Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Time for a Coat

The issue of plainness or simplicity has taken up more space on this blog than I had expected. But I am going to continue the discussion for awhile for the simple reason that I am now facing a buying decision that gives me a chance to apply the principles we've been discussing.

Here's the situation. My winter coat is pretty old. I don't remember how long I've had it, but it does look like it needs replacement (or not...depends on what's important). It has a few small tears in the fabric, the pockets have holes in them and won't reliably hold anything smaller than a book, and it looks a little dingy or greasy even after I have it cleaned. Talk about not fitting in: I sometimes sense that people in the building where I work are nervous about riding in the elevator with me when I wear this coat.

So if I get a new coat (or a better used coat?) what kind of coat should it be? Looking "plain" in some traditional Quaker or Mennonite sense is not necessarily desirable as I see it, but it's not a huge negative either if the coat makes sense for me otherwise.

I think I should get something of "high quality", but only in the sense that it is well-made and durable. To get something that will wear out quickly and have to be replaced seems like a waste of resources. On the other hand, I see no need for it to be precisely fitted as a tailor would do. The coats I've worn all my life have always been "off the rack" and they've always fitted me well enough for my taste.

Other things being equal I'd prefer that it be mass-produced by machine rather than tailor-made by hand, because I think that labor-saving is a good thing. Garments made entirely by hand seem to me like a luxury that will never be available to most people and therefore obviously aren't needed by anyone. But human labor is used even in making mass-produced clothes. It's important to me that I not support the exploitation of underpaid labor. If possible, I'd like the coat to be made by union labor or at least by people who benefit from work rules and wage rates that have resulted from labor union activity. If it is made in the U.S. so much the better, but if it is made elsewhere I'd at least like to have some way of checking on whether the workers that made it are paid fair wages.

I want the coat to be pretty warm, since New York winters can be cold, but not so bulky that it becomes a problem to move around in it. A hood would be good, but is not absolutely necessary.

Finally, within the constraints mentioned above I'd like it to be as inexpensive as possible (not a witness, just me being cheap). I'd be willing to pay more for a union-made garment than an imported garment made by underpaid labor. But I wouldn't pay much of a premium, if any, to get a "plain" coat made by the Amish or other traditional craftsmen.

So, Friends. How would you advise me? Where should I look for my new coat?



Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...


I strongly recommend supporting NoSweatApparel.com or JusticeClothing.com, and not just because they're both based in New England. :)

I believe No Sweat makes most of their clothes in union shops in various countries. I've only bought a pair of shoes from them, but they seem to have a great deal of good stuff on their site.

Justice Clothing is a retailer that sells clothes made by other companies in certified union shops in the US. I've gotten some pants and socks from them, all of which have been excellent quality.

For the most part, plain coats don't serve as great winter wear for us Northeasterners, unless you want to get an Amish greatcoat with cape, in which case you'll look like you should be riding atop a stage coach. The lack of decent closure causes a lot of winter wind to seep in, removing most of the heat trapped in the modest insulation.

In my opinion, plainness need not mean getting hypothermia the next time a Nor'Easter blows through. ;)

5:14 PM, January 04, 2005  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear Richard:

I would recommend a wool winter coat from the Mennonite tailors, WeeFox... see my blog. If thee considers it, I will bring thee the order form this first day. You may have thy coat three weeks after that. Thee will know it is well made, durable, not expensive, warm, and made by fair labor. They are also really nice folks.

Thyne in the light

7:14 AM, January 05, 2005  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Many thanks to Lorcan and Jeffrey for their suggestions. I looked at the websites Jeffrey suggested and saw two coats that are good candidates: one for $50 and one for $62.

If the Mennonite tailor Weefox offers comparable coats at competitive prices I will be glad to consider those as well.

- - Rich

11:26 AM, January 05, 2005  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Well, my greatcoat from Weefox arrived, cape and all, looks great WARM, and not very much money, around $200 if memory serves. It came to the day on the day it was promiced, and the work is just perfect.
All the best,

10:44 PM, January 17, 2005  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Congratulations to Lorcan on his coat.

I have now also ordered my own coat from Justice Clothing. It should arrive in a couple of days. I am a little too stingy to be as plain as Lorcan: I was only willing to pay about $75 including shipping.

9:17 AM, January 18, 2005  
Blogger Amanda said...

Lor, it was perfect timing! It's SO COLD. I'd rather have a coat but the Big Uh-gly Parka (see my blog) is doing the job for now.

9:39 AM, January 18, 2005  

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