A few weeks ago, I had my assistant, Rachel, in stitches when I said, “people in New Jersey don’t wear coats.” The whole conversation started while she and I were reviewing requests from a client in New Jersey who has a preference for vests over coats in the winter. Rachel, who is a native Coloradan and lives in Fort Collins, where two weeks ago it was 80 degrees and last week it snowed, found my observation about coats and people from Jersey hilarious.
Obviously, there was a bit of facetiousness in my comment as I wasn’t being entirely serious. My claim that all people from New Jersey don’t wear coats is as outlandish as the claim that people from New Jersey ski in jeans (not true.) It’s not like not there isn’t one person in New Jersey who owns a winter coat, but it also doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to the statement either. A week or two later, in another meeting now with my sister, Beth, a lifetime resident of New Jersey, in attendance, I asked her if people in New Jersey wore coats. Without a bit of prompting she said, “nope.” Rachel was dying.
Again, people in New Jersey own and wear coats, so Jersey readers, you don’t need to tell me in the comments that you own a coat. I’m from there and go home all the time and see plenty of people wearing them. Besides, not wearing a coat, or more specifically, not bundling up, isn’t specifically a New Jersey thing, it’s more of a suburban phenomenon predicated on the fact that compared to people who live in areas that require great deals of walking, people who live in the suburbs spend a finite amount of time outdoors comparatively and don’t have nearly the same need.
All three of my sister’s kids have always run from the front door to the waiting school bus across the street without wearing coats, even in the dead of winter, a choice that confounded and drove my sister crazy until she decided it wasn’t a hill worth dying on. Granted, kids aren’t known for making the smartest choices. However, even when my mom and sister visited me here in the city to go wedding dress shopping on a bitterly cold day in February many years ago and I suggested they wear their warmest coats and bring scarves, hats, and gloves, both my sister and mom were unsure if they owned any of these accessories. It blew my mind. Nobody walks in the suburbs, and if people don’t have garages that allow them to get to their cars without ever stepping into the elements, their cars are usually just a few steps away in the driveway. And can’t you start and warm up a car from the warmth of your home now using some fob or something? I wouldn’t know. The last time I owned a car it had a tape deck. Cold weather gear in the suburbs is rarely all that necessary unless you partake in activities that specifically call for it.
Conversely, if you live in a seasonal walking city, you don’t just have one warm winter coat, you have varying degrees of warm winter coats. In addition to my coats, I own several scarves for different temperatures, a few hats of varying weights, lightweight gloves, middle-weight gloves, and then gloves that would keep me from losing fingers in the Arctic Circle. All of my boots are weatherproof, I have snow boots, rain boots, a raincoat, insulated socks, and the list goes on. When my friend visited from suburban Seattle during a Polar Vortex she packed ballerina flats not just because she didn’t check the weather report but because the only “gear” she owned was for when she goes snowshoeing as an activity. Otherwise, what need did she really have for any type of footwear for freezing temperatures? Thank God we wear the same shoe size and I could throw her one of my several pairs of winter boots.
PONCHOS, WRAPS, VESTS, AND CAPES: COAT-FREE ALTERNATIVES FOR FALL, AND BEYOND
It was actually my mother who suggested this post topic during a text thread between me, her, and my sister over the weekend and after I got my COVID booster. I mentioned I was still without a blog topic and as I was sensing vaccine side effects and was coming down with a headache, horrible body aches, and couldn’t imagine cobbling an extensive blog post together, she suggested a post on wraps and ponchos, which she loves and wears well into the deep winter. As for me; I think they’re useless.
WHEN WRAPS AND PONCHOS ARE MORE WORK THAN IT’S WORTH
In theory, I think wraps and ponchos are beautiful. If walking is your main mode of transportation, however, they serve no purpose. They’re clumsy, fussy, and, worse, if you live anywhere seasonal, your window of wear time is more limited than the window of time you have to eat that leftover sushi in your fridge. Wraps flap all over the place against the wind and forget figuring out how to carry your bag — over the wrap or poncho: a bunchy blanket-y mess, or under a wrap or poncho: a strange lump. Hand and arm freedom? Gone. When you live in a walking city, your arms, shoulders, and back become like your car trunk. You are literally a turtle carrying your world with you. Basically, walking around wearing a wrap or cape when you have things to get done feels like you are walking around trying to keep a big blanket wrapped around your shoulders. Nobody gets things done dragging a woobie around like Linus.
