A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I've had the same overcoat for about 14 years now. I received it as a Christmas gift in 1991 or 1992, I'm not positive. I think 1992, because my first distinct memory of it after the initial receipt of the garment was the spring of 1993 when I came to Oregon to intern for a week at Dark Horse. When Bob Schreck saw me approaching with my big hair and the coat, he thought I was Eddie Campbell for a second, a fact that amuses me now that I know Eddie Campbell (the resemblance stops at the shape of our quiff). It was already vintage when I received it--a 3/4-length, dark blue coat customized by a tailor in Euclid according to the tag (would that be Ohio?). At the time, it had been slightly refurbished, with the pockets fixed up and I think some mending to the lining. The pockets ripped again rather quickly, and would be fixed at least once over the next decade and a half. At that time, when it was being stitched up, my girlfriend would also add a hand-sewn Pikachu on the inside. Not a patch, but an actual Pikachu created with thread. It was a sweet gesture, and I was very positive in my outward reaction to it, but it was one of those gifts that was a secret groaner. My badass overcoat now had a sissy secret on the inside.

Last winter, the pockets were all blown out again and the lining was in horrible shape. I took it to the nearest dry cleaner to see what they could do. I knew it needed a major overhaul, but I was really looking for a quick fix to get me through the winter. Get rid of frayed edges, sew up holes, just so it wouldn't rip further. No dice, they wouldn't do it, they said it wouldn't last. So, I cut off the dangling bits myself and used safety pins to shore up some holes. It made it through the season, but barely. Plus, the shoulder seam incurred a rip.

The coat has been through hell, but it stood by me even through my chubby years, and I wanted to stand by it. I've had it longer than I've known most people. So, with winter approaching, I knew it was time to finally get it mended. After my reading last month, when I went out with Bobby and Mason, somehow we got on the topic of having a tailor. We all wished we had one, and Bobby and I talked about this shop down on 9th and Glisan called Amadeus, this tiny little place wedged in amongst the hipper businesses of the Pearl District. We were both fascinated that it was there, this seemingly old-fashioned craft still holding strong.

It was then that I decided I'd try Amadeus when I got my coat fixed. I knew it might be more expensive, but if the shop was what we thought it was, I'd be paying for the work of an artisan.

Today I finally went down there, and much to my delight, Amadeus turned out to be exactly what I hoped. A very small shop, Amadeus accepts cash only and keeps a small bird in a cage in the front window. The storefront itself is tiny, but one suspects there is much behind the curtain that hangs beyond the counter. The owner--and possibly only employee--is a hunched old gentleman with gray hair, glasses, and a moustache. He was dressed in a white shirt, dark pants, and vest, and he spoke in a European accent. If a casting director was looking for someone to play an old-fashioned tailor in a movie, this is the guy she would cast. He told me that he first set up shop in 1945. He was still working, even though I could tell when he was putting the price quote on my ticket, his hands were suffering a bit from age, at least when it came to holding a pen. One assumes this would not be the case for sewing.

The first thing he did was send me up the street to buy some fabric for the lining. I ended up with two yards of a satiny black material. The women at the shop rolled their eyes when I told them I had no measurement. "The man said you guys knew what to do," I told them.

"That's what they always say when they don't want to measure it themselves," the woman replied. Reluctantly, she took the coat and measured it and made an estimate.

I went back and gave the tailor the coat and the fabric. He showed me his listed price for long coats--a whopping $170--but he'd do it for $120. Joëlle and I recently looked at a new coat she really liked and that would be a new, female equivalent of mine, and it was almost $900, so I figured if I could keep this one alive, it was worth it. I had to go out to an ATM to get half to pay up front.

By the time I returned, the tailor had examined it thoroughly. He thought the coat was at least 20 years old, though the custom tags were all without dates. That sort of thing fascinates me. In fact, I want to write a short story of an imagined history of a suit I have, all based on its interior label. I would love to be able to afford custom clothes, as I think it would be awesome to start a garment on its own historical journey.

The only hitch was, he was not telling me this as a good thing. He was trying to stress that it was really, really old. Beyond the lining and the shoulder, he'd have to make completely new pockets, repair a rip inside the sleeve, and fix a stretched button hole (and I think I was even missing one button on the cuff). He also showed me places around the coat, on the cuffs and the collar and even along the bottom, where the material was becoming so worn, the color had come off and you could see the original color of the threads before they had been dyed. It was too much. He had pulled two vintage overcoats from his inventory. He'd sell me either for $50, though he tried to get me to buy both (one was lighter, thin like a suit coat rather than heavy for winter). His hard sell was that if they were his size, he'd keep them himself.

I tried the heavy one on. It is a dark black, and very similar in style to my old one. We weren't sure how old it was, but it was made in London. It looked pretty good, and what he was saying made sense. I paid him the $50. On the way home, I dropped it off at the drycleaners and while I was there, showed them the old coat and asked them what they thought it would cost to put in my new lining. The woman looked it over and shook her head. "Too expensive," she said. She started pointing out all the same things the tailor at Amadeus pointed out. She looked at the new coat they were taking to clean and said, "You have a good coat here. Don't worry about the other one." A second opinion, but the same opinion. I made the right choice. It's just too bad I couldn't have made it before I spent $24 on fabric I now have no use for.

When I left Amadeus, the tailor said, "That other one, throw it in the garbage. It's done." I suppose it is, but it's still a little weird to think about just tossing it. When I got home, I dropped it on the chair and Sadie almost immediately jumped up and nestled in it. She had done the same thing when I took it out of the closet this morning and put it down while I was getting ready to leave. She does that with pretty much all of my coats. Cat owners are well aware that their clothes are not just their clothes, but whatever their feline friends want to make out of them. Maybe I should line Sadie's cat bed with it, and let the old boy provide warmth for another winter.

Current Soundtrack: The Concretes, In Colour

Current Mood: content


Greg McElhatton said...

This is one of my favorite stories you've told in a while. And now I find myself thinking about all the coats I've owned, including the ones that no longer fit but are still sitting in my closet waiting for a new home.

Rebecca said...

nice story. thought i'd pass a link along... http://dressaday.com/dressaday.html
it's a blog i like to look at now and again. on the right side about halfway, you'll find links to "the secret lives of dresses".
good stories, like yours