The terrible coat

I think I need a new coat. I say “think” because it’s not like I’m currently suffering from a shortage of coats. There’s the classic cream mac (slightly stained, of course, because fashion’s idea of a wearable neutral shade is conjured up in a world never spattered with mud or smeared by a messy child’s face). There’s the lightweight khaki parka (an excellent coat for all those times when you need an outer layer that isn’t actually waterproof or very warm). And there’s the terrible coat.

The terrible coat used to be a lovely coat. I thought it was beautiful as I slipped my debit card over the counter in Topshop and paid the £150 required to take possession of this glorious object in brown and green tartan with peplum and bows. “That’s a proper grown-up’s coat,” I thought, eyeing up the matching skirt. It was even double-breasted – and if there’s a more powerful sign of the assumption of adulthood that having two rows of buttons when only one is necessary, then I haven’t been introduced to it.

The first time I wore it, I began to suspect that something might be wrong. Every time I caught a sideways glimpse of my plaid covering, I experienced a spasm of anxiety: “Have I left the house in my dressing gown? … Oh no, it’s just my lovely coat.” And then there was the colour. This was not a quiet coat. It did not care to shrink delicately into the background, and nor was it eager to play nicely with my other clothes.

This was the existential paradox of the lovely/terrible coat. The kind of person who buys a coat with peplums and bows in green tartan is probably the kind of person who goes in for patterns. And so I did. Which meant that nothing else I liked went with the lovely coat. This was like making a new friend who seemed like they’d fit in with all your other chums, but turned out to be a monstrous, jealous parody of their best features. “No,” laughed the terrible coat, “you can’t hang out with your favourite dress or your nicest jumper, because you’ve got me now. And I’m all you need. Forever.”

The coat wasn’t even that warm. But it was too late. I’d tried to make the terrible coat my own, and now it turned out that I belonged to the coat instead. Because that is the way with coats: acquiring one is like getting married. It’s an irrevocable, public commitment, at least between the months of September and March. So I stuck it out with the terrible coat, even as I lost weight (it was a post-baby purchase) and every suggestion of a tailored shape began to dissolve around me. Sometimes I even wore it with a beret, just to finish off the escapee-from-a-nursing-home look.

But now, finally, it’s over. This will be the winter I shed the terrible coat. If anyone would like to enter into a destructive relationship of exclusivity with an unsympathetic and tyranical garment, I suggest you keep an eye on eBay.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2011