Saturday, 21 June 2014

Coveted Coats

The first coat I really coveted was a Parka. In the cul-de-sac where we lived Parka-wearing older boys swaggered about on autumn evenings, smoking fags and looking like they owned the place. I was probably seven years old, perhaps eight or nine. It’s hard to be precise. Amongst my gang I learnt that there were rules about wearing a Parka, about whether you did it up or not and what you did with the strange stringy flappy bit at the back. Now I think about it the fixation of my coat-envy shifted as the seasons changed and as those kids around me altered. By spring the Parka was no longer my ideal. Something glorious had arrived on the horizon to take its place: the tonic Harrington. The tonic (burgundy-colour was the standard) Harrington was an object to covet: it looked like it had been woven from the eyelashes of peacocks. The two-tone tonic Harrington glinted and glimmered like a new kind of metallic cloth that changed colour as it shimmered across a palate of purples and greens. A few winters later my envy was fixed on the friends of my teenage sister who wore Afghan coats. I remember tagging along on a trip to watch a theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar with my sister’s, probably religious, youth club. This was the first time I met an Afghan coat and the first time I saw and heard an electric guitar being played live: it was a heady night.
My taste in coats and jackets had little to do with the wider world of fashion and little to do with youth subcultures. I knew nothing about mods, about skinheads, about hippies. I doubt if many of the people wearing them had that much of an idea either: I imagine that they too were emulating older siblings and their milieu rather than donning themselves purposefully in the garb of a specific tribe that came with a set of cultural meanings and values. Having a taste for a Harrington or a Parka or an Afghan coat meant little to us as a symbolic statement that could talk to a wider world.  
Did I really want those coats? What was the form of my envy? Surely if I really wanted a Parka, for instance, I could have petitioned my parents and eventually got one – if only as a Christmas present or birthday gift rather than as essential clothing? Perhaps my mum was disdainful – seeing it as common, frivolous, cultish, rough. But I’m not sure I did really want one. I think I knew that it wasn’t so much the coat that I wanted as to have the sort of gravity that would be needed to pull off wearing one. I wanted to be someone who could wear a Parka, or a Harrington, or an Afghan without looking like a kid playing at being someone who might wear such a coat. I wanted the chutzpah and swag that it would take to wear it well.
Perhaps a lot of taste is like this. Not so much aspirational or acquisitive but as a way of measuring your own weird gravitational density. Perhaps the tastes that matter most are the ones you never quite act on. Do I still covet coats? Let’s just say that I can occasionally can be found lurking amongst racks of distressed leather jackets, weighing them in my hands, sometimes trying them on, knowing I’ll never buy one.