Lahey: The Coat

Jan 24, 2014

New Hampshire is known for many things, but high fashion is generally not one of them. When I head out to the post office or to pick my son up at school, my priorities regarding coat selection center on its appropriateness to the outside temperature and whether there are eggs in the pockets left over from chicken chores the day before. If I’m feeling fancy, I might figure the coat’s color into my calculations, but I’m not usually feeling very fancy.

So when I heard about the book The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury, & Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat by Meg Lukins Noonan, I was conflicted. My reading taste does lean toward geeky, obscure, and obsessively researched nonfiction, and I was sorely tempted. But as I stood there in the bookstore deliberating the purchase and fingering the frayed edges of my very used, flannel-lined barn coat, I felt unworthy of the subject matter.

Two weeks later, in a conversation with a friend, I discovered that Noonan, the author of the book, is from Hanover, so I put on my marginally more fancy down coat and headed back to the bookstore to get a copy. That night, wearing my old flannel pajamas, I slipped in to Noonan’s book, and was transported.

Noonan took me to Saville Row, decked out in state occasion finery, gussied up for a celebration of British Wool, complete with an appearance by Prince Charles (sporting wool, naturally) and a demonstration flock of British sheep, all washed and fluffed for the occasion. Then on to Italy to meet the man who created the silk fabric that lined the $50,000 coat, a fabric that’s usually destined for $35,000 neckties. Currently, I’m in England’s West Midlands, learning about the craft of button-making and discovering esoteric tidbits like the fact that Louis XIV spent $600,000 on buttons in one year - nearly five million dollars over his reign. I’m sure this knowledge will come in handy the next time the subject of buttons comes up at a party.

In a bargain-driven culture that worships at the altar of cleverly marketed garments hastily manufactured in China and Southeast Asia, the story of this coat, meticulously planned, pieced, and tailored for one very wealthy person, has afforded me a delicious escape from the dark gray of our winter. I can almost feel the cool softness of the lining silk, smell the lingering scent of vicuna in the shell’s fiber, and hear the smooth whoosh as for the first time, the owner’s arms slide into the perfectly tailored sleeves.

Most of us will never have such an opportunity, but it’s lovely to pretend, and dream about what it would be like to wear this marvelous coat, even as I pull on my practical, canvas barn jacket and head out into the cold, wet, winter morning.