Friday, 29 October 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

It's dark, it's cold and it's the penultimate day of October. Thoughts turn to coats, where they have been for some weeks already to be honest.

I had a quick scout around the Dorset town of Wimbourne Minster today. I've had no luck there previously, but today The God of Charity Shopping planted a lovely coat there on the rack in 'Julia's House'. £7.50 for a 1960s coat made of heavy Dongeal tweed in a brown and cream herringbone weave, excellent condition with a lovely wrap collar detail. Thanks very much!

Alongside eveningwear (see previous post), second hand emporia are awash with vintage coats at all times of year. When I pick up a new coat in a shop they feel so lightweight and flimsy to me I cannot imagine them keeping anyone warm. (This may be the time to tell you that I am rather cold blooded. This always prompts the comment, 'But you're from the north - you should be used to the cold!' My answer is, 'That's why I don't live there anymore.' Sorry north, love you and all that but just cannot bear being cold.)

So anyway, charity shop, market, vintage shop, online... you've got your choice of places to find your winter coat, that's no problem. There's a lot of choice so you're going to have to be prepared to try them all on. Here are some tips to help you out:
  • If you're going to be wearing it over big winter woollies or a work suit, make sure the fit allows for them - especially across the shoulders and back.
  • Conversely, just a dress underneath? Make sure the coat isn't too big.
  • It should fit across the shoulders, if you can't move your arms forward together it's too small, same goes if the hem lifts up at the centre back. If the join where the sleeve meets the body of the coat is slithering off down your arm it's too big.
  • Similarly, if the front of the coat is dropping down making the front look as if it's longer than the back, it's too big. The exception is woman wearing a man's coat: army coats, utility, workwear etc - it's meant to be oversized.
  • Missing buttons? Easier to replace the whole lot than to match the missing one.
  • Dropped hem? Easy to fix.
  • Torn lining - not quite so easy to fix. If the lining is torn at the hem it's usually because the previous owner caught the heel of their shoe in it or got it stuck on a chair leg. If the lining is torn at the back of the neck this is where the coat has been repeatedly hung up without a hanger and the weight of the coat has torn the lining; this needs to be repaired carefully and make sure there's a hanging loop, chain or tape attached to the inside of the collar just above the lining at the back of the neck, not attatched to the lining alone. Torn lining under the arms is the most difficult to fix, it's worth putting some strips of iron-on interfacing behind the tears before sewing to reinforce the area.
  • If the lining is shredded (looks like a cat clawed it), it's had it and will need replacing. A coat without a lining does not hang properly so don't think you can just cut the lining out and it will make no difference.
  • If the pockets are torn or there are holes in them, either fix them or sew them up. Nobody will see the inside of your pockets so it doesn't matter if the fabric matches and this will help you reinforce them so they don't tear again. Before sewing the holes up, put your hand through the hole (wearing a washing up glove might be a good idea, just in case!) and search around the hem where the lining is attached to the coat to retrieve any object which may have fallen out of the pocket. If you find weights, leave them alone - this is the sign of a good coat and will help the hem of the coat hang well.
  • Get it dry cleaned ASAP. If it has metal, glass, ornate or fragile buttons, either take them off (leaving the loose threads so that you can see exactly where to put them back afterwards) or cover them in aluminium foil before dry cleaning to protect them.
  • Check for moth damage. Moths love wool and other good-quality cloths.
  • Ahem - does it smell? May smell a bit musty, that might just be the shop or a long time in storage (especially attics and garages) - a clean and an airing outside in the fresh air will sort that out. Look in the pockets for mothballs, they really pong and the smell is a bit trickier to shift.
  • Is it an even colour all over? Take it to the front of the shop and inspect it in the natural daylight. I have often found one shoulder and arm of a coat to be faded where it has hung in a wardrobe for years. There's nothing you can do about this and suede coats are particularly prone to it.
  • Trenchcoats, macs and suede coats are worth waterproofing onced cleaned. Camping and outdoor shops sell shower-repellant spray for fabrics and shoe repairers sell showerproofing sprays for suede.
  • Is the belt missing? If it's meant to have a belt it probably won't hang properly without one, but you can usually get away with a leather belt instead.
I think I'll leave it there for now. I could go on all night... I will post some of my favourite coats tomorrow. They always seem to have a story behind them. I used to wear a coat of my dad's when I was doing my A-levels and on my art foundation course. It was a black wool coat with a single button and an astrakhan shawl collar. He was big burly man so the coat was huge on me. My mother took to hiding it and telling me she'd thrown it out to stop me wearing it (didn't work of course!) The pockets were so big I could get a pint glass in each pocket when I had to leave the pub early and get the bus home when we went out after college.

Nowadays my criteria for a good coat is not how much beer it can help me smuggle onto public transport - you can work that one out for yourselves!

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