There is something rather special about a very good winter coat. It feels set apart from other garments; it offers you its own kind of relationship. Unlike other, more transient, items, the coat has longevity. Jeans become ripped, jumpers shrink, and t-shirts worn out. But the right coat, on the other hand, can last a lifetime: a steadfast witness to your wardrobe's evolution. Like a bag, a coat is immensely versatile, but unlike bags, coats protect us.
It is our coats, after all, that shield us from the wind and inclement weather (unless, like my most treasured coat, it is made out of suede - impracticality of the highest order). Coats conceal us when we feel a little shy, they provide us with pockets that warm our hands and carry our things; they are the threshold between the outside world and us. But they can also be full of seductive power: think how potent the image of a trench coat worn with high heels, and the hint of only lingerie underneath. Coats can convey sex appeal without compromising on mystery; in fact, that is where the very sex appeal lies.
A Burberry trench tied at the waist leans on the sexier side of life, of course, accentuating the sinuous curves of the female form; but there is a coat for all moods, whether it be shearling, simply oversized, a cape, or military style. Nothing quite screams luxury like a white, cashmere mix coat though, does it? Such a coat laughs in the face of dry cleaning costs; the kind of coat Jackie Kennedy used to wear.
For some reason, fur trimmed parkas seem to be having a particularly modish moment. They can be seen in various incarnations, but only a handful are really elegant. Done well, they bridge the gap between luxe sophistication and easy understatement; but done badly, they epitomise ubiquitous naff. I'm afraid coats are just one of those things that require an investment, and where quality cannot be underestimated. I truly believe that few things in life make one feel quite so splendid and so empowered like a beautiful, well-fitted coat. Why trouble ourselves co-ordinating and ensemble of clothes when the coat does it all for you. Just one piece; our outer shell; the ultimate symbol of our style.
Perhaps the most powerful thing about the winter coat, however, is how we return to it. Not just day after day in the cold and dismal months, but year after year. In winter, our coats become an intimate friend, familiar and reliable. And then we forget about them. Superfluous in the warmth, our coats are relegated, forgotten, until we need them again; and then find an ancient bus ticket lingering in the pocket, and are reminded of how fondly we once wore them. The very best coats are part of a cycle of absence and return, like the ebb and flow of the tide. They hang in our closets over summer, silent and inert, the repository of our memories and experience. They alone retain the human shape they once held, waiting for our return.