One of my favorite writing quotes comes from the great Ernest Hemingway, who said “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
After spending a few frosty weeks on the East Coast, the truest sentence that comes to mind is “I love my puffer coat.” This may be a compelling indicator as to why I will never travel in Hemingway’s orbit, but I am suffering from jet lag and re-entry trauma, so it’s the best I can do.
We’ve all heard that the Eskimos have a hundred words for snow. I have two, and they address all forms of precipitation in New York: “Oh, #$&@!”
If it is snowing, sleeting or raining in New York City – especially raining – you can’t get a cab. If it’s icy, you may not even make it down the stairs of your apartment building or the subway, at least not in the vertical position in which you began your journey. I can’t carry an umbrella due to my back problems, but if it is windy, which it seems always to be when something is coming down cats and dogs, your umbrella will only serve to embarrass you when it a) pokes someone in the eye or b) turns itself bum over teakettle and attempts an Icarian flight down the wind tunnel that is Broadway.
Enter the Puffer Coat. If your first visit to New York City happens to be between November and March (oh, horrors, sometimes April – and, dare I even say it: occasional moments in May) you may wonder at what appear to be legions of dark-coated Michelin Men trudging down the streets. They are The Pufferized and however unappealing they may appear on the outside, they are toasty, dry and possibly quite smug beneath their microfiber shrouds.
Reasons to love the puffer:
1) Warm! Dry!
2) Many of them (like mine) have a hood. Forget the adorable hat; the hood may impair your peripheral vision but it will protect you from the elements and those random umbrella spoke jabs.
3) You don’t have to wear cute shoes! Yes, a fur coat or for those immune to cold, a trench, might look snappier (always important to look good while you are perishing from hypothermia, right?) but what about the shoes? You must wear something that lives up to the coat and that usually means heels. In the winter. In New York City, where every time you step off a curb, it is into a puddle – or something worse. But if you’re wearing your puffer, anything goes – sneakers to Army boots.
My puffer is nothing special. Not cheap, not expensive. Just warm. I bought it from Garnet Hill where it retails at $238.00. You can go lower than that and keep plenty warm, and you can go much, much higher.
H&M makes a stylish down jacket that retails $129
Uniqlo’s tallies up at $149.90 and I’m not really a fan of fake fur (if you hate fur, then does it really make sense to wear something that even approximates a dead animal?) but it looks more substantial than the H&M coat with the funnel neck and Uniqlo has a good track record of delivering well-insulated clothes at a great price.
I’m not in the market for an expensive puffer, but I can dream, can’t I? And when I do, I head straight to the Gorsuch catalog. It is peopled by willowy Nordic types who appear to come from a planet completely alien to the one where my DNA was formed, but I still like looking at the clothes:
Racks of Moncler coats tempt shoppers at Saks and Neiman Marcus. I don’t know if they keep you warmer than the bargain brands (I can’t even afford to try one on!) but there is a certain je nais se quois to their sleek, slick appearance.
Everyone and their brother/sister/niece and nephew is currently braving the city weather in a coat sporting a giant Canada Goose logo. I don’t see enough style to justify the price, and I’m not wild about being a billboard for someone’s merchandising efforts, but these must be wonderfully warm coats, because the people wearing them always seem to have a jaunty spring in their step.
The puffer seems to have sprung from the backcountry to city streets in a blink of a fashionable eye these past few years, but in truth, it was born back in 1936. It was the brainchild of the venerable Eddie Bauer, who invented it after a close call on a fishing trip. He almost froze to death after the temperature dropped precipitously and his soaked wool jacket turned to a block of ice. Borrowing from the Russian military’s experiments with using down in coats (if Napoleon had thought of it first, they might be speaking French in Moscow today!) Bauer designed a coat with down insulation, quilting it to keep the feathers evenly distributed.
Maybe you are clinging desperately to your wool coat because you fear taking on the dimensions of a fat baby seal in those horizontal quilt seams of a shiny puffer. Just remember that fashion pride will do you no good as you lie freezing to death in a snowbank. And, surprise, surprise: it is not true that all puffers make you look fat. Which brings me to the ultimate puffer caveat: try before you buy.
You really have to take your potential puffer for a test drive. Last season, I briefly flirted with the idea of frittering away a fortune on an expensive puffer until I tried it on. In the ads and on the rack, it looked like the ultimate winter jet-setter’s equipage. But as I stood before the mirror, all I saw was an old lady auditioning to be an extra in Doctor Zhivago. The je nais se quoi had gone all avoirdupois.
When you’re shopping for your puffer (and if you are on the East Coast, you’ll be wanting to do it soon!) consider length (longer is warmer, but also bulkier), belt or no belt, hood or no hood, and, of course, color. For me and, from the sea of ebon I see swarming the city on any given frigid day, it can be any color as long as it’s black, but there are those brave and genetically blessed souls who can carry off a white puffer without looking like Mr. Michelin. Every now and then I see someone wearing a brightly-hued puffer. Good for them, but it challenges my sense of winter dispiritedness and, frankly, hurts my eyes. I mean, who has room in their closet for two puffers when one of them is neon yellow?
The single most important feature of your future puffer, even more important than how slimming it may be, is the ZIPPER. I know this because I am the person getting the dirty looks in the crowded restaurant as I linger far too long at my table after the check has been paid, fighting with the recalcitrant zipper on my coat.
I’m back in balmy So Cal now, where coats of any kind are practically extinct given our prolonged drought. But my thoughts are with those brave folks back East as they huff and puffer their way through the oncoming winter. Be strong! Spring is just around some very distant corner…