WHEN WRAPS AND PONCHOS ARE THE PERFECT SOLUTIONS
On the flip side, if you live a life like my mom who drives everywhere, a wrap, cape or poncho is ideal. Unless a work commute involves an icy wait on a frigid platform, people in the suburbs, for the most part, live temperature-controlled lives with quick spurts from house to garage to destination. In between that, there are pockets of moments peppered in where the heavyweight coat might need to come out for a spin. There is no reliance on the body to carry things; that’s what the trunk or backseat of a car is for, and no heavy walking, because most suburban plans have too much sprawl to really welcome much foot traffic. In addition, not only can driving while wearing a coat be bulky and uncomfortable, some studies are showing it’s actually not safe to wear a coat in a car, like a puffer. Does my mom own coats? Yes, of course, quite a few, but she also has a closet full of wraps, capes, and ponchos compared to the zero I have in my wardrobe. If my mom visits me in the deep winter when it is below freezing and we don’t have plans to go anywhere she will show up in a cape. As a New Yorker, it boggles my mind.
Vests fall into a similar category as wraps and ponchos but in a different way. They help keep the body’s core temperature warm while offering the arms a lot more range of motion at the same time which, for me, makes a lot more sense. In some climates or times of the year, this is the ideal layering piece. It’s also a style that some women will layer underneath a coat for an additional layer of body warmth if the vest itself isn’t too bulky.
This is not to say I get vests entirely for myself because, again, the wear time here in the northeast has always felt too short, but that’s due to my lifestyle and how infrequently I rely on a car as my mode of transportation. In the suburbs, a driving city, or an area like the Pacific Northwest where the weather can be more temperate, and changeable and where layers are so ideal, vests are great.
WRAPS, PONCHOS, CAPES, AND VESTS ARE GREAT FOR TEMPERATE CLIMATES
Pieces like wraps and ponchos can be go-to’s climates where the temperatures either never or infrequently dip below freezing. Granted, folks in these parts tend to have thinner blood and also relish any opportunity to break out a cozy sweater or coat for the few days a year it gets a bit brisk, but having some lightweight pieces in a wardrobe like these can be incredibly useful.
SHOP FOR CAPES, VESTS, WRAPS, AND PONCHOS
So if you’re someone who spends a lot of time in a car, prefers to wrap yourself up in a cape or poncho, is shopping for some vests, or just feels like it might be worth considering adding a few of these styles this season in addition to the coats you already have in your wardrobe, I have shopped around for some styles that you could consider. Take a look below.
WRAPS, CAPES AND RUANAS
If you’re wondering what the difference between a wrap, a cape, and a ruana is, a wrap typically has no shape and is essentially a large scarf that is big enough to drape around your body. A ruana, typically referred to many as a wrap by the general public, is similar to a poncho but with a slit down the front. Unlike a wrap, it has more shape and looks less like a big scarf. Lastly, a cape is more tailored with more structure. Capes are more tailored around the neck to fit snugly and often have some kind of closure. Over the years, the terms have been used interchangeably so don’t worry if you call your cape, wrap, or ruana the wrong term.
Ponchos typically have no opening except for the neck hole which means you better be comfortable slipping off and on over your hair. Winters get dry, so you could consider a travel-size can of static guard or a cling-free dryer sheet in your bag to control the static that might come from taking it on and off, especially if the neck hole is small. You can either rub the dryer sheet lightly over your hair or spray a little of the static guard on a brush or your hands and then run your fingers through your hair.
A little-known fun fact about the puffer vest originated from the puffer coat. Many say Eddie Bauer invented it but it was, in fact, an Australian chemist, mountaineer, and Mt. Everest climber, George Finch who invented it in 1922. He is also responsible for inventing bottled oxygen, another thing widely used in Everest expeditions.
What about you, where do you stand on wraps, capes, ponchos, and vests? Are you a yay or a nay? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.