Anyone who’s ever seen an Olsen twin in the balmy breezes of early autumn, bundled in a gown-like Yohji Yamamoto cloak or wrapped in a fur Celine duster, knows that the coat is a vessel of safety and power. But as always, the Olsens’ instincts are only the latest chapter in a long tradition that extends far beyond their smoke breaks outside sushi citadel Kappo Masa. In Gogol’s Overcoat, the garment is a transformative tool, offering the promise of sophistication, and humanity, to a luckless bureaucrat. When he finally gets the coat he’s scraped to save up for, he becomes a celebrity at work and his coworkers. (Good idea for your first Status Picnic with your new coat! Well, unless you’ve read what happens after the party.) In the recent fashion-focused film Deerskin,, the coat becomes an instrument of masculine fantasy that drives a middle-aged divorcee to murder in pursuit of owning the only coat in the world.
More than any other garment, the coat stands for the triumph of emotional fashion over necessity. Because the temperatures generally do not require pure functionality, the question becomes what kind of coat you want to be. (A giant blanket is nice, too; I saw a mother-daughter sharing nachos outside a Brooklyn bar this past weekend, huddled together under a plum red tartan blanket.) As Gogol’s bureaucrat would intimate, coats can be pricey, but Etsy will deliver the full universe to you, from virgin wools to cashmeres and even a few pieces made from vicuna, the fabric from a beautiful little South American creature who produces just a pound of yarn a year. You can find the perfect 1980s Armani shark coat—jet black, double-breasted, totally evil, like you just closed a deal and murdered someone on the way home. If that feels too aggressive, maybe you should hunt for a soft-shouldered, raglan-sleeve herringbone duster. I’m looking for inspiration to the Prada Autumn 2012 show where Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, and several models all walked down the runway wearing incredibly important coats. Still, if all these thoughts are skewing too old-school-sprezzatura-menswear, nothing is more brilliant than a Prada nylon puffer. Or a Wales Bonner oversized Prince of Wales check blazer that you can throw over a hoodie or layered button-up shirts.
My own search ended this weekend. I found, at a vintage store, a brown and gray-flecked wool textured coat, Olsenian in length, that suggested a life of ease and plenty I expect none of us will have for a painfully long time. And yet it was only $115! A great coat, I think, is a little bit of a lie. This year, I’m willing to live one!