Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Needs Another Coat

Call me the Goldilocks of outerwear. I’ve got eight coats in my closet, none of them just right.

I trace my obsession with this particular garment back to the sixth grade, when Starr Elementary shipped our entire class of hard core suburbanites off to the wilds of Michigan for one of those week-long back-to-nature experiences. In February.

The bus dumped us off at Camp Storer and after a quick orientation, we set off for our cabins. The boys’ were located just outside the main activity center and dining hall; the girls had a mile hike through the snow and woods. We were floored. Lisa Perry and Jamie McNeal had combined their packing efforts and were sharing the sort of steamer trunk that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Titanic. Camp Storer did not provide porters.

But at least these classmates were prepared, sartorially speaking, with their snowsuits and ski boots, purchased expressly for the occasion. I had on my everyday brown plaid wool coat, with faux fur trim on the cuffs and hood—it wasn’t waterproof and neither were my corduroys. My vinyl boots lacked both tread and lining, suitable for walking a few blocks on shoveled sidewalks, completely insufficient for tramping through a winter wonderland. I would be wet. I would be cold. I would be wet and cold.

It was a long week.

Like so many childhood memories, this one sticks in my craw in a Scarlett O’Hara with-God-as-my-witness-I-will-never-be-caught-without-Goretex-again kind of way. Yet the ghost of the brown plaid continues to haunt me as each successive outerwear purchase proves ever-so-slightly flawed, not quite up to the task at hand.

  • Too flimsy: Banana Republic black wool overcoat. The fabric suggests winter. The wafer thin lining says otherwise. Completely useless when the mercury dips below 50 degrees, which describes Chicago from October to June. Would work best in spring if it weren’t, well, black and wool. Mostly it just hangs around the closet, giving its heftier counterparts a complex about their body image.

  • Too hefty: Eddie Bauer black polar parka, goosedown filling, hood with lamb’s fur “ruff.” My favorite line from “It’s a Wonderful Life” comes courtesy of Violet and goes something like, “This old thing? Why I only wear it when I don’t care how I look.” I believe she was modeling this coat. I trot it out whenever temps go sub-zero, adding bulk to my frame like Barry Bonds after a summer of “weight lifting.” I am consoled solely by the knowledge that no one I know could possibly ID me through the ginormous hood. The “ruff” comes with its own comb, by the way. I reach into the coat pocket and think I’ve found my keys, loose change or missing CTA fare card. It is always the comb.

  • Too dressy: Gap cotton trench coat in robin’s egg blue. The color is Audrey Hepburn gorgeous. Alas, I am more likely to be found browsing for deals at Costco than breakfasting at Tiffany’s.

  • Too frumpy: Old Navy quilted cotton barn jacket, chocolate brown with corduroy accent on collar and pockets. Fits like a paper sack. Somehow manages to be too casual yet not quite casual enough—equally ill at ease going out to dinner or taking a walk in the park.

  • Too short: Gap wool pea coat, charcoal gray. Doesn’t even cover my butt. Fashionistas may extol the merits of tiny cropped winter jackets. I can only imagine that beautiful people or, at minimum, the designer-clothed do not experience cold the same as the rest of us. How lovely for them.

  • Too long: Jones of New Work, gray wool overcoat. I think this one technically qualifies as a burkha. I’ll admit, the full-body coverage is mighty toasty on the coldest of days and the ankle-length splashguard is killer whenever the forecast calls for precipitation. (My particular form of ambulation causes me to kick up spray onto my slacks like a semi-truck on a rainy highway.) But this coat is at least two sizes too large, as if Nicole Richie happened upon Kirstie Alley’s wardrobe. I hang onto it simply because if I’m ever homeless, it will make a kick-ass mattress.

  • Too derivative: Gap down parka, silver-grey, with hood. Polar parka puffy + pea coat short + barn jacket ugly = one woeful garment.

  • Too frustratingly close to perfection: Kenneth Cole black down coat with geometric quilted pattern. The warmth of down with none of the bulk. Hits below the calf. Plays well with others, be it a pair of jeans or boots and a skirt. But just misses the mark. It doesn’t have a hood but instead boasts a double collar that when fully zipped forms a sort of turtleneck. I never, never, never wear turtlenecks. They swallow up my pinhead. For the same reason, I can’t wear hats. I find what I think is the smallest adult-sized chapeau ever manufactured. I place it on my head. It droops halfway down my nose. Hence the importance of hoods.

I continue my pursuit of the One Coat to Rule Them All. My friend Aleks has this North Face black parka with hood….


Blogger jonesybot said...

I have at least eight winter coats. I hate winter but do enjoy winter accessories; They are kind of like a consolation prize. So I will not apologize for my overindulgence in coats, the get us through this horrible season known as winter. That is SUPPOSED to be OVER, by the way.

8:33 AM


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