Buying Boys' Coats: America in the 1990s

Figure 1.--.

I thought HBC might like some observations I jotted down after buying a coat for my pride and joy--Mike.

Every American parent, except those lucky denezins of Hawaii and Key West, have gone through the dreaded fall ritual of buying a new winter coat. At first it was fun. You could buy what ever cute little number you wanted and bundle them up to ward off the winter weather. The cuter the better. But then there came a time when your charming little offspring suddenly developed his own very definite sence of style and color preferences. Despite the fact that he often neglcted to put on his coat, what was to hang in his closet had to fit some very definte guidelines. His fashion guidlines might well put the fashion houses of Paris to shame.

You know I am sure that somewhere in the vast American hinterland there must be at least one boy who never has to be nagged by his parents. Mom's around the country every October start in with, "You put on your coat before you go out, Buster, or you'll catch your death of pneumonia." The alternative of course is not death, but a $250 doctor's bill. Kids around the country roll their eyes and comply--at least if you catch them before they escape through the door.

Now this perfect boy, America must have at least one, must at the first hint of a fall chill willingly scurry to the closet saying, "I do believe it is cold enough--may I please wear my coat today." Note that this ideal, if mythical being, even has paid attention in English grammer classes and knows the difference between "can" and "may". This is of course the child who not only willingly eats his Brussel Sprouts, but asks for a second helping, practices his violin without bein reminded, and volunteers to write thank you notes the day after Christmas. He also reminds mothers of the dangers of smoking.

If you are the mother of this child, you must write a book and share your insights on nuturing young spirits with the world. If not, there is no need to give up. The task of buying a new winter coat is not insurmountable. All that has to be done is find a coat that fits the climatic demands of your locality and your price limits. What could be simplier, right? Oh yes, now that your charming creature has passed the age of consent so to speak, it must meet his finely tuned sence of style--which of course may be incomprehensible to his mother. To say that boys who want to wear baseball caps backwards, an earring in their left ear, torn swearshirts, and jeans two sizes too large have a sence of style seems a bit of a streach, but believe me it is there. (incidentally, Mike does not yet have an earring--but we are bracing ourselves for the teen years whichbare rapidly approasching.) At any rate, just try to buy a coat that does not measure up and see how many times he voluntarily wears it.

Even if it proves difficult to drag the little darling to the mall--do not despair. There are an ever increasing number of catalogs available. There are even several specialized kids' catalogs. There is now even the great unknown of the Internet, although I personally like to see what I am buying. With all of these oossibilities, just about everyone's tastes should be covered and a coat that you can all agree on seems a plausible outcome. Well, it seems like ot should be possible.

This Fall I put my theory to the test. I subjected five mail order jackets to the most extreme test imaginable--the fashion sense of a 10-year old boy. Now you might think a 10-year old girl might be even a tougher critic. I can easily disabuse you of that misconception as I have both of the particular species under consideration and there is no comparison. I dragooned my particular example of American boyhood for the experiment--Mike. My Mike is a red headed, freckled-face perpetual motion machime. He is a surburban soccer player of some local renown. I know this because I am a soccer Mom with almost equal renown--meaning I have the biggest minivan. Mike's reluctance quickly melted in the face of Mom's ultimate weapon--a bribe. In this case some new Pokemon cards. (If you do not have a child in grade school and do not know what Pokemon is, don't ask--you don't want to know.) Now my Mike needs new Pokemon cards like his sister needs more Beanie Babbies, but there is little he will not do when this particular carrot is dangled before him.

Mike's outter wear wardrobe consisted of a fleece jacket for Fall and a parka for winter. He was quite content with what he had. Mike is extremely conservative. Unless it his something he has seen on television or hid friends at school or wearing it, he does not like to change. Of course coats are not heavily marketed on television. So it took some doing to concince him that he needed a new coat, that is until the potential addition to his already vast Pokemon cards were brought up. (To those of you who think that my bribes will run out now that Mike has almost all 500 Pokemon cards. The kindly people in Japan who thought up yhis contageon are about to unleash 150 more Pokemon monsters on unsuspecting American kids.)

I soon developed some indicator as to what Mike's ideal coat might ber like. It has to be comfortable enough to run around in without slowing him down. It must not make him look like a "dweeb"--a look I have not yet been able to fully comprehend, but give me time, I'm working on it. But perhaps the key injuction was that it must not make him look any way what so ever like a girl! That was clearly the kiss of death for a 10-year old boy. (Does anyone know just why this is?) Now being a girl myself, at least the grown up version there of, I took some umberage at Mike's venemous dismisal of several coats I quite liked. This injunction, howver, was so deep rooted on his part that I decided that discression was the better part of valor and accepted Mike's thums down assessment without engaging him in a soul searing sociological discussion from my bra burning days. (Actually I never burned a bra, but read about it and thought it an excellent idea.) I also did not mention to Mike that the coats he showed some interest in could as easily be worn by girls as the ones he rejected. As best I could determine, he was honeing in on the color more than the style. The list of colors a coat came ibn had little impact, it was the color actually pictured in the catalog that had the real impact on my fashion guru.

I of course had some input into the selection as well. I wanted something reasonably priced, nothing over $100 I explained to Mike. And of course a it would be nice if it kept Mike reasonably warm.

Mike and I perused the catalogs. Mike warmed to the task. One engaged he began to shw considerable interest, realizing I assume that he would have to wear whatever was finally selected. We had some disagreements. I rather liked a wool peacoat that was pictured in the Talbots Kids catalog. It was a grey double breasted coat that I judged rather smart. Mike took one look at it and shreeked, "It's what a rich French girl would wear." (I was somewhat surprised that Mike had such detailed information on what rich girls wore in France or any other country and made a mental note to detemine at a more oportune moment just where such insights were derived.) But we also had some similar judgements. CWD (Child's Wear Digest) had a wool-nylon toggle button coat that would be fine for the chiliest winter mornings, however, Mike and I thought it a bit to dressy for school. We both liked the Lands' End hooded jacket. It was the leasr expensive and looked warm. Mike also liked it, but was a little uneasy with the color pattern. Mike's favorite was the Patagonia Kids back bowl anorak. (English kids have been wearing anorak for years.) It is defined as a jacket with a hood worn in the Polar regions. However the Patagonia Kids anorak, like the ones in England is rather light weight and has to be worn with several layers underneath to keep one warm.

I was a little surprised that after a rather rockey start that we narrowed our choices down to two that we both rather liked. My real question is where do we go from here. Is 10 just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and does picking clothes become increasingly difficult--or do kids become more reasoned creatures as they get older. I'm not optimistic on this score. Of greater concern is how long the Pokemon bribes will actually work,

Belinda Rutinger

Christopher Wagner

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Created: November 17, 1999
Last updated: November 17, 1999