A Guest Post by the Spouse
I get no kick from sports cars.
Riding at all in a car that’s too small, well,
Neither do I much like boats.
But I get a kick out of … COATS.
With apologies to Mr. Porter, it has recently crossed my mind that during my lifetime I have coveted neither diamonds nor fancy cars, but have always loved coats (well, and dinnerware — dishes and glassware and cutlery — but that’s for another day).
My first “necessary” coat was in graduate school. It was Chicago, after all, and one needs a warm coat in Chicago, but warmth was only a secondary consideration. In the late 60’s, surplus army/navy stores were all the rage (at least for poor graduate students), and I desperately “needed” a Navy pea coat. It was a navy blue (duh), double-breasted, heavy wool jacket with broad lapels and large buttons with a navy anchor etched into them. You can buy one today at L.L. Bean for $279. Mine cost around $15. I also had to have the pants to go with. They were navy blue (duh), heavy wool trousers with wide bell bottoms and, instead of a zipper fly, the classic rectangular array of navy buttons. The pants probably cost $10. It was a smashing outfit, if I do say so myself. I must have had a hat, but who cared about hats?!?
I married, moved to New York, and got a job as a secretary at a publishing house on 59th Street off Lexington Avenue. My husband was in graduate school and I was a secretary. We were lucky to make the rent. My coat at the time was a navy blue (duh), nondescript cloth coat (think Pat Nixon) – longer than the pea coat, but lined and warm enough. I had that coat for a long time…long enough that the polyester lining started to fray. New coat? No way. New lining? Okay. And so it lasted until the cloth itself started to fray.
Sometime during those years I also acquired a beautiful springtime coat. I bought it in a thrift shop in San Rafael, California, when visiting my sister. Long, flowing, sky-blue (duh) light wool, with no buttons, zippers or belts. Very stylish.
Back in New York and on my way to work every day I would come up the stairs of the Lexington Ave. subway to be met by the windows at Bloomingdale’s (“like no other store in the world,” they said). I was making $135/week, so Bloomingdale’s was not exactly within my budget.
But, of course, I wanted a new coat from Bloomingdale’s.
When my husband started a paying job and the rent was no longer at issue, it was time for me to get a new coat…at Bloomingdale’s. This was perhaps the most generous gift my husband ever gave me: a long black wool coat with the most luxurious gray fox collar ever to be had on earth. The coat cost $200! It was mine, and I looked smashing in it, if I do say so myself. The hat was a $9 black beret. That Christmas I got black leather gloves. I never loved any other coat as much as I loved that coat.
But I had always really in my heart of hearts wanted a fur coat – a mink coat – not a mink jacket — a mink coat. My husband thought me shallow for wanting such a status symbol, but I couldn’t help it. So, when, after six years of graduate school and another six as a post-doctoral fellow, I finally got a paying job as an assistant professor, I went hunting for a mink coat with my husband’s reluctant acceptance of my deep superficiality. What I learned is that there are mink coats and mink coats. There are mink coats that cost $1000 and there are mink coats that cost $15,000, and the latter are, in fact, nicer than the former. During my search, I became secretly disappointed that I was not going to be able to buy one of those really gorgeous mink coats, but I bought one that I could afford, and thought it wonderful. It was, indeed, a lovely, classic brown coat (matched my hair) with shoulder pads (stylish at the time), and I looked smashing in it, if I do say so myself.
Mink coats were not for everyday going to work, so I moved on to other coats: one was down-filled with a beautiful fox collar, and when down-filled coats went (briefly) out of style, a blond wool one with the most gorgeous fox collar ever to be had on earth, and yes, I looked smashing in them, if I do say so myself.
After some years, fur became de trop and shoulder pads went out of style, so I had the mink coat re-styled. Since its restyling some twenty years ago, I think I’ve worn it once.
Somewhere along the way, my enthusiasm for coats faded. Maybe it was the disappointment in the restyling of my mink, or perhaps it was after the moths decimated my sky-blue spring coat and my blond wool one, too. As I became more matronly, my desire for pizzazz seemed to be replaced by a need for functional comfort. My go-to coat became an all-weather coat from Land’s End with a hood. Boring, but functional.
But then…two years ago my daughter found – yes, found! – the most amazing jacket. It’s designed for a man, but uni-gender is all the rage, and who cares anyway? Salt and pepper wool with features — wonderful features: a zippered pocket on its front, a zip-in lining with a zippered front giving it a kind of internal vest. She wanted it for herself, but it’s slightly too big for her, and my lovely child has ceded it to me. I do look smashing in it, if I do say so myself. Now if I could only find some black bell bottoms…