With long cold winters, many of us develop a deep and sometimes fraught relationship with our winter gear. Christi Clancy tells us about her struggle and search for a new coat.
I opened my closet this past fall and saw my familiar winter coat sagging off the hanger. I was as excited to see it as a clump of snow next to the freeway. A decade ago, when I bought it, I thought it was unique and classy – my first real grown-up coat. It has a cinched waist and a tall velvet trim stand collar reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth’s fancy neck ruff. When it was new, I thought it made me look more sophisticated than I am. But now, after all these years, the collar is limp and the velvet is worn away in spots like a childhood stuffed animal. It was once silver, but the silver has somehow drained away. It reminds me of when my son was little, and he looked at my lips and asked me where the red went. Now it is a flat grey that is the very color of depression.
Anyone who has endured long Wisconsin winters knows that our coats are as familiar to us as our own skin. We know how they smell and how they sound. We know every pocket, seam, and zipper. We form relationships with our outerwear. And now my relationship with my coat is over. I’m like the woman in the Raymond Carver story who looks up from making eggs and realizes she doesn’t love her husband anymore. All my love for that coat is gone. More than gone. I hate it. The shoulders are a little tight, the zipper fussy. The pockets have holes in them, so the hem is weighted with dropped change, lost keys and old lip balms. Worst of all, the stuffing is matted down to nothing, so it doesn’t even keep me warm anymore.
Picking out a new coat should be a simple enough task, but make no mistake: it’s not. I struggle with decisions anyway, but I’m putting more into this search than the search for our last car. I feel like the bachelorette meeting all the contestants on the first night of the show.
There are so many choices, and they all seem so important. Parka, anorak or puffer? Hood or no hood? Black, navy, gold? A car coat? Longer? Shorter? Do I want down or synthetic fill? What’s even in style these days? Does faux fur send a pro-fur message?
Now that I’m deep in the selection process, I’ve established a form to function ratio that makes me realize I am truly middle aged. I want more Michelin Man than Katy Perry, more sleeping bag than corset.
Almost every day a new coat arrives at my doorstep, and almost every day I head for the post office with a return. The pockets aren’t deep enough, or there are too many snaps, a cheap zipper, or something that looks like airplane neck pillows around the collar.
My search could go on a long time, and it’s getting colder. I throw on my old, familiar coat and we head out into the tundra. You might see us out there in the wind and cold and mistake us for a cranky old couple, quietly arguing.
(This story originally aired on February 10, 2017.)