I'm not a clotheshorse. Shopping in large stores induces overwhelm and even if it looks good, if I don't feel comfortable in it, the item will soon gets relegated to the Goodwill or clothing-swap bag. Still, when I find items of clothing I like, I wear it until I can't be worn anymore: the favorite jeans that finally wear out in the butt, the green coat with threadbare buttons, the worn-down heels that can't be repaired. And then there's the limiter of living in a small house. I don't like clutter. Sometimes, I'm sad to realize I've donated something prematurely (When did I toss out the vintage clack cape with the green lining or my dad's old buckskin jacket?). But some things have persisted. Saturday I was happy to reach deep in the depths of the closet and find an old favorite jacket, that I can't justifiably wear everywhere anymore, but I that I can't part with either.
I'd wandered into the eco clothing boutique not far from the Wellington ferry terminal, with no clear shopping objective. Past the initial reporting work, which had brought me to Auckland a few days, earlier, spontaneity and intuition were the themes of my third trip to New Zealand. It was the first time I'd traveled here as a freelance writer, and it was the first long trip I'd taken after a long relationship crashed and burned. After months of feeling blue, the trip to New Zealand offered some needed perspective on starting over. So as soon as I finished filing my report, I rented a car and decided I wouldn't follow a set itinerary for the next 10 days of vacation. I'd wake up each day and then decide where to go and what to do.
Reading the paper at breakfast that day, I learned Wellington was hosting The New Zealand International Festival of Arts and off I went, catching the ferry across Cook Straight, between the North and South Island. With some time before the evening's performance, I window-shopped. And while I didn't know what I was looking for when I walked in the store, I gravitated toward the rack of jackets made from upholstery against the wall as if the garment were calling me. It was a bold jacket. Complete with black faux leather collar and zipper lining and slash zippered pockets that were roomy but not bulky, the jacket hugged me just enough at the waist to confirm curves without being tight. Durable, but stylish, ready for anything, rich but not ostentatious, it had a character I aspired to.
I wore the jacket to the show that night, Mark Morris's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, and I wore it for the plane ride home to San Francisco, still sandy, and now blissed out from my few days on the beaches of Golden Bay. After 12 unplugged days of traveling by myself, soaking in hot springs on the Coramandel Peninsula, watching whales in Kaikoura, kayaking on the bay and eating mussels and thick toast with my feet in the sand, I was starting to feel a part of the living again.
I may have looked too happy. The security guard held me back, asking me to remove the jacket. I watched as he ran his fingers along and around the black collar, checking for contraband. But he stopped short of cutting into it when I protested, and, muttering, returned the jacket to me.
For several years, I wore the NZ coat everywhere. It went well with jeans and it worked over dresses. The pockets could hold a few Cds, keys, lipstick, a cell phone and money. It made sense to wear in all but the hottest of weather. Always, someone would remark upon its specialness. In Paris, a woman stopped me on the Ile St Louis to finger the sleeves, circling me, appraising its cut, approvingly. It was slightly weird, she opined, maybe a little too heavy, but it worked.
And like the well-loved sofa it would have become, it became faded and worn in places over the years. When the elbows began to go threadbare, it became something I only wore with jeans. Today, more than 15 years after I bought it, it very seldom leaves its hanger, but I keep it as a reminder of the possibility I remembered when I bought it, as much as of the places I've been.