Monday, March 24, 2008

coat culture

a coat conveys much about its wearer. in my people watching of late, i've noticed a lot about people by they way they carry themselves, how they interact with diversity, and how they react to life. more often than not, these distinctions translate to their choice of outerwear as well.

what got me on this thought process? this weekend walking around western pennsylvania. it was cold. there was snow. my two jacket choices. mountain hardwear down jacket. mammut laser softshell. i felt the out-of-line-of-sight stares with them in the mostly carhartt or other chore coat outerwear. i do own a carhartt jacket. i love my carhartt jacket. it's tough. it doesn't show dirt. it will last for many years. i bought it in my pre-climber days, back when i was more likely to have calluses from swinging my hammer than from climbing a boulder. hard-working and loyal, these are your friends that will help you build something or move, no questions asked. their trucks are used well and don't have leather seats.

north face coats are ubiquitous these days. the wearer doesn't convey much information with this choice in outerwear. clean-shaven, designer jeans, low profile kicks translates into the coat being little more than an accessory, with the denali fleece being preferred for its large number of color choices. stubble, beanie, scraggly hair translates into the coat being a good deal. it's probably dark colored because we outdoor types don't like washing our fleeces or other jackets. the anomaly in these characterizations falls with the weekend snowboarders because you never know what they're going to look like in the real world. a quote unquote better outdoor brand tends to translate into someone i might run into at the climbing gym or in the woods or on the slopes. i'd guess that 90% of the outdoor brand wearing people on m street in georgetown are in fact poseurs, and not nearly as laid back and fun as the outlying 10% i want belaying while i'm on the sharp end or helping me out on the mountain.

the last person characterized is the proper overcoat wearer. this person must look nice and act gentlemanly/ladylike. while i tend towards the previous two, when wearing my pea coat, i carry myself differently. does this make me a poseur? in a sense, but mainly because i don't want to screw up my irreplaceable hand-me-down coat. it's hard to figure out the men in this category based purely on their coat though. i need to dig deeper. as most of my observations have been on the metro, i can't take note of their zip code or set of wheels. the matching scarf or gloves translate into a less-than-patient attitude with those around him. reluctance to standing/sitting because of an idiosyncratic hypochondria. the guy that sticks out most in my mind in this regard had the burberry overcoat with the collar turned up (just to show the plaid) and the matching scarf. even with gloves on he seemed annoyed to have to hold on while the train was in motion and looked with turned nose at anyone who entered his personal space on the full train at rush hour. the characteristic that turns this class on their head is the messenger bag. more indicative of the outdoor coat active young person than the snooty burberry set, the messenger bag links these categories together.

i wonder which shifting categories these familiar strangers travel between. how many of the overcoat set drive beat up pickups or climb rocks like me?

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