Writing from the Heart: Spiritual lessons from a trench coat

Security and self-esteem can’t be found in your closet.


Until today, when I was zipping up my new winter jacket, I never realized how my clothing is actually the catalyst for my spiritual growth.You may not have realized it for yourselves, but when I’m through with you, you may go to your closet and sit in the lotus position and quietly om at your wardrobe.

There’s one thing you need to know before I go on: I have been trying to slow down my whole life. I eat too fast. I drive too fast. I talk too fast. I make decisions too fast. I click send too fast. My son Dan’s constant mantra to me was, “Slow down, turbo”; I knew he had something there, but knowing and acting on the knowing are two different things. So just tuck that slow-down-turbo thing away for a minute. Let me trace for you my connection to the wisdom of the ancients and my apparel.

We’ll start with eighth grade. Fitting in was the priority of my 14-year-old self, and fashion was one of the currencies that could buy you a seat at the table. And if you’ve ever been in the cafeteria of a junior high school, you know which table I’m talking about.

That year there was a certain silk-lined khaki Burberry trench coat that the “in group” was wearing. It was way out of my parents’ meager budget, but my parents would rather starve than have us be unhappy. So my father promised me I would get that trench coat. He said he knew a guy who knew a guy who could get it for him wholesale. I couldn’t wait for my entrance fee into the cool girls club. I was so close I could taste the Saturday night sleepovers and the blueberry pancakes the next morning. 

And then my father came home. Beaming. He handed me the package grinning, so proud that he could fulfill his fatherly duty and bring joy to his offspring. It saddens me to this day, that he had to see my crestfallen face as I lifted the cheap imitation knockoff out of its butcher paper, letting it fall to the floor. The look I gave him was, I will never be poor like you.

But after a few days of dealing with disappointment, I forgave him, and realized how much my father had tried to give me what I wanted, and how what I wanted was so not important compared to his feelings of failure. I’m sure I hadn’t articulated any of this to him, but I do remember questioning my need to be part of something so superficial. That was a big spiritual lesson for a 14-year-old. And from a trench coat, no less.

Fast-forward (well, not so fast), I’m 44 and apparently still craving acceptance to the cool girls lunch table, but now it’s the suburban progressive dinner group. You know, we start at Mickey and Jonathan’s for stuffed mushrooms, and then we all go to Linda and Evan’s for the new Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella, and then we jaunt over to Susie and Steve’s for dessert, probably cherries jubilee or something complicated like that from the New York Times.

That year everyone was wearing a Marc Jacobs jacket, the softest, leatherest, mink-lined jacket. I wanted one. I needed one. Very high-priced club membership dues. Again.

So I schlepped my husband into Manhattan (we lived in West Hartford, Conn.) just for a look-see. I loved the way the jacket felt. I loved the way it looked. And I loved what the jacket was going to do for me. But I started to feel weird about an animal killed for my benefit. I kept walking around the store, looking at it from all angles. Unfortunately there wasn’t a bad angle. It was 360° gorgeous.

When the sales gal approached me, I said, “I don’t think I can do this. There’s something wrong with killing little animals just so I can be in step with the fashionistas of my town.” Without skipping a beat she said, in her thick Brooklyn accent, “They raise them to die.”

Dear reader, I’d so like to tell you I was secure enough to walk out, head held high, with a shred of decency left, but I bought the thing. And probably some ingredients for the crème brûlée I’d be making for the progressive dinner I was sure to soon be attending.

I did get invitations to those inane dinners. But then someone new came to town, and the invites dried up. So Marc Jacobs wasn’t my ticket in. The lesson? Turns out security doesn’t come from wearing small furry animals on your person. So now fast-forward (and as you get older, it really does get faster) to the down winter blanket masquerading as a coat. Here might be a bit of a different kind of lesson. A not necessarily spiritual kind of a lesson, but a lesson nevertheless. If anything I’d call it zen-ish. 

If they were to give this outerwear a name, it would be called “the origami wrap.” It folds in on itself to the point where you wonder how cranes even manage to stand at all. There really shouldn’t be logistical problems when it comes to getting dressed. But this clearly is an exceptional construct.The whole thing is off-kilter, although in Milan they would probably call it brilliantly asymmetrical. 

Step one is to find the label. Step two is to find the arms. Step three, and this is the big challenge: Work the zipper. The thing arrives at an angle after you have bent the left side into the right side, until it reaches the eyebrows. And if you’re inclined to breathe, you’ll have to create a blowhole for your oxygen pleasure.

And because it is so puffy, it’s difficult, almost impossible to see the parts of the zipper that have to meet. The three times I’ve worn the jacket, I had to keep it open because trying to zip the damn thing was taking too long, and I just couldn’t deal. But today (and this is how I know the jacket is my teacher) it was too cold to wear it open. 

So I had a choice: I could either start screaming at the jacket and curse the designer. Or I could take my time and look at the problem, which I did. I stopped. I took a deep yoga breath. I thought, I’m not late for anything, I can do this. It will only work if I “slow down.” And guess what? I slowed. I zipped. I om’d. 

In the beginning I promised you a mystical experience in your closet. So try fondling that angora sweater, caressing that cashmere coat, petting that polyester tunic.



  1. This is lovely. I’d been feeling envious of well-dressed customers in the grocery store. Instead, I’m curling up in my favorite cashmere sweater found at Chicken Alley.

  2. Only a writer with the wit and charm and skill of Nancy could combine spiritual practice with fashionable clothing and come out hilarious!

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