“Why,” my mom asked, peering into my hall closet, “do you have so many coats?” A few years earlier, my son studied the coats hanging on hooks in our mudroom and said the same thing: “They’re all yours.”
They were looking at my full length black top coat, my nubby grey pant coat, my maroon corduroy car coat, my puffer lightweight down coat, my ski jacket, my short black trench, my coral-colored anorak, my jean jacket, my poncho, and my athletic outerwear. Plus a few others.
My coat collection is a metaphor for the myriad presentations, responsibilities, and ways I turn myself out for the people and roles in my life. Teenagers and even grown men can throw on a parka for just about anything. The woman of the family has more nuanced considerations.
She has to consider the type of occasion she’s attending: super casual, somewhat casual, office casual, or girls’ night out casual? They call for a different outer layer. How pulled together does she want to look? What if it’s a date, a dinner party, a theater performance, a special ceremony, or a wedding? These call for something fancier. And not to put too fine a point on it, but if it’s a wedding, is it in the morning, afternoon, or evening? This figures into the algorithm as well. Any woman can tell you it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation.
Then you have to bounce these answers against the weather forecast. Picture a coordinate grid: on the Y axis is the temperature from low to high, taking into consideration the possibility of precipitation. On the X axis is the dress code–casual to very formal. Inside the grid is a spray of buckshot representing all the occasions requiring a specific coat. It looks a bit like the Milky Way.
One point represents a utility jacket to wear raking leaves or at the farmer’s market. Another coordinate is a play-out-in-the-snow coat, by which I mean casual, warm, and long enough to cover my butt so I can sled. This is quite different from what I would wear to midnight mass on Christmas eve. To ride my bike or fitness walk around the neighborhood, I need the snug, zip-up, moisture-wicking jacket. Oh, there’s also a leather biker jacket for which I can offer no justification whatsoever except it looked badass in the store so I bought it. Seventeen years later, I still reach for it when I need a coat that is sporty but elegant enough to wear to a fancy dinner over a little black dress or velvet jeans.
As I write this, I’m surprised I don’t own more coats. I’m limping along with the bare minimum, while one of my co-workers admits to owning fifty. That’s five-zero. At last count, I had ten, and I regularly use each one. But just yesterday, when it was sleeting and I needed to walk the dog, I realized I didn’t have a warm, weather-resistant coat with a hood. Add one more point to the grid.