Monday, 15 May 2017

Does a minimalist need a coat?

I have a minimalist wardrobe question.

Does a person really need a coat?

As you know if you read here often, because I have hyper-mobility issues my body doesn’t fight back easily. If I have heavy or constricting clothes in woven not stretchy fabric, I quickly grow tired and uncomfortable. All my garments have to be light, soft and unconstricting.

I have a very small wardrobe too – as in the item of furniture, I mean, rather than the clothes in it. This is it. 

Coats tend to be bulky, and grab a generous percentage of space.

I get cold (like everyone) but if I get hot I can’t think, and feel suffocated. In general, I’d rather be too cold than too hot. In chilly weather, stores and churches and people’s homes usually have the heating on – we often don’t, we just layer up – so when I go indoors on a cold day I often feel stiflingly hot.

I can decide my own schedule. I don’t have to fit in with any kind of fixed timetable. So if it rains I can decide to go out later. I often take the car to pick up household members at their workplace at the end of the day if it’s raining – but I personally don’t get wet. It’s just a quick dash to the car parked at the roadside near our house. I keep an umbrella in the car in case it's pouring outside and I'm caught unawares – but you know, I never bother using it because here on the coast if it rains it's usually windy too, making a complete nightmare out of fighting an umbrella.

So I don’t see why I need a coat. If I have a warm woolly sweater, I can increase the layers under it, adding a scarf and mittens if it’s really cold.

I do have a cagoule, but I was thinking of getting rid of it because I hate it. I don’t like how it rustles and has tight grippy elasticated wrists. I don’t usually wear it even if it’s raining because frankly I’d rather get wet. But as it packs down very small it seems incautious to pass it on.

I tried looking at advice on the websites of other minimalists, and was rather surprised by what I read. One said “I have a ton of coats,” and went on to describe them. What? How is it minimalist to have a ton of anything, especially coats which are bulky and take up lots of room? All the ones I read thought a coat is absolutely imperative, but don’t really say why.

What do you think? Does a person really need a coat?


jen said...

I think you have answered your own question - you don't need a coat.

I, on the other hand do, because the dog has to be walked every day for a minimum of an hour regardless of the weather. What I do have is a 2 in one thing which means I can wear the water proof bit, or the warm bit, or both together. I also have a more technical shell jacket which I use when its a bit breezy, or is raining, but I have some serious exercise to do, or if I'm out on a photo shoot.

But, I haven't had a winter coat for non dog walking purposes, I've just layered up... more often than not I wear a smart jacket and that does as my winter coat, it's a man's jacket, so I can easily fit a merino wool t-shirt, shirt and jumper underneath it, but it looks smart and is wool, but is a man's suit jacket, so doesn't take up as much room as a winter coat

now, I'm wearing a kind of corduroy jacket that's water resistant as a sort of jumper jacket thing, but then I do like to be out more and I don't have as much control over my time as you do.

I think this is where minimilism has to be personalised. I'm not going to get rid of my expensive technical jackets which suit the different occasions I am outdoors just to meet a number. I need them in my life because I am outdoors a lot. BUT I'm not buying them each season - the shell is now 8 years old (but cost over £100 at the time) and the 2 in 1 was £150 from an outlet centre and that will last AGES - I've had it 3 years and it looks like new despite being worn for most of the year

The same with walking shoes, I have 3 different pairs. This is because I can't wear wellies, so I need a pair of waterproof walking boots, which will keep the lower half of my legs dry (so I don't have to get changed just to take the dog to the park for his short walk). I then have a proper off road pair which are minimalist (in style) but are waterproof, but are just trainers. Then I have my lighter pair which I wear as soon as the mud isn't treacherous and are easy to wear barefoot, so I can slip them on and off as I need to so I can actually be barefoot. BUT I am outdoors for at least an hour every day and 5 days a week I do an hour plus in country parks, plus 30 mins on road. If I only had 1 pair I would wear through it very quickly. This way they last for years...,

Same as i have 3 pairs of walking trousers, so I can wash them etc. But I don't have waterproof ones and summer ones, I have the same design year round.

