Thursday, 7 August 2014

Book Review: The Coat Route

The Coat Route Craft, Luxury & Obsession On the Trail of a $50,000 Coat by Meg Lukens Noonan
Published by Spiegel & Grau (a division of Random House, Inc., New York)
ISBN:  978-1-4000-6993-4
Retail:  $27.00 (US) / $32.00 (Canada)

I finished The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan this weekend. I loved it, well except for that part where the author tries to justify wardrobing. It is the story of bespoke tailoring, colourful characters and historic local side-stories. Noonan manages to gain access into the lives of  people who had a hand in the making of an item that was truly a labour of passion.  

Language is fluid as Noonan points out early on in her discussion of bespoke tailoring. Bespoke, the term, has been "hijack[ed]" and there has been a battle over the meaning as fast-fashion retailers adopt the term to peddle their wears. Noonan dives deep into the historic roots of meaning of bespoke where bespoke tailoring is custom made by hand for the individual not for the masses. The term bespoke may have evolved, but the craft behind a truly bespoke made garment has been passed on for generations. As language evolves according to new users, so has the fashion industry to accommodate new markets and business opportunities. Noonan introduces us to some of the individuals who swear by bespoke and worry about its future. But as John Cutler, the bespoke tailor behind the $50,000 coat, points out, the world like the word changes and one must change with it.       

Her journey starts at home looking at her own household closets jammed packed with clothing before she explores the question of quality over quantity. Even as she is immersed in the world of quality goods she finds it hard to break away from the trappings of the other side picking up a garment that she wears once and then proceeds to return it. Noonan just doesn't get it. And is even unapologic about wardrobing where she purchases a garment, wears it out to dinner and returns it the next day. She appears to justify her actions with the claim that it was a cheaply made garment from a foreign country.

She does confess at the end that she is trying to be better shopper. But she fails at seeing the true cost of fast-fashion. It is as if she was more intrigued by the foods she described at the dinner meetings than she was about the lost skills that many people worried about and the high cost to not only people but communities. But it was more than that and to her credit as a consumer who believes that fast-fashion offers deals that "are just too amazing" (her words not mine), she does try hard to uncover the mystery behind bespoke tailoring.

This book embraces the genre of new-journalism where Noonan incorporates many of its literary techniques. She inserts herself throughout the book, insisting on seeing events and locations herself in order to report them through her own eyes. She includes details that appear to be off-topic in order to recreate the scene where conversations occur. In doing so, Noonan delved into a complex subject of quality vs. quantity through compelling stories and characters.  It is well worth the read.

Happy Reading!


  1. Interesting. When I first came to Chicago, I worked for a very high end retailer, who is no longer in business I might add. I had a customer that drove me crazy. She would come in on Friday, buy a dress, lipstick, nail polish and shoes, take up a tremendous amount of my time, I did receive an hourly wage, but my real money came from commissions. Come Monday, here she would be, returning EVERYTHING! I HAD to take it back as it was store policy. My time was wasted, I lost the commission that I made on the sale, and the cosmetics were just lost as I could not put them back into the inventory. This behavior cannot be justified in my opinion. Remember, the store is no longer in business.

    1. I agree there is no justification for wardrobing, especially when she was interviewing people and learning that jobs were being lost. I actually had a sick to my stomach feeling when I was reading how she tried to convince herself or the readers that it was okay. It took me a long time to read this book because it was that part that wanted me to abandon the read. But the side stories of the trades people who she interviews are what saves the book.


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