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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Belt up!

As overcoats become part of our winter wardrobe, the classic trench is quite the trend-setter

There are few everyday pleasures more life-affirming that sitting at the window of your favourite cafe, sipping a steaming cup of cappuccino, and watching the world go by on a sunny winter afternoon. There’s the harried mother hurrying along, two frisky toddlers in tow; the lovelorn couple who insist on walking hand-in-hand even if it means blocking the entire pavement; the gaggle of girls who have bunked classes on this glorious day to do some serious window-shopping; the laptop-wielding professionals out for a business lunch.

As I idly watched them pass by my window to the world a few weeks ago, I began to wonder: just when did overcoats become part of our winter dressing in India?

I remember shivering through many winters when I first moved to Delhi while my long, black, toasty overcoat gathered dust in the closet. No, I wasn’t a glutton for punishment. It was just that nobody – and I do mean nobody – ever wore overcoats to keep out the cold. Instead you were supposed to layer – thermals, sweatshirt, sweater, jacket, muffler, shawl, all piled on, one on top of the other – until you resembled nothing more than a little butterball. But overcoats were only pulled out when you were travelling abroad in the winter.

Don’t ask me why. It’s just the way it was. Overcoats were simply not part of our winter wardrobe in this part of the world, no matter how cold it got.

That, thank God, is no longer the case. Now you see every kind of overcoat on display on the streets in colours ranging from boring black and regulation camel to red, pink or even yellow and every fabric from heavy wool to supple tweed or even soft leather. There’s the quilted knee-length number; the ankle-length style that provides complete coverage; the pea-coat version; or the formal double-breasted.

And then, there’s my personal favourite: the belted trench.

For several winters now, I have lived in a trench that I snapped up at an Abraham and Thakore end-of-season sale. It’s made of black silk, lined with lightweight wool, and embellished with an appliqué pattern of a palm-print. A three-button style, it comes with a thin fabric belt that you can use to cinch your waist in.

And what makes it worth every rupee of its price is that it goes with simply everything. You can slip in on over a tailored suit; you can wear it over jeans and a sweater; it works with a woollen dress; it’s perfect with a tailored skirt. Hell, you could even pair it with track-pants and it would still look elegant and fresh.

But then, that’s the thing about the trench. It is simply the most versatile winter garment ever. And given the many different trench-styles patrolling our streets these days, I’m guessing that more people than ever are buying into the trend.

It helps, of course, that the label that is synonymous with the trench – Burberry – is now in India and doing brisk business (its sales are second only to Louis Vuitton). The company recently hosted an Art Of The Trench event in India, where it invited people to come wearing their Burberry trenches, styling them in their own distinctive ways. And I have to confess that I was taken aback at the number of people who owned one.

If you ask me, though, nobody wears a Burberry trench better than Catherine Middleton, or as she must now be styled, the Duchess of Cambridge. In one of her first engagements as the fiancé of Prince William, she chose to wear a knee-length trench with frill detail at the hem, a kind of cross between a coat and a dress. Needless to say, the style sold out in stores soon after.

In India, the Burberry trench has been spotted on various Bollywood beauties. Deepika Padukone wore a rather fetching, thigh-skimming version at the Grand Prix in Noida. Lesser stars like Jacqueline Fernandes and Neha Dhupia have both been snapped in trenches as well. But, for my money, the Duchess is still on top of that particular style list.

Ah money. Yes, there’s no getting around that. The Burberry trench is expensive – and it is the only style that never goes on sale. No, never ever. I guess one way of justifying the expense is to tell yourself – over and over – that it is a classic that will never go out of fashion. And that it will begin to pay for itself in a decade or so.

But if you can’t hypnotise yourself into spending that kind of money, never fear. Every high street brand is doing its own version of the trench and some of them look just as good (even if, alas, some of them don’t feel quite as luxurious). Try your luck at Zara, Top Shop, or even some of the designer brand factory outlets as the winter winds down.

This is, in fact, the best time to get your hands on this style staple at an end-of-season sale. And it will be a bargain at any price because you will be living in it for many winters to come.

I should know. I’m wearing my Abraham and Thakore trench even as I type this. And it looks just as good as new.

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