EPISODE 31: Farewell duffle, my old friend
On a recent morning I noticed that one of the more painful moments in the life of a dandy was not far away for my son Nicholas. At age eight, his navy blue duffle coat - one of his closest companions since his fifth Christmas - had become too small. He would soon be forced to say goodbye to this old friend. He wasn't just showing some shirt linen when he slipped it on, but whole sections of his forearms were sticking out of the sleeves.
We've all been through this rite of passage: the elegantly shabby cashmere V neck that finally becomes just plain shabby, the ripped pair of jeans that become the unsightly trousers of the wholly. Still, I was curious to see how he would handle his first brush with sartorial mortality.
"Nicholas, it might be time to retire that coat," I said. He looked back at me as if I had suggested putting the family dog down.
"No, it's fine, Dad. I love this coat. It is so toasty. Besides, Granny bought it for me in London."
I remembered the Christmas it arrived at our New York apartment. There was a large box from Hackett under the tree, and I thought, "How fantastic... someone's gotten me a new tweed." When Nicholas opened the blue and white box and first started wearing the coat, he was swimming in it. He bore a passing resemblance to Paddington Bear freshly arrived from darkest Peru to 32 Windsor Gardens.
My hope was that Nicholas would quickly work his way through the Kübler-Ross stages of Duffle grief and tough out the winter in a down parka just like every other child
"I'm sorry. It is just too small," I said with an air of finality. "Wear it to school a few more times and then it will be time for your parka." On some level, I could relate to his impending sense of loss. After 20 years an old raincoat had finally become threadbare (and it's calf-length hem was a cringe). If my son insisted upon going about as Paddington Bear, then his dad was on the verge of being mistaken for Tintin, a Belgian cub reporter who had a fondness for wearing trousers that can only be described as "man culottes".
My hope was that Nicholas would quickly work his way through the Kübler-Ross stages of duffle grief and tough out the winter in a down parka just like every other child. It wasn't just the price tag of a new coat that was holding me back. At eight, Nicholas is entering a stretch of years when boys often look weird in that style of outerwear. Little boys look cute in a duffle. Grown men look very cool in them. But whenever I see pre-teens in them, they look like the villain in some boarding-school melodrama ("There's nothing wrong with Master Smithers that a good caning won't cure").
A week or so after the duffle had received its terminal diagnosis, I arrived home late from a "work drinks" (a phrase with a lovely, irreproachable ring to it). I expected everyone to be fast asleep, leaving me to devour the leftovers from the children's dinner followed by a pint of ice cream before passing out. As I came down the front hall and entered the kitchen, I was stunned: Nicholas was still up. He and my wife were huddled around her iPad. They both looked at me as if I had walked in on them engaging in an illegal activity.
"Go to $85, Mum. Go to $85. Up the bid!" Nicholas shouted in the fevered sort of voice I hadn't heard since I clerked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
"So what are you up to?" I asked.
As we stepped outside, Nicholas put on his wayfarers and flipped up the hood of his new duffle coat. Somehow he avoided looking like a bully or a bear from darkest Peru
"Look at this coat, Dad. It is amazing," Nicholas said as he took the iPad and showed me the eBay entry for a navy blue duffle coat that was sized for a 10-year-old boy. The coat was indeed beautiful - soft, boiled wool, horn buttons. "You know when you wear a duffle coat you don't need a scarf or a hat," he added, as if he were some overeager department store salesman.
"He found this coat himself. It's the old Papo D'Anjo design that Oscar de la Renta now owns. It probably retails for $300 new," said my wife, beaming with pride at the cyber-shopper she had raised.
"I thought we had decided to retire that look," I said to Nicholas before heading off to bed.
On a grey November morning a large cardboard box arrived with the Saturday post, and I thought to myself, "Fantastic. My new moleskins are here." As I started to open the package Nicholas hip-checked me out of the way. "Excuse me, Dad. That's for me," he said and then explained that he had prevailed in his eBay auction. "I took it down for two hundo." ("Hundo" being Wall Street lingo for a hundred.) He took the soft blue coat out of the box, slipped it on, and we headed out for our weekly squash match.
As we stepped outside of our apartment building, Nicholas put on his wayfarers and flipped up the hood of his new blue duffle coat. Somehow he avoided looking like a bully or a bear from darkest Peru. Instead he looked like a fun-sized Liam Gallagher circa Definitely Maybe. He stood on the curb as I stepped into traffic to hail a taxi. The day was raw. I flipped up the collar of my new Mackintosh raincoat - certain that I still looked like Tintin.