In Defense of the Investment Coat

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In Defense of the Investment Coat
an essay by Trace Barnhill

You see it from across the street, hanging majestic in a window, a shadowy silhouette of buttery leather. Traffic blares and screeches as you dash across multiple lanes, unflinching and focused. You’re in the store and breathing that starchy air of newness and surprise. You see the coat at the other end of the room. You glide over. It’s perfect. It’s all the wonderful things you can think of: timeless, warm…sexy, even. You could wear it with everything. You could wear it right now, over your standard uniform of high-rise jeans and a silk blouse. You take a breath and turn over the price tag.

You touch its supple sleeve and a vision flashes before you, a montage of your life’s defining moments, all in the coat. You’re not sure how it starts, so you skip ahead. Your boyfriend proposes on a ski lift. The lush shearling collar’s standing around your blushed face, starched with delight. In another flash, you’re wearing it over your wedding dress, getting into the old family pick-up, driving to your wintry reception, pulling the supple leather belt tighter around you as your veil is lost to the breeze. You’re laying it down as a blanket on your seaside honeymoon; it’s splotched with something, though it’s hard to tell against the pitch-black shade whether it’s tequila or that lone glass of champagne you started the night with. The leather seems softened by a salty breeze.

Or maybe not. Maybe you’re the world’s chicest single hitchhiker, festival-ing with roving bands of beautiful musicians. There are odes to your handsome coat, and a handmade embroidered patch is sewn on the shearling lining—a tactile memory that you feel every time you wear it, the one spot the coat doesn’t feel pillowy soft against your skin. You reach the coast and stow away on a yacht, and, when discovered aboard, pretend to be a scullery maid. The piped sleeves are damp with salt and dish soap, until the dignitary aboard glimpses you clearing the table one night in your stained maid’s uniform and that impossibly lush coat. He knows he’s seen you before. “Excuse me,” he begs, “but where did you come across this garment?” “Oh, this old thing?” you coyly blush. “This is all I have left of my mother’s. I didn’t really know much about her, but I’ve been told she was very beautiful, from somewhere else.” The dignitary’s wet eyes widen, realizing you’re the long-lost great-grand-niece twice removed from the Queen of Bulgaria and heir to that magnificent title. You’re spirited away to your countryside chateau, where you throw weekend-long parties for friends, have crème caramel for breakfast and read to the children in your garden—in Bulgarian—all in your life-changing, eternal coat.

You tear your hand away. The visions clear, and you remember you’re in a public place in the middle of the afternoon.

One hurried transaction later, you’re standing out in the brisk fall air—horns of taxis and wafts from hot dog carts swirl around you. Life is magical and new, and you realize that this moment was the missing first scene of your montage: you, in the coat, beginning your life’s journey (together?). Not a bad investment after all.

Trace Barnhill, a writer living in Philadelphia, contributes to Vogue and Into the Gloss. Here, she wears a Madewell Shearling Bassline Coat.

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Photography by Angi Welsch.