The Goddess Speaks
Garment is cloaked in intimidation
There's a scary black coat hanging in my closet along with my humble Hawaii beach shifts. There it lurks, large and black and sort of hairy, weighing more on its own than all the clothing I would need for a weekend in Maui.
Weeks ago my Virginia-based daughter found out that I had made travel arrangements to attend a conference in New York at the end of November. She was horrified when I explained my basic winter-wardrobe plan: my Hawaii-weight windbreaker and a warm blanket.
Terms like "homeless person," "inappropriate," "laughing stock" and "ignorant tourist" were bandied about and when I visited with her this summer, I was hauled off to the Burlington Coat Factory to purchase The Coat. The weirdness of buying a seriously heavy wool garment in 98-degree weather struck me as hilarious, but my daughter's sense of humor evidently doesn't extend to imagining her mother waltzing around New York in slippers and a warm blanket. So now I own The Coat.
The Coat is a reflection of the difference between living in Hawaii and living on the East Coast. It takes up definitive closet space, and looks permanent. Unlike transitory T-shirts from the flea market, it's stylish, expensive and anti-weather. In other words, in Hawaii what we wear and do is in harmony with both the budget and the elements, but if you live in New York, you need intimidating and expensive clothing to combat frostbite and surly waiters. I can get a table at a restaurant in Honolulu wearing Cotton Casual, but it seems that in New York, I need Withering Wool.
I feel somehow that people should pay more attention to me now that I own The Coat. Next time I want to express an unpopular opinion at a faculty meeting, I am sure I shall simply have to appear in my very black, very long, very intimidating winter coat, and I will obviously look more important than those other teachers in their Hilo Hattie cotton shifts.
Further, the coat can't just be shoved from dryer to drawer. This beastie requires a Clothing Commitment: It attracts lint like a magnet, likes to be brushed and dry-cleaned, and has to be carried around like a big black albatross. The Ancient Mariner had nothing on The Coat. I brought it home in July and it required vigilant thought, energy and attention to be manhandled on and off airplanes, and in and out of travel bags.
I'm a hypocrite of course -- I accepted The Coat as a gift, so I haven't really made the adjustment to serious clothing. In fact, at the next faculty meeting, I will wear a cotton shift and sandals like everyone else, and I'm grateful that The Coat will spend most of its life waiting in my closet, and very little of its life in the service of pretentious stylishness.
Cris Rathyen teaches English at Moanalua High School.
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