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Key Acquisition: An athletic quarter zip

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Meet my closet’s most adaptable article of clothing, which can be worn with anything (or nothing) at any time.

Mark Wahlberg in a quarter zip
The author.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

I do not know exactly when I bought my athletic quarter zip. That wondrous garment first appears in my camera roll on April 25, 2015. This was near the end of my junior year of college, and the AQZ was fulfilling the role it has since carried out for me hundreds? thousands? of times. My AQZ was doing whatever I needed it to do in that moment.

It was covering up a button-down shirt, which narrowly peeked out to let everyone around me know I was dressed up a little bit. But the quarter zip provided me with optimal warmth and, critically, sent a message to everyone around me that I was both a little bit formal and a little bit sporty. In that moment, I could have achieved anything, so long as “anything” falls on a spectrum between drinking in a mildly nice bar and playing nine holes.

If it’s true that your best friends are the ones who stay closest to you at all times and never let you down, then it is impossible for me to have made a better friend in college than my AQZ. My quarter zip is kind of like my family’s dog, because I don’t know exactly when it was born or where (it doesn’t have a tag, and the little writing on the inside of the fabric has worn down); I know I will outlive it by a wide margin; I find it very comforting, and I am attached to it. Its versatility means I am often literally attached to it.

When I go skiing in the winter, my AQZ comes with me. It sits comfortably underneath my winter jacket, a perfect cover when I shed the jacket while eating a chicken tender basket in the lodge. This is the only thing you should eat while doing snowsports.

When I spent a beachy week in Hilton Head one March, my daily uniform was my quarter zip, a pair of basketball shorts, Nike slides, and a gin and tonic. I had all of these things on my person at all times. Without any one of these things, I would have lost equilibrium.

One thing I did not have on my person: a shirt under the quarter zip. Why wear what you don’t need? When I interrupted my vacation for a video conference with my colleagues and the CEO of our company (my first meeting in a long time with the big boss), I simply zipped up a little higher. He will never know until he happens upon this post.

When I go running in anything less than 65-degree weather, my quarter zip runs with me. If it’s freezing cold, I wear an Under Armour kind of thing underneath. If it’s warm, I wear nothing underneath, nobody is any the wiser, and my ventilation is perfect.

When I play golf in the summers, the quarter zip joins me for a spin around the course. I’m most certainly rolling around in a cart, not walking, so it doesn’t overheat me in any kind of unpleasant way, even if I’m playing somewhere swampy and the humidity is 91%. Gotta keep those muscles hot! The same applies when the quarter zip comes along for an afternoon of putting up jumpers in an empty gym, or for a quick trip through the weight room.

When fall comes around, my quarter zip knows its time has truly come. It will play a pivotal role when it is time to rake leaves on a low-50s day at my parents’ house in Pittsburgh. It will be positively vital when I have to give up outdoor grilling and cook meat on the stovetop, where boiling olive oil flies upward and needs to be blocked from landing on my bare arm. My quarter zip is navy, which hides the oil well until laundry time.

And when I need something to wear over a dress shirt on a chilly day, when I think someone important might look at me and demand BUSINESS CLOTHING, but I don’t want to sweat through a winter jacket? The quarter zip hangs in wait.

The latter months lend themselves to long drives for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other family gatherings. The quarter zip is a tremendous regulator on extended trips in rental cars. I think I’ll know how to adjust the heat in an unfamiliar vehicle without cooking myself or letting the windshield fog up, but I will not. The car will therefore be cooler than I prefer, and my quarter zip will protect me. When it’s time to emerge from the car, I can easily slide a down jacket right over it.

When Christmas Day comes around, I’m off to a movie theater to watch some big release. You know what’s inevitably, ever so slightly chilly? Movie theaters. The quarter zip saves me again, and because it is an athletic quarter zip, it does not constrain me as I kick my feet up, put an arm around my significant other, or reposition my body in any way I please.

The College Football Playoff (an event we’ll probably see again one day) is a few days later. As if I’m going to blog about hours and hours of football games while I’m not wearing something comfortable. My quarter zip is there again, allowing tremendous breathability and keeping my arms warm so my fingers aren’t distracted when it’s time to nimbly type out a tweet and send it into the ether.

Maybe you feel like you have enough money to buy different clothes for different circumstances. Why would I lean on one garment in so many situations, you might ask, when I could clearly afford different weights of outerwear? The answer is simple. My job takes me all over the place, and my life is busier now than it’s ever been. In these challenging times, it’s easy to lose yourself and feel untethered to anything. But when I wear my athletic quarter zip, no matter where I am on the map, I know I am home.