June 18 • 09:08 AM

Riding on coattails down memory lane

December 19, 2018
I'm thinking of the perfect accent for an outfit I've cobbled together from a variety of sources when it hits me. The perfect piece is in my possession already. The tail coat. That awesome, totally vintage and totally unique garment I coveted for years at Cinderella's Attic in Royal Oak.

Fully lined with satin, complete with one of those inner hidden sleeve-type pockets, double-breasted and trimmed in cloth, it was as if that tail coat was made for me. Whoever purchased it from Finchley on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago wasn't a large man. A perfect fit in the shoulders and waist, it is a tad bit long in the sleeves. I end up folding them under, securing the fold with a safety pin. In so doing, some detail is lost. Just one of three cloth covered buttons on the ends of the sleeves is visible, the other two tucked under for a better fit.

It is an expensive purchase in the mid-1980s when I first see the coat. Price tag is $50, but I love it so much that I come up with the dough and make the coat mine.

I stop wearing the tails in the mid-1990s. I think it is beginning to look a bit moth-eaten, the satin collar a bit frayed and the lining somewhat worse for the wear. I'm also a little less confident. I'm not living in Royal Oak anymore, and on more than one occasion when I step out I feel like I'm from another planet.

I never get rid of it, though, as that tail coat was like a second skin to me for occasions big and small. The holidays were no exception. Paired with a bright red long skirt, a crisp white cotton blouse with a lace collar and velvet tie, some black 'granny boots' and a red cap trimmed with a black velvet bow, I transformed myself into 'Christmas Carol' for numerous parties and family gatherings. I loved the look, as did many others—though the husbands and boyfriends of my coworkers at the law firm were a bit frightened. Not because they didn't like the look—many told me they did. It was because they were scared their girlfriends/wives would get inspired and don a similar get-up. In private, a few of them told me their significant others said, "That outfit is really cute and Christmas-y, but don't you go wearing it..."

This didn't offend me, it made me chuckle. The well-worn fear of standing out is perhaps the most familiar outfit, and I'm reminded it's likely why I stopped wearing the coat.

When I come across the tail coat—officially called a morning coat—last week, I am thrilled that my recollections of its condition aren't quite accurate. A good dry cleaning and a trip to Susan's Stitch-N-Fix in Imlay City, and I should be good to go. It feels good to embrace this again, and I'm going for it. All in.

In preparation for the cleaning and repairs, I decide to check the little sleeve-like pocket. My fingertips brush against something that feels like glazed cardboard. I pull it out and there they are. Two tickets to the Laurie Anderson 'Strange Angels' concert held at the Fisher Theater on Friday, March 9, 1990 at 8 p.m. One ticket for my sister Virginia, and one for me. The concert was fabulous, as are all the wonderful memories attached to this beloved garment.

I call up my sister and we take a trip down memory lane, laughing and recalling how great that Strange Angels album is, and how big an influence Laurie Anderson was on our lives.

None of this would have happened without that cherished tail coat. I can't wait to wear it again and collect more scraps of the escapades of life, and to shine the light of deep gratitude and love upon.

Life is a grand adventure, and it's definitely made more jaunty in tails!

Email Catherine at

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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