For lasting styles, form indeed follows function. This is perhaps why full-length overcoats used to be popular and why they no longer are: we no longer walk all day in the snow or ride in horse-drawn coaches. The “need” argument has disappeared. Meanwhile, our daily lives are more hectic than ever, and in between our endless errands we run in and out of cars, trains, and planes, none of which the full-length overcoat is particularly appropriate for: hems get dirtied by mud, shoulders rubbed by careless passers-by, and once in a while somebody’s cup finds its way to unload onto your delicate fabric.
But function hadn’t been the whole argument even in the last heydays of full-length overcoats — the 80s and 90s. Then, it was already more of a fashion statement, hence the somewhat unseemly low button-stance, the broad neckline, the low gorge, and peak lapels that just sit too low — sometimes to make a statement you have to be different, and when the original way has been elegant the statement will either be exuberant or outright awful. (For those of us that appreciate the softness & lightness of a well-tailored cashmere coat, nonetheless, this also means the possibility of acquiring a lightly used one for what you’d normally pay for a pair of jeans, which are hard and heavy and the exact polar opposite of the smoothness a full-length overcoat offers.) In other words, when the function argument died out, the form argument carried the full-length overcoat for another two decades before it is finally “out”.
As the world changes, and I believe the world changes by rhyming itself, the number of the selective few who savors life as it is and who sees through the games of money, fame, and power is likely to grow. Then, the full-length overcoat will make a comeback not as a statement of fashion but as a celebration of elegance, of fine craftsmanship, of pure enjoyment, of freedom, of style. I’m confident of this because while we pile our lives up with plastics we still remember to erect our monuments in materials more “worthy” of lasting memories.
This article was originally published on my old site jlteng.com on 28 November 2017.