In December of 2017, I stumbled into the sale section of the Banana Republic at my local mall during a bout of holiday shopping. I thumbed through the rack without much enthusiasm until I found myself holding something unlike anything I’d ever seen before: a fire-engine red, ankle-length wool coat finished with sparkly gold piping and coordinating golden buttons.
You know that feeling when you hit it off with someone you’ve just met? This coat made my brain spark with a sense of possibility and excitement that is typically reserved for a new relationship; I just knew that we were meant to be.
As part of the Olivia Palermo x Banana Republic collaboration, this coat captures the collection’s theme of polished utilitarianism. A design masterpiece, it blends trendy fashion ideals with classical function and structure to become a wardrobe staple for the ages. Aptly described by my mother—through an impromptu rendition of the album’s title track—it’s reminiscent of the coat worn by George Harrison on the cover of the Beatles’ 1967 Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.
In the transition from high school to university, my approach to fashion evolved from trying to convey a misplaced sense of belonging in society to expressing whatever topic or part of my identity is deemed most pressing in the ten minutes I have to get dressed before my 8:30s.
Sometimes my clothing tells a story about the industry’s potential for sustainability. Sometimes my clothing says that I am the fashion editor for a magazine. Sometimes my clothing says that I had a late night last night, have an assignment due today, have not yet had a coffee and also that it’s cold outside. Whatever the weather, my Blundstones always mean business.
While I do take a light-hearted approach to my personal style, I have always held fashion itself as a means of communication that allows for the dilution of key aspects of larger socio-political conversations through an unobtrusive visual medium. Clothing is capable of telling stories that would otherwise get lost over time.
I am a regular customer in my grandmother’s closet, a treasure-trove where I am lovingly gifted wearable relics of my grandmother’s life as a young woman. From sweaters to skirts to scarves to handbags, my grandmother passes the fashion of her youth along to me in tandem with stories about her life. Over the years, I have received a scarf carried from her hometown in southern Italy when she immigrated to Canada as a newly married eighteen-year-old, a sweater worn while she prepared to become a mother for the first time, and a hand-knitted tote bag from the height of the seventies, amongst other items.
When I repurpose these articles within the context of my student life, I am carrying these stories with me. Those who ask about the black and white zig zag tote bag being used to carry my groceries home from the store will be treated to a nostalgic anecdote about my grandmother, and be sent on a personal journey down the rabbit hole of their own family’s history. I love when people ask about my clothing and I can use that garment as an introduction to a greater dialogue about the world.
So, I bought the coat—and it profoundly changed the way that I interact with the world.
My father has started calling me Captain Jack Sparrow, my best friend constantly makes references to the Redcoats of the British Army, and I’ve been the subject of numerous comparisons to Michael Jackson, who wore an iconic military-inspired sequined jacket to the 1984 American Music Awards.
Most recently, a fourth grader told me that she liked my coat because it “looks like the Nutcracker.”
I’ve noticed that each response is particular to the person’s unique perspective and background because the coat acts as an unbiased landmark to their own personal histories. Clothing has meaning. Clothing is emotional. Clothing tells a story.
I was infatuated with this coat the second that I laid my eyes upon it, but I developed an even deeper love for the garment through the experiences I’ve had while wearing it. In the past year, it has been the instigator of numerous conversations with friends and strangers alike, and I’ve learned that the greatest wing-woman I could ever have is my clothing because it speaks volumes before I’ve even said a word.
Claudia Rupnik is the Fashion Editor for the print edition of MUSE.