A Love Letter To All My Most Ridiculous Coats
The Debrief: Baby, it’s not cold enough outside
When it comes to getting dressed, I like to save the best till last.
Or sometimes I just start with the coat and work backwards, adjusting everything else under it according to volume and temperature. I’ve spent the past few weeks walking into rooms all moist-necked from the tube, going, 'ISN’T IT UNSEASONABLY WARM?' Only I’m not pleased, I’m furious – because this balmy, half-arsed December is holding all my best coats hostage.
Pretty much nothing in fashion is easier or more transformative than a really ostentatious coat. I’m inspired by the iconic coat-wearers of our time – Kate Moss, Mindy Kaling, Michelle Obama – but maybe more by the iconic coat-wearers of fiction. Jardis, Queen of Narnia. Cruella de Vil, without the puppy-killing. Margot Tenenbaum. The Doctor. They understood the dual power of a statement coat – it’s all lovely, cosseting comfort on the inside, ‘I AM HERE’ presence on the outside.
And in just the same way that a perfect outfit can be ruined by flinging the wrong thing on top (a full midi skirt with a straight, bum-skimming duffel is enough to leave me gnawing my fist), mediocre clothes can be instantly rescued by a kickass coat. You could be wearing anything beneath it. Even better, you could be wearing nothing beneath it. It’s no coincidence that detectives are synonymous with collar-up trenches – a strong coat equals mystery and demands attention. Just you try storming out of a party in a parka or a nylon cagoule.
I suspect it’s also because my body matters less in a coat. All focus is on face, shoes, hair, eyes peeping out from the gap between bobble hat and mountain of scarf… in a great coat it’s my choice that makes the statement, not the curves I’m pouring into it. As such, summer is just filler; weeks of waiting around feeling semi-clothed and impatient, until a chill breeze creeps in and I can fling open my steamer trunk and shout 'IT’S TIME! THEY’RE BACK! PLEASE BE UPSTANDING FOR THE ENTRANCE OF THE COATS!'
Likewise my favourite holidays aren’t the ones that demand bikinis, but substantial outerwear. Last year my best friend and I trundled round Reyjkavik in co-ordinating pastel cocoon coats – lilac for her, candy pink for me, like a pair of giant dolly mixtures on legs.
On every coach trip we stood out a mile in the sea of sensible, puffa-jacketed and be-anoraked tourists. 'English?' the tour guide asked, looking us up and down. 'Yes,' she said. 'You are always so colourful.'
My first true statement coat was a teddybearish fake fur, bought from a vintage shop in Brighton when I was 17. At a time when I was obsessed with the 1960s but unable to squeeze my matronly boobs into any of the boyish lines, this coat was finally my ticket to the past. Permission to pretend I was Marianne Faithfull, for as long as it was cuddled around me.
It was also a gateway to bigger and better coats. Soon after came a navy tailored frock coat that was half Mary Poppins, half air stewardess (worn with a silk neckerchief, just to *really* make sure I got stared at on the bus), two more fake furs and a cropped brown fuzzball of a jacket that I suspected had been Bungle from Rainbow in a former life.
Then there was a beautiful floral plush number that felt impossibly chic until the colours ran in the rain, and a quilted bed jacket that friends referred to affectionately as ‘the duvet’. In a dubious move that my 27-year-old self doesn’t condone AT ALL, my 19-year-old self once hugged a bloke on the market in return for £10 off a vintage coat. But in her defence, it was a really nice coat.
More recently there’s been a heathery tweed cape, a purple velvet duster, a navy wool with a sailor collar and a leopard so perfectly light and swingy that I did a dance of joy when I found it for half price in Topshop. But my very favourite, the one I’d save in a fire (not least because it’s flammable as hell), is a faux astrakhan swing coat, brown with a huge blonde leonine collar, which I inherited from my grandmother.
She was a woman so stubbornly, defiantly fabulous that she was still asking nurses for her lipstick and hairspray the day before she died. Always perfectly coiffed but never starched, Nanny had that sense of joyful, playful style that transcends trends or rules. Jaunty hats, lacy gloves, a perilously high heel for an octogenarian after two hip replacements – and coats. Proper coats, with tailored collars and shiny buttons and high drama sewn into their seams.
In this coat, Nanny’s legacy has kept me warm for six winters and counting. I pounced on it in the big, bittersweet wardrobe clearout that followed her funeral, and immediately hacked a foot off the bottom – sacrilege, probably, but I had to make it feel less like a grown-up costume and more like mine. I knew I’d never be able to mimic her flowery handwriting or jam my size 7s into her little Bally stilettos, but here was a piece of her I could do justice.
The coat is vast, ridiculous and wonderful. I can wear it to Londis and still feel like the feisty mistress of a 1930s gangster. The lining is ripped, I’ve never been arsed to hem the bottom and there’s a giant hole in the pocket that I’m forever losing tissues through, but it’s still by far the most queenly thing I own. And that’s the thing – you can be all fur coat and no knickers, but still the best-dressed person at the bus stop.
So yes. If we could just have some snow please, that’d be grand. I’ve only got three months before they all have to go back in the trunk.
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