How A Coat Can Make You Look Richer, Smarter, and Thinner

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Anna Selezneva

Sometimes, I see a single image and all of my previously latent desires are suddenly articulated, obvious, and urgent. I’m not talking here about world-historical photojournalism or even Facebook pictures of loved ones. I’m talking clothes. Photos of clothes.

I didn’t even know I wanted a slim-fitting, knee-length, single-breasted camel coat with zero embellishments of any kind until about a year-and-half ago. Who would? But once I knew it, I really knew it. And it was like I’d always known it. I needed one—immediately.

The image in question, the one that subsequently consumed my thoughts and perverted my short-term goals, was—predictably enough—of a model. But not just any model: an off-duty Anna Selezneva [3]! She’s my favorite, and always has been. I like how cruel she looks, with her violently chiseled cheekbones, sharp-cornered mouth, and freakishly light ice-blue eyes. I can imagine her backstage, sipping vodka and brushing people away. Plees, take zis pictures fast so I can leaf. I haf beezy night. Never before have I been so taken by female beauty; I literally gasped the first time I saw her picture. And there she was in all her severe, post-Soviet glory, looking like the penultimate stage in an Animorphs book cover: like a beautiful woman with just a hint of Abyssinian cat. In the picture, she’s accessorized with a blurry Blackberry, high-top sneakers, ombré aviators, and a black purse. None of this mattered to me. All I could see was the coat.

I was working in a coffee shop when I clicked that fortuitous click. By the time the page loaded, I was mid-epiphany. ‘Wait a second,’ I thought to myself. ‘Might this actually be the ONLY material item I’ve ever wanted? Has every single purchase up until this moment been an unconscious act of vulgar and imprecise approximation?!' The answer, I felt, was yes.

The certainty was enhanced, unconsciously though indisputably, by few key factors. The first was Selezneva’s complexion, which is not so unlike my own. Though I’d describe her as 'tawny' and myself as 'sallow' or even sometimes 'jaundiced,' we are both more yellow than we are pink. I suppose this made the coat itself, which is roughly the same hue, easy to imagine on my own body, up against my own face. The second factor was that this coat was one that might have plausibly been worn by Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, who, as I’ve said before, I hold highest in my mental hierarchy of Who To Copy. (There is no denying the crude, physiological nature of these aspirations; it’s no mystery why I’ve only ever been aesthetically inspired by women with light hair and oversized noses. This is all retroactive theorizing, though. At the time, it was the coat—not the women—on my mind.)

I had been stricken by similar—though milder—fixations in the past: patent leather pumps like the one “Mother” wears on the last page of Cat in the Hat; Chloë Sevigny’s Jane Birkin-like blue jeans; a tiny green Il Bisonte purse carried by a woman I saw on the Upper West Side one summer; a larger version of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s Selima Optique sunglasses. But this coat was another beast.

I was prepared to squirrel away money for years if that’s what it took. I was prepared to walk into Prada and drop more cash than I ever had on anything. What happened though was this: for eleven months I spent a humiliating amount of time on eBay every day, time that, even if I billed minimum-wage for, was worth way more than any Prada coat. But with the shoes and sunglasses of yore egging me on, I kept doggedly clicking on. Day after day, I searched, suffering optical fatigue, guilt, and nausea. I was ashamed. I shut browser tabs when my boyfriend walked by; I never told my friends. But the self-inflicted sickness finally paid off.

My slim-fitting, knee-length, single-breasted camel coat with zero embellishments of any kind cost $30 and it was made in 1998 by United Colors of Benetton. I did not allow the item’s appallingly SEO-ed eBay listing (“MINIMALIST Slim Fit Car Coat//walking coat//light camel color//elegant chic jacket”) to deter me. Buying it was more cathartic than I care to admit, and it made my future brighter: with the purchase came a flood of free time, to use for working, reading, walking—anything but scanning shades of beige. I was free!

It arrived in the mail a week later from suburban Dallas, and it was perfect. It matched my skin and my hair almost too well, making me look more like a svelte arctic rodent than Selezneva, but I didn’t care. I like a monochromatic look: it’s dignified, but anonymous; conscientious, but casual.