Shoes which aren't for walking the dog - smart black shoes, trainers, 1 pair of boots and a pair of birkenstock. That's it for the whole year.

oh dear, this sounds very defensive and apologist doesn't it......

I guess my point is, my minimalist wardrobe is for my life, your minimalist wardrobe is for your life and that is what is important, not following a minimalist blueprint, but making it work for your life.

Pen Wilcock said...


You don't sound defensive or apologist.

I had a dear friend, Rosemary, who loved household accounts (as I also do). I used to go to her house for a cup of tea and we've sit and talk about her expenses and my expenses, the exact detail of running costs for our cars . . . It made her happy in the same way it does me, and this is a rare thing.

I so enjoyed your lovely long comment with the careful detail of the clothing you need and why - and how much it cost and how long it's lasted. I wish you lived nearer!

Wet is a *much* bigger issue than cold, isn't it! This last weekend we were away on a parish retreat, and in the early morning went for a walk round a nearby park. There were paths round three sides of it, then the path gave out and there was just grass - long and very dewy! I didn't want to walk across it because I'd brought only one pair of shoes and I knew they'd be sodden (so we found a way back through a residential road).

For me, a minor irritation is having to own a pair of smart boots and a smart jacket that I need only to conduct funerals. These items feel as though they belong to the situation rather than to me as a person, and I don't enjoy the persona that wraps me round when I put them on. I love the idea of the monastic habit - the same simple set of garments for all occasions.

I agree with you that minimalism needs to be personalised. When I read the online writings of minimalists, I'm often struck by how few warm, cosy clothes they have. Formal shirts seem to be prominent, and a lot of white - t-shirts, collar shirts etc. I *never* where white for one simple reason: I don't sit up properly to the table and I frequently spill food. Black is my friend!

Fumio Sasaki (do you know his lovely book "Goodbye, things"?) listed his criteria for belongings. I like his list:
1) A minimalist type of shape
2) Its colour not too loud
3) I'll be able to use it for a long time
4) It has a simple structure
5) It's lightweight and compact
6) It has multiple uses.

Oh - one last thing - yesterday I rented (£2.99 from Vimeo) Petri Luukkanen's movie called "My Stuff" It's funny and touching and fascinating and altogether delightful. I recommend.

Ganeida said...

My favourite jacket [coat] is a soft, lightweight wind jacket ~ sort of like your cagoule I expect. Usually, as you say, these are rather nasty but if I own a nice one they are out there. I can't abide being cold & wet & with the sort of travelling I do I need something fairly weatherproof, minus the tactile issues.

Pen Wilcock said...

A soft one! How lovely. Mine is crackly and rusty. Shudder.

jen said...

ha ha! I'm glad you liked it.

I downloaded the sample of that book and it looks fabulous, but I suspect the sort of thing which would cause me a huge amount of minimalist envy, a level I just cannot reach at all. I've learnt not to read things which mean I beat myself up at length.

I've found that blue and grey is the majority of my wardrobe, but where I used to love turquoise it is now too bright, I'm trying to figure out if I can dye my favourite things which don't quite work in colour.

I too have a black suit with a white shirt for my band performances, I find black to be too draining for me in general use, so that whole outfit is just for performances. I even had to buy a white bra especially - most frustrating.

The monastic habit is something I would love, except it is too anachronistic, I find that jeans and a shirt work very well as this, except I have other clothes for dog walking and doing yoga at home, otherwise they would wear too quickly. I also have a great big woollen jumper which is so snuggly. I never leave the house in it, but it is possibly my favourite item of clothing.

I tend to buy the vast majority of my clothes from one supplier as I know they fit my body, they are ethical and the clothes LAST. Yes, they are expensive, but I buy so little that it doesn't matter - I can afford to spend.

