Monday, March 2, 2015

Coating Ourselves

    That outer layer, that overcoat, top coat, fur coat, hoodie, jacket, shawl, poncho or rain slicker become, the instant we put them on, the first, and consequently the most important word in the Attire statement we make as we head out the door.  And our attention to that element is a major player in how others will see, understand, or misinterpret, our meaning.
    The commonplace hoodie with screen printing on it, for example, is at once a statement of a casual attitude towards appearance, and at the same time, with its decorative element, a call to be noticed.

A raincoat can by its cut, color, and fit, imply the wearer as dour, practical, frivolous, brainy, or outdoorsy.  A jacket similarly has endless variations, each with its own special shadings of meaning, from a classic biker jacket, to a wool tweed with patches on the elbows.  And a shawl, or wrap, is unquestionably the most variable, since its color, pattern, and texture are only a part of how it conveys meaning. The greatest part is in how it gets worn.  Where there is usually one way to wear a coat or jacket, a shawl or wrap is limited in its final shape, only by the wearer's skill and imagination.
    The overarching point is, though, that our outer garment, when we throw it on, instantly, and substantively alters whatever message we were attempting to convey with the apparel choices we had made before putting it on. So, if you are a person with means to have options beyond one basic practical outer garment, that final choice is the one that will be the key to whether your meaning is conveyed in the way you wish.
    Certainly there are always extenuating circumstances that may make, "the perfect coat" a temporary impossibility.  You're going on a special date, and it starts raining hard. Suddenly your old tan trench coat gets hauled into service, so your other clothes stay dry.  Or more likely, and this would be for most people, you just plain don't own something that is the ideal first visible word in your Attire sentence.  So, you make do with the closest thing.  Or perhaps you're one of the army of folks who don't think about such things a jot.  That, of course doesn't alter the fact that you're still making Attire remarks, or that others will see, and interpret them in their own way.
    And of course, we get to the title of this post, and a meaning implicit within those the words.  More than just protection from the elements, an outer garment is like the furthest ramparts of a castle and keep.  Its the surface layer of protection from others, or our first announcement of who we are, or wish to be.  Some use a coat as a blazing firey signal of Here I Am!
Others use a cost as a way to sink to invisibility, or to alter the way we seem so that we look less vulnerable, less approachable.
    Whichever reason, or whichever of the multitudes of other psychological motives we might bring up, it remains that this garment, this flexible shell, is one of the first symbols that states, come here, or stay away, to the people we pass in the street.
    So when you reach for your coat next time, give a moment of thought if you can to the nature of what you do with that simple action of coating yourself.

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