Once upon a time, long before many of you, dear readers, were born, I was a drone at a very large, multinational corporation. There were few perks to my days of mind-numbing financial analysis but there was the unexpected joy of business travel. Remember this was a time before outsourcing, when the Concorde flew the friendly skies and where expense accounts were nothing if not generous. Concierges were welcoming, hotel rooms were spacious and restaurants always offered soufflés. There was a glamorous life just outside, and a few hours flight, from my office cubicle.
These business trips took me to London.
On my first outing the very wise taxi driver (taxi drivers in London know everything) drove along Hyde Park. It was morning in early spring and a “host of golden daffodils” nodded a greeting. Riders were cantering their horses along Rotten Row and all the angels from Heaven were exulting “to dwell in England’s green and pleasant bowers.” From that moment on I became better than the best British Travel Authority advertisements. I was a one woman Chamber of Commerce urging the merchants on to greatness. I was a virtual Lord Mayor of London charged only with glorifying the city. I may also have read too much Wordsworth and Blake.
The centuries of history. The efficiency of the underground. Fish and chips. The pageantry. The pubs. Harrods. I arranged all my trips around Monday and Friday meetings so I could justify weekends to explore. I was young and enchanted by a city. I became lost more times than I wish to confess walking to St. Paul’s Cathedral but the train to Kew Gardens was as simple as (steak and kidney) pie. There was only one condition that my devotion could not overlook. Nothing falls like London rain.
Some may choose to call it drizzle. Or mist. Or just the price to be paid for the green parks. But London weather can be damp and cold and gray. And wet. And miserable. My raincoat wasn’t warm enough. My umbrella threatened to blind too many innocent folk and I had to squeeze my cramped toes to stay attached to my soggy shoes.
And then lightening (and thunder) struck. I would solve this rain predicament. I would buy an item of clothing that would keep me warm and dry. It would be classic. It would embody London at its finest.
And so I walked into Burberry’s flagship store in search of a raincoat. Specifically a khaki, gabardine coat with tartan lining. I believe the heritage building was large and stately. The clerks were courtly but, I expect, discreetly amused by my sodden sight. Like a wilted pigeon, I homed toward the racks. The double breasted trench was sadly overwhelming – try to imagine Inspector Clouseau at his ungainly worst. The hooded version had a Little Red Riding Hood vibe. But there, on an enviably dry model, was the perfect coat. Slightly fitted with a placket hiding the single row of buttons. A belt to be tied or just slipped through the keepers. A back pleat that could be buttoned down or allowed to flare in the breeze. There was a long discussion about the optimal length and whether the size should allow room for a blazer underneath. The tailor made alterations so that the sleeves hit precisely at the wrist. And I left with the coat of my dreams.
Iconic? Or dowdy? Christopher Bailey was still in pre-school at the time so I expect one could make a compelling case for the latter, but to me it was perfect. It protected from the rain, but on a cloudless night it also looked elegant with evening clothes. And on a sunny fall afternoon – open with the belt flopping – it appeared fun-loving with jeans. Belted tightly, it even accommodated the midnight bodega runs. I wore it and wore it, not always with great care. When my plane trips turned into train trips, I scrunched it up as a pillow. Other days it was a blanket. The belt fell off a few times but kind strangers always picked it up. Hung carefully, the wrinkles vanished, the fabric never frayed and London kept calling.
And then I stopped travelling. My days were sunnier. Jersey track suits were more comfortable for car pooling and quilted jackets were warmer when walking the dog. The Burberry coat was retired.
Years passed and one day my daughter, on her way out to something important – maybe a college interview or maybe an ice cream cone – muttered that she really needed the perfect coat. I mumbled back that I once owned that coat. And wonder of wonders, there it was, shoved in the back of the cedar closet. My Burberry coat was now vintage and once again perfect.
My daughter is taller and slimmer than I but the fit was magically right. The Burberry coat suddenly had a new life. Not in London – it had crossed the pond for good – but in all the many cities that now fill her days. It has spent four years at university; it has travelled across the country and is now her go-to coat in her beloved big city. It has been photographed and used as a picnic blanket. And yes, I believe, pajamas underneath, it has made the nighttime run to Starbuck’s.
And the memories that I wove into those beige threads are now being overlaid by the experiences of another generation. With elegance and tradition – and always protection from the unexpected rain.
If you want to see my coat, just visit TheGloss office.
Ed note: The picture is of me, Mom, and Dad, 1991. That’s not the coat in the picture! I couldn’t find a photo of Mom in the coat. But, you will notice, she is wearing a Burberry scarf, so the brand was not entirely retired.
And, as always, if you want to submit an Ensemble Chronicle telling us about a piece of clothing that’s meaningful to you, reach me at Jennifer [at] thegloss.com