I too can't be doing with anything that doesn't fit - but of course you never really know until you have worn it a day, by which time it is too late to return it. hence, why tending to buy from the same place .

I just want to slide through the world unnoticed, as a photographer and writer I don't want people to LOOK AT ME. If they don't see me it is easier to observe- you have said something similar on numerous occasions.

On that I had to get rid of the wraps, I love them, but they are just so politically charged that it draws attention. I do admire women in their hijab tho.... I tend to wear buffs and beanies now, so my head is held, but I just disappear.

OH and I would HAVE to get rid of that cagoule! Crunchy wrists and rustling - UGH!

BTW I would love to come over for a pot of tea - it's not that far and I can make a day of it and explore the countryside. I'm also aware you like your solitude, so I don't want to just invite myself over, but the offer is there!

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh yes - come over for a cup of tea - we can have a Thinking Day like the Girl Guides! Well, a Thinking couple of hours anyway! Yes, I had to abandon the wraps and the robe-type dresses and the Plain Dress garb for the exact same reason - too conspicuous. "Slide through the world unnoticed". That one. You have me email to fix up a time to come over? I think I have yours still, so I'll email you to begin a conversation.

Suze said...

Pen I live in the subtropics and I often feel hot when I see people layered and coated when the temperatures are plus 25 degrees Celsius. Even though I do live in hot and humid climate there are some coats and wraps in the cupboard. Because I do travel and sometimes such an item is necessary. For those times I have a red coat that is three years old, a cape mum made in the mid 1980's, a long drizabone style denim coat I bought in 1988 and a slowly growing supply of hand knitted scarfs etc that I am making for the sheer enjoyment knitting brings me. If someone is travelling we tend to share our winter wardrobes.

My daily wardrobe consists of simple homemade cotton skirts and tees, or jeans when it is colder. At present my wardrobe feels over stuffed to me. I need a minimum of seven tees because I have to change those every day.

My personal clothing is mainly cotton, wool, linen and some synthetics because I feel the heat so very badly. I would hate to have crunchy clothing. Soft and breathable is important to me.

God bless you and have fun on your search.

Pen Wilcock said...

I am a big believer in natural fabrics - especially now we know all the plastic fibres are gradually turning us ad our oceans into plastic! But like you I do have some synthetics or natural/synthetic mixes - in sweaters, the synthetics make them both light and soft, which is important to me. I used to have homemade cotton skirts too - from cotton homespun, so lovely - but I have v ugly legs (bad veins) and am fatter these days; I need either leggings or tights with them, which just adds to the amount of clobber in the wardrobe, so I went over to trousers. I think I'm really a skirts person on the inside though. I always love the look of them - just not on me any more!

Sarah said...

For me coats and jackets are vital, and I probably have more of them than any other single wardrobe item. I find there is never one perfect coat for to fit all the scenarios I find myself in, but that the right coat for the right circumstance makes a world of difference. I like my coats to be warm but breathable, stylish but understated and allowing for movement. Some coats I do not like at all. Like you I hate synthetic raincoats. I would rather wear wool in the rain and then dry it out. It used to bother me that I had so many coats and jackets when I was always trying to get rid of stuff and have less, but now I just take pleasure in the collection I have and enjoy wearing them. I live in Scotland, in a small town where I do things like walking the dog in forests and hills, working in a public facing job, and taking trips to the city for going to the theatre or museums or seeing friends. Between the variety of things I do, and the fact that the weather is so extremely variable here, I just accept that I need a variety of outer layers to see me through what I do.
Also if you are wearing a good coat, it matters less what is under it.

Pen Wilcock said...

A key word in what both you and Jen have written is "walking". Though we do have a car, with 6 adults sharing a house most journeys are on foot. The footwear of many minimalist blogger - ballet pumps and a pair of high-heeled boots - does not resemble ours. Ours are more on the rugged side.

Walkers need almost specialist outerwear and footwear. How I think of it is that the coats and shoes of walkers are the equivalent of a driver's car.

A category you identify, "warm but breathable" is also very important to me. I used to wear fleeces a lot because they are so light and soft, but gradually gave them up because I felt as though I was suffocating in all but the iciest weather. I've become a big fan of merino, and also of cashmere. Many minimalist bloggers identify a wool/cashmere mix as a very good choice for a coat.

rebecca said...

I own one, but I'm not sure I wore it more than twice all winter!
I find them bulky and bothersome.

Pen Wilcock said...

"Bulky and bothersome" - yes, my problem too; exactly! And the thing is, in the coat one is always going somewhere. To get the groceries, for example. The coat is fine for the going, but too hot once inside the store, too bulky for the activity of getting stuff off shelves and packing etc, and a really bad combination with a backpack full of groceries. Or maybe I'm going to meet someone for coffee. The coat is fine for going, but the café is boring hot and there's nowhere to put coats except on the back of the chair where it falls off and people trip over it. A fox has the right idea about coats. Grow your own.

L said...

A company called Rekucci makes comfortable, modern basics. Super moveable. They are moderately priced; available through Amazon.

You might get lucky and find something second hand on Ebay.

Pen Wilcock said...

I hadn't heard of that firm - how practical and comfortable their clothes look!

kat said...

I know just what you mean about that horrid swishy swoshy swoosh of nylon waterproofs - very intrusive when you're being mindful of the world around you. What about a warm squishy squashy smoosh of a knitted jacket :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Or a boiled wool jacket? I remember once chatting with a street sweeper about the best rain gear. He was emphatic about wearing a knitted hat. And wool does sheep very well for rainy weather, doesn't it!

Julie B. said...

I'll add my thoughts too -- I've enjoyed reading what everyone has shared. In Northern Minnesota, a coat is always needed. In the spring and fall when it's chilly, I rarely wear one, since, as you said, I'm walking from the car to a building and don't need a coat for just one minute outside.

In the winter when the cold goes bone deep in seconds, we have to have heavily protective, efficient coats. In January when it can be 30 degrees below zero (Celsius), even walking briskly from the car to the library or grocery store could freeze the skin. It hurts to go outside.

I have a winter coat and a spring/rain coat. Michael, on the other hand, had eight coats and always thought he needed more. A hunting coat with blaze orange fabric, a dress coat, two windbreakers (one thin and one lined), a down-filled parka for below zero weather, a leather jacket, and others! Every time we went to a store to buy something we needed, he would invariably say, "I'd like to look at coats while we're here," and then he'd see the look on my face and crack up.

I couldn't tolerate a crunchy, swishy, crackly sounding garment either.


Pen Wilcock said...

Ah yes - the Minnesota winters! I've noticed down jackets feature prominently in the sartorial collections of online minimalists in Japan, too! xx

Hound of Hecate said...

Are you absolutely sure you want never to go out in the rain or snow again? Obviously I see it quite differently and keep a heavy coat so that my movements aren't dictated by a little thing like the weather!

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh - it's been raining a lot this week, and several times I've been out in the rain and got wet. It's been warm rain (unusual for England!) so I didn't get cold. My clothes just dried out again as I wore them, once indoors. Here on the coast it's usually too windy for an umbrella, but one night it was pouring with rain but quite still, so I took my umbrella from the car and that was fine. Definitely I'd want to go out in the snow and the cold, but I wear my thick sweaters with high necks for that, and add a vest (as in underwear) underneath my t-shirt). But I think if I could find a coat I liked it would be a good addition. Only it has to be light, soft, quiet, not shiny at all, and very pliable.

Buzzfloyd said...

Julie B, my immediate thought was of winters in the American north! People living in environments like that definitely need a coat.

