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Coat Tales

I have a new overcoat (although it's not new, exactly). I bought it at the Assistance League thrift shop on 4th Street in Long Beach in August. I had waited for my friend Randy as he poked among the prints and paintings at the back of the store and I found the coat - charcoal gray - at the end of a rack of donated sports coats.

My overcoat isn't vintage (which is why it fits me). Its fabric is a wool and cashmere blend ("10% recycled cashmere"). A sewn-in label announces that the fabric was woven in Italy. A much smaller label says the coat was made in China.

I bought the coat - just $20 - to replace one I'd worn for years until the satin lining pulled away from the coat, until the wool became pitted in a few places with moth holes.

That coat - light gray - was bought in 1964. My father had to return to Manhattan for his mother's funeral in late autumn that year. Naturally, he didn't own a proper overcoat. He went to Bonds Clothiers in Lakewood Center and got, I imagine, the least expensive overcoat they had in stock.

He wore it perhaps a dozen times after returning from New York. I have no memory of his wearing it, but he must have, from time to time. His overcoat hung in what had been my father's closet for years after his death in 1982, until I took to wearing it.

Overcoats aren't in fashion here. They're from another place, grayer and colder. Putting on my father's overcoat was to be transported. I went East in that coat every time I wore it.

I have an unfashionable overcoat because I walk (as a form of commuting) at least an hour a day. Early mornings and late afternoons in fall and winter - dark when I set out, dark when I return home - can be cold. A bus stop at night, the wind picking up, can be even colder.

And perhaps, I've become more solicitous of myself as I've gotten older. My overcoat (like nothing else anyone regularly wears here) is my warm embrace.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was adapted from one by flickr user Horia Varlan. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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