The best coats are not fussy. Like a well-edited selection of daily makeup products, they imperceptibly enhance your appearance rather than distract from it. The best coats don’t have belts or buckles or straps or epaulets or external pockets. They are certainly not patterned. They fit perfectly, hit just above the knee, and make you appear richer, smarter, and thinner than you are. Maybe they even make you feel a little famous. But most importantly? When you’re wearing a very good coat, you are not thinking about coats.

—Alice Gregory

Alice Gregory is a Brooklyn-based writer. Find her at @alicegregory. Photographed by Emily Weiss in Brooklyn, NY on August 21, 2103. 

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  • Santa

    Wonderful. Ha ha ha! I'm still smiling from reading this. You captured a moment and a mood perfectly.

    I have a single breasted, light toffee, absolutely plain, perfectly cut coat I bought 13 years ago. It still comes out every winter. Sometimes I belt it.

  • Emma Miranda

    This is a very good article and, more importantly, an excellent coat.

    • Jesseca

      I agree, an excellent coat!

  • Emmeline

    PLEASE do more articles with Alice, she is such a brilliant writer!

    • Sarah

      Yes, I totally agree. Please more posts written by Alice!

  • Nina

    LOVE this post, so funny and well-written. I totally go for minimalistic, timeless clothes that make me look richer and more sophisticated too, ha ha. Beautiful coat.

  • aisling_in_wonderland

    Agree completely, seeing Emma Stone in a beige Burberry trench last summer resulted in me going from never having bought a trench, to two in a short space of time.

  • http://alittledose.com/ Carrie

    love that her perfect coat was only $30 - I am still on the search for my perfect coat.

    xxCarrie
    alittledose.com

  • Cleopatra

    Marvellous writing :-) I felt that way about a leather skirt once: I was tortured by lithe panther associations.

  • holydances

    i love this. "when you are wearing a very good coat, you're not thinking about coats."

    • fourtinefork

      Yes, that is an amazing line! I feel the same way about my boots-- although, in my case, I knew the exact boots I wanted and waited years until I could pull the trigger (alas, I never found them on discount so paid an horrifying amount.) But now I don't think about boots; I don't buy other boots, and so it all averaged out in the end.

      Plus, I think this is exactly what William Morris, back in the nineteenth century, really meant about having beautiful things you love, rather than lots of mass-produced things you don't.

      • holydances

        What kind of boots, may I ask????

  • Theresa Won

    I love posts like this one - a lighthearted yet substantial read that injects a little bit of imagination and magic into every day life! x

  • Elaine

    Going through the search for the "perfect" coat myself, this not only resonates with me, but made me laugh out loud. Alice never fails to find the hilarious in the mundane; I love her posts with ITG!

  • notfionaliu
  • Christine W

    Great writing, my perfect camel coat hunt started already few years ago (like a maniac I tried all my moms coats, but all of them being too big). Finally after all these years I found my soulmate (the perfect camel coat) and it is the golden time to wear it till it's down to pieces.

    Loving this article!

    http://christinewprivate.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-camel-coat.html

  • Kate

    Totally brilliant, i can relate :)

  • Kay

    great post, perhaps, but she used the word "penultimate" incorrectly.

  • murt

    Great article - ebay is definitely the best place to buy coats.

  • Jane Stevens

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  • This Exquisite World
  • Katie

    God, this totally describes my EXACT obsession right now.

  • Groovychimpster

    Love Alice's talent and honesty.

    Glad I left the tags on the expensive coat I purchased yesterday...this piece confirms it has too many zippers and "features". Thanks,
    Alice.

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    Hi, Alice! Yet another amazing piece from you. My friend and I have a sort of fan club for you in that we both love your writing/read your Top Shelf when we're stressed with school. It's really actually not that creepy.
    This piece completely made me want a long, beige coat to wear all of fall and winter. I love the notion of uniform dressing in that its consistency becomes a gateway sans the perils of What To Wear.

  • unvanquished

    I used to have an amazing camel DKNY coat of that exact description. Fabulous.

  • Emma

    Love Alice!!! also, fair hair and oversized noses for the win!!! xxx

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