The Summer Coat

It's been a very hectic week. And when I realized that I had left my coat at my in-laws' house on Sunday I sort of knew it would turn into just 'one of those weeks.' You see, my summer coat is a real victory for me in the battle with the English summer.

Let me explain.

The seasons in England (at least southern England where I live) are of two sorts: coldish (autumn, winter, spring) and warmish (summer). I find dressing for the coldish weather very easy. When it's cold here, it's cold – everywhere – outside, in shops, at work, at home. England is a very damp country and so most homes have these charming ventilation holes which just let in cold air, constantly, so that mould doesn't grow on the walls. So why even put the heat on? (I'm being slightly dramatic here).

But dressing is easy. It's all about extra layers, warm sweaters (or jumpers as they say here), tights and boots. But in the summer, it gets tricky. You see, it doesn't often get very hot. For maybe a week or two the thermometer will hit 80 degrees or above, but for the rest of the summer it's actually in the high 60s, low 70s. Which would be fine and pleasant, except that when it does reach the higher 70s, it starts to feel very warm on public transportation, in shops or restaurants or even at work (buildings are not over air conditioned here, in fact, I've worked in buildings with no air conditioning – and when it does reach the 80s you aren't allowed to just not show up for work!).

There's also the added complexity that even when you might not think it's warm enough to be outside, the British will see the sun and feel cooped up after months of shivering indoors and will want to shiver outdoors – usually around a barbeque. And that can be grand, but only if you are warm enough.

For years this dressing in the summer perplexed me. Just wearing a sweater wasn't enough. And a fleece or sweat jacket is just not smart-enough looking. I usually took to wearing short sleeve tops under my spring/autumn coat – usually a trench coat. But this can look really bah-humbugy, as if you're denying that it's actually summer (even if it is freezing or raining). Wearing a blazer is also handy, or a suit jacket if you are going to work, but although a blazer is fine on the weekends too, I am a woman with hips and sometimes it's more flattering to be able to wear a longer outer covering.

And then, I discovered the summer coat. I had been looking for it for a while. I thought: if only I could find a smart-looking lightweight coat, maybe something you might wear over an Easter dress in a more normal climate, it could work for work and at weekends too. I finally stumbled on one from one of the catalogue companies here in late March – Boden – think a cross between J.Crew and Land's End. It's navy blue and has a sixties look (thank goodness for the Mad Men craze).

When you're an expat there are always challenges – and you have to adapt. The summer coat is a pretty light example, but it certainly demonstrates how you can't control your environment at all times (no matter where you live) and so it's worth being crafty and coming up with solutions that work for you.

Luckily, I was able to retrieve my trusty summer coat from my father-in-law at his London office yesterday. I should also add as a point of information for those still learning how to dress for the British summer – I also usually keep a cardigan and one of my two 'summer scarves' in my bag for use at any summertime outdoor event. You can never be too prepared.

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