An unwarranted criticism small wardrobes sometimes get is they're impractical for four-season climates or extremes in weather. I have one word for that: Cleveland.
Paris doesn't get much snow in the winter. It's less frigid than the Rust Belt. Nevertheless, I know cold. There's a reason Forbes named Cleveland "America's worst winter weather city." I've had frostbite three times- where I come from, this is a rite of passage, like getting your ears pierced- and walked across a frozen Lake Erie more times than I can count. My parents lived in New England, other family members in Alaska, Chicago, and New York; all agree the winters I shoveled snow and trudged to school in for two decades are the worst they've ever encountered. Cleveland is the only city where I've experienced every season in a single day.
The thing is, in many harsh (Western) climates, people have cars to protect them from the elements. In Paris, you have nothing. Sometimes I'm outside six or more hours a day, shuffling through rain and slush. I'm not complaining- there are people sleeping in puddles on Rue Cler, I know I have it good- but moving here, I realized the winter gear I relied on growing up didn't cut it when I actually spent time outside. My salt-encrusted coats and ten-year-old winter boots were useless against the vagaries of commuter conditions.
The hunt was on. I needed two coats: one, a professional-looking rain coat that wouldn't soak me to the bone, washable, long enough to cover all my skirts; two, a warm, dressy winter coat that wasn't black. Since people are likely to see me in a coat 280 days a year, I wanted something that wasn't merely functional, but beautiful, statement-making. It had to be just as practical for shivering outside a café as patrolling with an ice squad on the Mongolian steppe.
I found the green coat in the first thrift store I visited: barely used, heavy waxed cotton to protect from cold and drenching rain, with a delightfully tacky monogram lining. It was two sizes too large and the sleeves were too long, so I hesitated. The owner lowered her (already piddling) price and punched a few more holes in the belt to tighten it. I rolled the sleeves up and left. I've more or less lived in this coat for three years- I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.
Winter coats are more difficult to pin down. Many styles hit at mid-thigh or waist, but I didn't want a visible gap between my boots and my hemline. I was picky about fabrics, too- no synthetics, and I wouldn't budge on secondhand. I refused to consider the leather-sleeved olive combo coats literally everyone I know wears, or doudones I've seen tear easily on the Mètro. After a fruitless two year brick and mortar search, during which time I simply layered my trench over a $12 thrifted coat and bore the cold, I went online. The pale color was risky, but a season of shoveling, tobogganning, travel and commuting proved it an excellent choice. Instead of resembling a sleeping bag, it's gathered around the smallest part of my waist, flaring softly over the hips. Only an initiated few recognize the designer and season (I had to Google it), which make it feel refined and discreet, instead of an adsorbate of trendy mass-produced generics.
As usual, this information is likely useless to anyone whose lifestyle differs even slightly from mine. Most of the French women I know have a trench, doudone, and wool coat, plus a cropped jacket (like a leather blouson) and several tailored blazers. My friend Claudine has a hooded raincoat, trench, and wool coat with a fur lining that snaps in and out of each one, and my friend Kanika wears a cute cape among other toppers. A long time ago, I got some good advice to spend comparatively more on a coat, because it's one of those garments you wear often and don't usually have many of, so it should render multiple services. Obviously I'm a fan of fully lined options, which are warmer and more durable. In the spring and summer, I wash and hang each coat in a canvas garment bag in the closet, airing them periodically. You can cut a hole in a clean old sheet for a hanger and drape it over the item- just don't use a plastic drycleaner bag, says the FIT Institute's Valerie Steele. These yellow garments and encourage mold.
I'm still working on pictures of all of my outfits; the example above shows why I barely post any. I would like to say my photos will improve. Sadly... they probably won't :(
Read the rest of the simple wardrobe series: