The Classic Camel Coat

I gave away my winter coat. It was a long wool coat with generous sleeves, easy to fit over a bulky sweater or blazer. It was a classic style: Notched collar, button front, buttoned bands at the sleeves. It was camel colored. The same color as my dog. Some would call this coat ageless – my mother had one in the 60s. Hers was mohair. Mine was wool.

Having left my job in the business world, I no longer wore my classic camel coat, opting instead for a pack-able down number that I can stuff into my purse when needed. I donated my old coat during the winter coat drive last fall.

I bought the camel coat in 1995 to match our new dog, Millie, a golden retriever mix who shed year-round. My favorite long wool red coat was a magnet for her fur. The camel coat collected her fur too, it just didn’t’ show.

The coat served me well, but I never really loved the color. Tan, in general, washes me out. I prefer a red coat, or purple, or navy, or black – anything other than tan.

Years passed, jobs changed, my husband retired from the military and we stopped moving. It was time for a closet purge. I stripped hangers of glittery formal wear saved for the next military ball. I unclipped my skirt and jacket suits, brushed the dust off the shoulders, catching a whiff of the cologne I used to wear to work at my office job – it seemed like a lifetime ago.

I worked my way to the coats. I pulled two leather jackets, bought for a song when we lived in South Korea, excess raincoats, bought when caught in the rain while traveling, and hip length ‘tween season jackets. The last coat to go into the donation bag was my classic camel coat. I held it up to my body and looked in the mirror. Even though my skin has grown fairer as I’ve aged and my formerly dark brown hair has lightened with streaks of grey, camel still isn’t my color. Into the bag it went.

There were no second thoughts as I pulled the yellow tie cinching the plastic bag closed just as my husband came in. Patting the bag I said, “These can go to the coat drive.”

End of story, right?

Purges are often hard for me. I spent 26 years as a military wife moving every 2-3 years. With each move I gave up neighbors, houses, gardens, and social groups. I lost my dentist, hairdresser, and church community replacing them with new people at the next location. But I had my stuff.

The items I collected were familiar to me in their new surroundings. They helped make my new house feel like home. I became a maximalist collecting anything I loved, saving cards, letters, and love notes, acquiring twenty-eight chairs (the guy from the moving company told me he counted them!) I saved curtains and area rugs – one never knew when they might work in the next house. And I saved coats – after all, we lived in a variety of climates.

Millie, the camel-colored dog, passed away many years ago. I no longer find her fur on my sofa or in my car. I hadn’t worn my classic camel coat in 15 years. It was time to pass it on.

No regrets, right?

Well, no immediate regrets anyway, until I attended a nephew’s wedding on a cold day in January. I watched two young women come into the church together. They were the spouses of two of my other nephews who were groomsmen.

I enjoy being around 20 somethings. It’s fun to notice the styles they wear and hear the language they use. That day both women where dressed in tea length floral dresses. Trendy, I thought. Over their pretty dresses they were both wearing coats. Classic camel coats.What? Wait a minute – is the classic camel coat popular with young women? Did I give away my coat 2 months too soon? I felt a twinge of regret.

The January wedding was the beginning of an informal study. I began seeing classic camel coats everywhere! I saw young women in airports, bookstores, at the grocery market, even at the gas station wearing classic camel coats. The styling didn’t differ much from coat to coat although the length varied from hip length to mid-calf (like mine). One thing was certain, the classic camel coat was trending.

A few weeks ago, when a frigid polar vortex hung over Kansas, I thought about my donated coat. I’m always hopeful that my donated coats are keeping someone warm, but this year was different. I hoped that my coat was snatched up by a young woman on a budget, delighted in finding such a stylish coat.

I’m over the regret. At least I think I am, until I counted five sightings in one hour at the Kansas City Airport this morning.

Do you own a classic camel coat? If so, did you know you’re trending?

Barbara J. Eikmeier is a quilter, writer, student of quilt history, and lover of small-town America. Raised on a dairy farm in California, she enjoys placing her characters in rural communities.

15 replies
  1. Debra H. Goldstein
    Debra H. Goldstein says:

    I immediately remembered one I gave away many years ago…. did we not all own them at some point in our lives? Like you, though, I preferred a color (dark blue or even black) to classic camel for a long coat — your coat story makes me think of life cycling.

    • Barb Eikmeier
      Barb Eikmeier says:

      Life cycling is a great way to think about articles of clothing. I might try some other related stories down the road.

  2. Lois Winston
    Lois Winston says:

    LOL! They’re called “classic” for a reason. They never really go out of style. Just look at the classic Chanel suit, worn by everyone from my friend’s 100+ year old mother (prior to her death) to 20-somethings in the corporate world.

    • Barb Eikmeier
      Barb Eikmeier says:

      Lois, I thought I was being clever to call it classic until I looked it up online and discovered it already had that name! I chatted with two different women wearing them in the airport. They both referred to them as “this old thing” and one added she would never get rid of it. (I think she’ll still have it age 100!!)

  3. Saralyn
    Saralyn says:

    I haven’t owned a camel-colored coat since I was a kid, but I have my own sad coat story. Having lived in Chicago most of my adult life, I owned several coats and jackets. When I moved south into my mother’s house, I inherited her coats as well. I was in the process of donating coats to people who would get wear out of them when a hurricane flooded my house and ruined everything in the closet, including the coats. Sometimes we are not in control, and I learned it’s best not to become too sentimental about coats or clothes or other material objects. The hurricane turned me from a maximalist to a minimalist overnight.

    • Barb Eikmeier
      Barb Eikmeier says:

      Saralyn that is a sad story indeed. Every military move we made, when all our earthly possessions were loaded in the moving truck I would remind myself that if the military broke or lost my husband I’d be very upset but everything else could be replaced. In the end it’s just stuff isn’t it?

  4. Gay Yellen
    Gay Yellen says:

    I had a camel coat sometime in the past, but I never felt any attachment to it. It is long gone now. Fast forward to 2020, when my mother passed away. Her camel coat, which you could call vintage, was in great shape. I wore it for the first time a few weeks ago. It felt like a warm hug from her.

    • Barb Eikmeier
      Barb Eikmeier says:

      I love that- a warm hug from your mother! How nice that you wore it! I bet there were 20 year olds coveting it!

  5. Susan
    Susan says:

    What a great story–appreciated how you “saved” things for your move to your new home–that your familiar things somehow made your house a home. I grew up moving every couple of years too–folks were in the Indian Public Health Service and we lived on 12 different Indian Reservations, from Barrow, Alaska, to Monument Valley Utah. So yes, we carried things with us. But loved your camel coat story. Now, I tend to give things away, then the next day, will need them! Should have kept my bell-bottoms and platform shoes from the 70’s! But we can’t keep everything.
    One of my classmates wrote a book about going through her closet and what each ballgown represented, each handbag, each coat… (she had lived in France, had a lot of Chanel and Gucci and Louis V)–fascinating stories about meeting Presidents and Kings and famous people. She ran in those circles. Always thought it would be fun to have had a book like that from Jackie Kennedy and/or Princess Di. Would be a fun novel!

    • Barb Eikmeier
      Barb Eikmeier says:

      Thank you Susan! I’d have to write my ball gown stories from pictures because the dresses are long gone! Besides, there would be no royalty or diplomats in my stories although I once attended a formal at the National Aquarium with sharks and whales as a back drop to the guest speaker!

  6. Mary Lee Ashford
    Mary Lee Ashford says:

    What a great story, Barb. I did have that classic camel coat, though it’s been gone for a while now. But as I’ve recently retired, I’m going through the closet clean-out with work attire from my former work life. It’s a process…

  7. Donnell Ann Bell
    Donnell Ann Bell says:

    Wow, Barbara, you brought your camel coat and military background to life in just a few short words. I have a red coat that collects hair and strings from passersby from feet away. I’m pale too and though I love camel coats I would get lost if I stood against the wall.

    Your post explains so much— a maximalist. Id never heard that word but you explained it brilliantly. But 26 chairs???

    I hope your camel coat found a loving, young person’s home.

  8. lifestyle tips
    lifestyle tips says:

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    co-worker who had been doing a little research on this.

    And he actually ordered me breakfast because I stumbled upon it for him…

    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
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