I struggle to think of a garment more romantic than a long coat. That’s Heathcliff romantic, you understand - not You’ve Got Mail romantic. I like the way they move when you walk, I like the way they keep you warm, and I like the way they make you feel as though you’re inside a protective cocoon. Like so many garments, most long coats have their origins in clothing produced for the military. Trench coats, great coats and dusters were, and still are, used for protection from the cold and from the elements, even if they’ve been in civilian circulation for several centuries - staying warm has long been a very human concern. These days, when the weather turns, most people reach for their down jackets - which means there’s no easier way to go from “normal dude” to “normal dude who has a pretty cool coat.”
There’s also no easier way to go from “normal looking dude” to “probable serial killer.” I was not-quite-twelve when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered thirteen people and injured twenty-one more at Columbine High School. I remember sitting on the floor in front of our couch while my family - like every other family in Colorado - watched the news with a horror that, as a largely unconcerned 11-year old, I didn’t quite understand. Now I live only a few blocks from the movie theater in Aurora where, in 2012, James Holmes killed twelve more at a midnight movie showing.
Cultural panic followed the Columbine shooting. The “Trench Coat Mafia” became a buzzword overnight, and fingers were pointed at everyone from Neo to Marilyn Manson. In schools, trench coats and “goth” accessories were banned or confiscated. Although the fear and anger was largely misdirected - perhaps “without direction” is a better term - it was also understandable. Clothing, along with a whole host of other visual cues, has connotations that are constantly evolving, connotations that are difficult for us to ignore. Where once it suggested Byronic mystery or clean-cut military trustworthiness, the trench coat became - at least on the public buses I rode - cause for nervous glances and the occasional swapped seat.
Almost sixteen years after Columbine, it’s still unlikely I’ll ever hang a full-length black coat in my closet. Even if I often enjoy subversive garments, even if I often enjoy things that are just on the tasteful side of creepy, Columbine and Aurora loom large in Colorado’s collective subconscious and in my own memories. My desire to look like a down-on-his-luck space pirate doesn’t outweigh other people’s desire to not feel as though they’re in the same room as a murderer - even if I’m imagining their discomfort.
Of course, long coats are useful for the same reason they’re sometimes menacing. They hide the body - cover it completely - along with whatever else you’ve got going on underneath (usually more clothing, but I accept that some folks are more adventurous than I am). They’re warm, they often have an acceptable number of pockets (space pirates are big on pockets), and they look rad as fuck. You want to look like a dude who might show up on The Sartorialist and not even care if he did? Then you want a Casentino overcoat. Male escort from the future? Haider Ackermann’s got you covered, head-to-toe. Japanese gardener-slash-space mechanic? Look no further than one of Blue Blue Japan’s workshop-ready offerings. And, should you wish to channel the Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, Paul Harnden is one of many makers you might enjoy.
I’m by no means telling you not to wear a black coat. Just scroll through our Streetwear “What are you wearing today” thread, or even through our Yohji Yamamoto thread, and you’ll see a whole host of people who look beyond great in them. I don’t think they look like school shooters, and I don’t think the people around them think they’re school shooters either. I think they look fantastic. I think they look comfortable. And that’s the important bit: a long coat, like everything else in your closet, can make you The Man With No Name, can make you Rick Blaine, can make you Rick Deckard - but only if you’re happy with the way you feel in it. Clothing doesn’t exist independent from social context or from mental context, and for me that means I’ll probably continue to wear 3/4-length coats in colors that aren’t black.