Life Notes: The Coat Chronicles
Traveling through time, coat by coat
By Sally Friedman

To this day, one of my sweetest memories is standing in the tiny front hall of our home in Philadelphia as my mother helped me into the leggings and jacket of my blue snowsuit.

I loved the way she magically hooked hooks, buttoned buttons and then zipped the zipper that I could never quite master. Something about it all made me feel safe and loved and protected against the biting cold of a winter day.

“Blue is your color,” she would always say as she stood back and looked at me in that magical bright-blue snowsuit.

I now understand that what I really loved was the undivided attention I was getting in those moments. My sister Ruthie’s pink snowsuit was already on her, because she was two years older and those two years gave her manual dexterity I didn’t yet have.

The years passed, and the Philadelphia winters were as nasty as ever. Snow seemed deeper back then and winds more fierce.

But things were changing in other ways. Now I was taken shopping in vast, old department stores, none of which even exist now, for a proper winter coat for school, and one for what was dubbed “dressy” for visits to relatives, holidays and, on rare occasions, dinner at fancy restaurants.

I was no longer a sweet and compliant little girl, and my mother would predictably grow exasperated with my behavior.

“I hate that, and I won’t wear it!” I would scowl as I was forced to try on ugly, heavy school jackets and coats that made me feel bulky and “geeky” – a word that has since disappeared from the language.

So our annual squabbles at Wanamaker’s or Strawbridge and Clothier’s were a far cry from those delicious winter snowsuit mornings as I entered that long tunnel of tween-dom and adolescence. I can’t remember a single coat I loved from that time. It certainly was not the dressy one with the furry collar that I was supposed to adore. And I barely endured the bulky school jackets I wanted to hide.

My coat history in college is a blur. I wore whatever everyone else did and even sometimes favored the look of the moment, including a brief period when military styles reigned. What was I thinking?

And then, in my senior year, I met the man – a regular grown-up seven years my senior – who arrived for our first date wearing a handsome tweed coat and a Stetson hat. “This will never work,” I remember thinking.

Ten months later I married him, and I am profoundly grateful that he patiently waited by my side as I grew from girl to woman to person. And that brings me to the coat I loved most in my life.

It was during the Jackie Kennedy/Camelot era that I spotted a red A-line coat in a nubby weave, one that was absolutely simple in its lines and had a certain grown-up elegance. It was the early 1960s, and Jackie had enchanted us all with the kind of elegance she radiated.

My husband loved that coat, too, because he must have sensed I felt grown up at last, confident and assured in my new red coat. I think that’s when I realized that clothes are, of course, so much more than they seem.

That red coat had the power to transform me every time I put it on. And as it turned out, Vic also had one of those coats too, a navy-blue cashmere that was the ultimate indulgence for a kid who had grown up in very modest circumstances on a New Jersey farm. It was glorious to go out, way back in those days, in our power coats, feeling great.

Fast forward to now. I am all grown up, and then some. I have three basic coats: a purple one for my bold days, a navy one with gold buttons for my practical days and a longish, warm, fuzzy beige one for the days when I am just…me.

I like that one best.

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