Topper Takes a Trip

It's not even that you want to wear a heavy coat—a $200 suit of woolly armor that weighs as much as a newborn baby, and threatens to stifle you (like a newborn)—or that you'd kill for the chance. It's just that it would be nice once in a while to really get dressed. Like Bill Holden. But this year, like every year before it, you know we'll get two weeks of freeze at most—meaning your trip to the Harrisburg Coat Outlet to buy an irregular coat will end up costing you upwards of $20 a day. And so, if you have a coat, it's probably something on the order of a hooded sweatshirt—and you wear it with Rainbow sandals and boardshorts.

"They're usually not fashionable," says San Clemente fashion designer Brendan Mignogna of coats; he plans to relaunch his imprint Zayd for 2008 as a line exclusively for men. "But that's one reason I'm doing what I'm doing: to give men more fashionable options. I decided to design one full-length winter coat because I love them."

Love is perhaps a strong word for something that can cost more than three pairs of decent shoes (two pair of nice ones); hate might be better. But he's right: you should love your coat, and not just because you'll wear it to the poorhouse. Love your heavy coat because, on those few days you wear it, it will be almost all people see of you—that, and the vestiges of some pant legs or a skirt hem. Maybe your shoes. Your coat covers you, so you'd better love it—and it had better be swell. Elegant. Swellegant.

"That would be accurate," says Nordstrom's Orange County director of personal shopping, Linda Plunkett. "There are so many terrific styles for coats. It's like an accessory, to have a wonderful wrap or a wonderful topper to wear."

Toppers—simplistically styled, short trenchcoats—are big this season for men and women, but so are their opposites: complex coats with toggle buttons and those lunchbox latches that firefighters have on their coats (which are fire retardant to boot); and, Plunkett says, all sorts of extra buckles, ties, and details not glimpsed at least since Disneyland closed its tribute to Captain Eo.

"Generally, we do a wonderful business in coats, and it's because they're fashion-driven. Our customers buy coats because they're fashionistas," Plunkett says, using a word you'd more commonly see in The Orange County Register. (The italics are ours.) That's because, like ZZ Top, Nordstrom is nationwide—and it purchases clothes for Michigan and Mission Viejo. But it's also because hope springs eternal—so most of us keep a couple of winter coats hanging around all year in case there's a cold snap. (Or for that cloudburst in August every five years.) And Nordstrom waits for us to upgrade.

"If you look into the wardrobes of our customers, you'll see they're all across the board," Plunkett says, meaning that we buy a lot of clothes. (Except the bicyclist we saw recently outside our Santa Ana Norm's—on a rare cold day—wearing a down jacket and shorts.)

"And in the evening there's nothing more wonderful than putting on a cashmere coat," Plunketts adds. Well, nothing except putting on shorts and a T-shirt.


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