I hate being hot, as you know, and frequently choose to go without protection against the elements, even when it's raining, because I'd rather be wet and/or cold than hot. But it depends on the distance travelled, the speed of travel and whether they will be any staying still outdoors (eg waiting at a bus stop). If you are going to walk a long way in the rain, then a wet jumper becomes an uncomfortable, heat-leaching hindrance. If you are walking a short distance, it doesn't matter. If you will walk fast, you'll heat up and regret putting on an extra layers. If you walk slowly, you'll get cold eventually. And if you have to stand and wait, it's worth having an extra layer just for that.

I think it's easy when the weather warms up to forget what it was like when it was cold, especially when we've had several years of mild winters. I often wonder during summer why I own all these thick jumpers and coats, and then get to the colder seasons and remember. In your case, Ember, I should think you could largely do without a coat, but three things spring to mind immediately. One is winter funerals in the cold. Would you be OK standing at the graveside in the wet and cold without a coat? The next is the possibility of a snowy, cold winter like we haven't had for some time. In that weather, even I feel the need for a coat when I go out, which retains air around me without the inconvenience of some blanket-wrapping system. The third is camping, where one is outdoors without the opportunity to really warm up. Layers of blankets and things might be sufficient for that.

What about a poncho?

Pen Wilcock said...

A winter burial would be a big problem - I think I'd have to borrow or buy a coat for that. No. No, I'd be too mean. I'd just put a vest on and be cold. Only half an hour. Camping I've gone right off since I thought I'd found that brilliant solution of renting the teepee - only to discover there were rats living there! I wish we had a camper van! For snowy winters I have a massive shawl/scarf my friend Rebecca knitted me, that I'd never part with. It's a prayer shawl really. I'd wrap that all round my head and shoulders. That would keep me warm.
I will get a coat if I ever find one that's just right, but they're so expensive and I've passed on so many I couldn't get on with.

Anonymous said...

Merino wool poncho?

Pen Wilcock said...

I can imagine that! I have had ponchos in the past, but always made of synthetic fibres - acrylic or whatever. I can imagine a merino one would be very drapey and real.
My favourite coats in general are the boiled wool sort - not great in the wet but very pliable and quite earthy.

Jenna said...

I have gotten by during Mid-Atlantic winters while ignoring the coat in my closet so I'm recently casting it a suspicious eye. I've layered and have a fleece vest that had been Al's (now deceased). Plus I have an amazing wool sweater--a gift from a friend in Iceland--that is warmer than my coat and easier to shovel snow in. I like the poncho idea, though I would take it to a ruan or a hap rather than something that must be pulled over. In More With Less, Doris Longacre chronicles the use of blankets in Lesotho--they are very well worked and given as gifts to brides from grooms, for instance, and for other milestones. They can be folded cleverly to fit any particular girth and are pinned closed, oftentimes with strikingly beautiful jewels.

Pen Wilcock said...

Just taken a look at Doris Longacre's book on Amazon - what brilliant reviews it has! Sounds like an excellent book. Yes - Icelandic wool! Just the thing!

Anekha said...

I actually really like coats... I like the tailored cut of them and the way they fit, so I relish the chance to wear them which is rarely as I live in Australia and it's not cold for many months of the year. My favourite coat is thigh length blue corduroy with a whimsical pattern of rabbits, deer and foxes and woodland trees and flowers. I like that it makes me look magical and fey while everyone else looks dreary in shades of black and grey.
But, I don't think you need one... I certainly could get by without one at all! One item I do think I would always keep even if I didn't have a coat is a pashmina. They are a lovely layer of serious warmth with serious economy of space, and very light also. They are the item I aways stash in my purse 'just in case', when I decide I don't think I'll need a coat. And because I am often very off with predicting the weather I have often really appreciated it.
So if you don't want a coat, consider a fine wool shawl like a pashmina.

Pen Wilcock said...

Your coat sounds lovely!