She says New Yorkers are adjusting to a different way of dining. “It’s maybe akin to when you travel to Europe,” she says. “You’re more prepared to be outside, not just in and out of a car or a subway.” Bode, 31, launched her company in 2016 with one-of-a-kind pieces made out of antique quilts and textiles that continue to be a signature of the brand today. She says that a number of people have reached out to purchase quilts; she has more of the vintage wool blankets she covers in patches from the 20th century coming out in the next few months. “We’re in such a place where you want to have your own objects of comfort,” she says.
Blankets have always been at the heart of the knitwear brand The Elder Statesman. Founder Greg Chait started the company in 2007 with a series of cashmere blankets, and now sells a full range of clothing for men, women and children, as well as accessories and home goods. Chait thinks carrying some sort of blanket for outings is a good idea. In fact, The Elder Statesman has had a blanket scarf in its collection for years for that very purpose. “Very handy,” he said in an email. Like Bode, he’s a fan of the car blanket and also keeps his brand’s socks and sweaters with him on the go.
A number of restaurants in New York City are starting to provide blankets to their customers, too, especially as they wait on additional outdoor heating regulations to be announced by the city. Some restaurants are offering blankets to borrow and wear for the duration of the meal. Others see them as an opportunity to sell merchandise. At the Four Horsemen in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, customers can buy a fleece blanket embroidered with a modified version of the restaurant and wine bar’s logo—four ghosts, as well as the horse they’re riding on, all wearing masks—for $25. “It’s sort of a souvenir of these wild times and supporting small business in New York,” says Amanda Spina, the restaurant’s general manager.
In the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, the bistro Oxalis has branded its large outdoor courtyard as a pop-up restaurant called Place des Fêtes. There, they’re offering blankets to guests free of charge, in a borrowing program with a cleaning company that sanitizes them after every use. And in Nolita, the restaurant Wayan currently has blankets for guests to borrow that owner and chef Cédric Vongerichten describes as “generic,” but says they’re looking into buying something with more style, tied to the restaurant’s Indonesian roots. Managers at both restaurants aren’t worried about their blankets becoming the new restaurant pen or ashtray, something that guests might surreptitiously take home with them as a souvenir. “I really can’t see anyone trying to make it harder for restaurants [right now],” says Steve Wong, the director of operations at Oxalis.
In SoHo, the French restaurant La Mercerie is situated inside the home store Roman and Williams Guild—so it’s the rare restaurant where diners have always been able to buy blankets. Its founders, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, are the duo behind Roman and Williams, the studio that’s designed spaces for Facebook, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Standefer says the blankets the Guild stocks were too big to make sense for outdoor dining. Instead, she’s worked on two versions of an outdoor dining blanket to sell guests. One is in collaboration with designer and textile producer Alicia Adams, who makes alpaca blankets and goods in Millbrook, New York, in the restaurant’s signature blue, retailing for $295. The other is made from recycled polyester and will sell for $18. (Standefer hopes to offer Adams’s alpaca handwarmers to guests soon, too.) Part of the sales from both blankets will be donated to José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, which benefits the hungry during the coronavirus pandemic. “I would love to continue this [blanket program] for a long time,” says Standefer, who says she’d consider wearing a blanket out at another restaurant.
For those who might be wary of a blanket’s bulkiness—or bringing their indoor things outdoors during a pandemic—there are other ways to embrace the trend. Designer Lauren Manoogian, who’s known for her soft ready-to-wear designs made in fabrics like cashmere and alpaca, says she would wear a blanket, large scarf or wrap coat to stay warm outside of the house (all of which she sells on her website). “A full blanket might be hard for people to imagine,” she said via email. “But we make a lot of scarves in different weights that are large enough to cover your body when you’re sitting [without feeling] like you brought the couch or bed with you. Although I kind of think that’s a cool look too.”
Cozy offerings from fashion brands and restaurants for keeping warm as temperatures start to drop.
Lauren Manoogian handwoven blanket, $690, laurenmanoogian.com
La Mercerie baby alpaca blanket by Alicia Adams, $295, similar available at rwguild.com
Bode multi-patch wool blanket (pictured on model’s bag), $1,860, bodenewyork.com
The Four Horsemen blanket, $25, nextdoorspacebk.com
The Elder Statesman cashmere blanket, $3,475, elder-statesman.com
Tekla wool blanket, about $187, teklafabrics.com
Pendleton blanket, $269 (twin size), pendleton-usa.com