The perpetual search for an Actual Winter Coat; or, how to be a lifelong season-change denier

Old-school winter jacket, circa puberty (not pictured)

I suffer from some as-yet unidentifiable psychological disorder that establishes a mental roadblock preventing me — for several years going now — from ever getting a proper winter jacket. This is part of some secret, season-change denialist cabal that I was involuntarily signed up for at birth, a group that plots its own perceptions of reality on a sunny Seaside beach in the dead of August, the times when the whik-whik-whik spin of the boardwalk game wheel or the roaring storm surge of the ocean seem like the only boundaries of existence. I consider it general knowledge that winter is mostly a useless season, just some horrible excuse to put on weight via baked goods and to convince yourself of the wonders of bland corners inside your apartment instead of exploring the vast (even if frigid) world about you.

Part of it is the sheer logistics of the thing: winter coats are big and heavy, always hanging off your shoulders like a seasonal albatross, a thick pad practically the size of another person you have to climb into like a one-man submarine, then find storage for at your destination, all in the name of bracing apparently horrifying cold of the 15 feet between your car and the front door. 

Winter coats: too bulgy to fold over your arm and walk around at a concert, too bumpy to crush into a ball and shove under a bar booth, yet never quite fancy enough (at least for our readers) to warrant dropping a $5  charge on a coat check. The temperature is never quite right either: winter jackets get hot in all the wrong spots by accepting the thin warmth of the winter sun and molesting it in  freakish ways, sending pockets of heat and perspiration up under the armpits and neck line, but still somehow allowing a trickle of shiver to run down the back or in through the chest zipper. Sit in a winter coat in a heated room and you’re blasted with uncomfortable artificial heat: not the natural photosynthesizing rays of the sun but a grotesque imitation full dryness and weight, bitter enough to zap energy instead of producing it.

I have led several unsuccessful campaigns over winters past to procure an Actual Winter Coat, campaigns that were so unsuccessful that they often reach the point of no return in late February where it no longer seems worth the investment to purchase a real coat, figuring the several months of intensive layering could continue for another few weeks until spring broke through. I was granted a reprieve by spending four years in South Carolina, where the only thing that qualified as “winter” lasted about four weeks in February and consisted mostly of a few mornings of wet rain and increased bar patio heat lamp usage. I greeted a return to the northeast with the optimism that my years-long struggle with proper winter outerwear would be a thing of the past, a lost part of my former self much like the desire to wear four-sizes-too big Bullhead jeans or attend heavy metal concerts at Giants Stadium.

I’m trying to think of the last real winter coat I owned that lasted more than a few months in rotation: the only one that comes to mind is a circa seventh grade Dolphins Starter jacket. That’s how long it’s been.

Cost is also a factor: winter jackets seem to be the priciest bit of clothing in anyone’s regular closet coterie, which certainly has some role in why there’s so many coat drives around the city each year. Others have tried to help: around 2000, my dad once gave me a new pea coat from Men’s Wearhouse (where he worked) that was, no doubt, a quite handsome coat, but, for sure, not ever something I would wear — not only was it stylistically incongruent, it was the coat de rigeur of the GWU underclass crowd, a group whose other fashion and lifestyle choices I was realizing were a scheme I did not want to be mixed up with (see also: why I don’t go to nightclubs; why I didn’t join the college democrats or republicans). After dad died, my mom handed over some of his old clothing, advocating coat usage as  a “smart, sharp” choice. The  bounty included a long trench coat that I tried desperately to rock but was faced with unavoidable similarities to the fictional mobsters of Motherless Brooklyn fame. Grandpa Vic left behind a huge trough of a coat I brought with me to start my Brooklyn experience figuring it was better than nothing, but the festering smell of mothballs was unavoidable, especially since the coat was as big and thick as a small rhinoceros.

I’ve torn through a series of corduroy man-coats, hoodies, thin windbreakers and ratty thrift store jackets over the years, none which had the season-long endurance to provide any level of peace. The times I’ve gone out to play in the snow — snow days in college in Maryland, a freakish snowstorm that shut down Raleigh in 2001, snowtubing upstate, last year’s big wallops in New York — involved an intricate level of layering and heat retention usually enlisting the help of seasonally inappropriate gear such as my running tights or my tight blue Quicksilver rash guard. A jacket is a major purchase (at least in my mind): not like a meal or trip, where your one-time buy is immediately consumed and lives on only in memory. A jacket you’re stuck with; if done right, you’re with it for three or four years, your shield against the rough, brutal season.

Lest you think this whole post is insufferable white whining (you can still think that, it’s OK), I know: I’m a damn near 30-year-old adult who should not be having this sort of problem. This year, I’m on a campaign: we’ll march to the seas, tear down the walls, unfold bins and bins of used clothing, but, damnit, a winter coat will be found. I drafted Katieisms for style consultation and we hit some of the best vintage/thrift/flea stores in the city on Saturday, but were luck-less at every turn, with the only close call coming from a warm and classy looking army jacket from the Brooklyn Flea, which shortly proved itself to be in the three-digit price range, and beyond the bounds of sensible budgeting, even after some price haggling.

The forces will regroup for another outing this week, with the campaign perhaps even going into Actual New Clothes Stores where, I am told, Actual Winter Coats are often found. And maybe it is my reluctance to accept season change as a real thing, not to mention one worth dropping three figures on an uncomfortable piece of outwear for, that has been causing this trouble all these years.

But as I get older, my hope to live the whole year riding the fumes of summer becomes less practical and more mentally draining. The trick about New York is that it is often just as pretty in winter as it is in summer: all that’s needed is a hearty dose of sunshine to sparkle off brownstone windows and the city seems an exponentially more pleasant place to pass the season. Then by time the heat waves of July arrive, we can remind everyone how much they bitched about the cold in February and revel in the warmth of smug seasonal consciousness.

On Saturday, K pointed out these ads featuring Orlando Bloom and Charlize Theron for Uniqlo’s new jacket that promotes “HeatTech” technology to trap heat. “It warms your body with your own heat! K said, which I considered for a second, and then said: “Isn’t that what all jackets do, by definition?”

Well, we agreed, I guess that sort of is true. But still, the ads are intriguing, especially in this video where Charlize says, while walking down the peaceful rim of a snow-dusted rim of beach: “Being by the ocean … simple things in life make me happy. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t stop me from enjoying life.”

So maybe this ad is targeted directly at people like me, at least enough to make me stop in the store next time I pass by. Until then, bring it on, winter. I’m going to punch you in the face this year with my fist-tech technology.

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2 responses to “The perpetual search for an Actual Winter Coat; or, how to be a lifelong season-change denier

  1. If you’re looking for a quality winter coat, I got my peacoat from UNIQLO way back when. It wasn’t cheap (nor was it super-expensive) and it’s lasted for three years and counting now.

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