Travelling the world in a yellow coat

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In May I went to Hong Kong, UK, and Germany, leaving a chilly Dunedin Autumn behind. Into my borrowed purple suitcase and my turquoise tote bag I squeezed a selection of music, reading, other essentials, and wardrobe for 3 weeks, 3 times zones and 3 wear zones. This was my first time in Asia, Europe and the UK, first time over the equator and I was travelling alone. Wonderful and scary.
“Take your yellow coat’” advised my sister who went in 2010 as a backpacking tourist and missed her artistic clothes and the connections they can spark. Her advice is classic Out There Dress Theory promulgated by Oscar Wilde and Quentin Crisp: dress obviously as yourself to attract like-minded others. “Wear comfortable shoes,” said several people, even though the achievement of both comfort and style in shoes borders on the miraculous. “Layers,” said others. And I agree, making everything work together is an excellent way to deal with temperature changes. “After you have finished packing, take half of it out” was another piece of advice I only partly followed, to my regret.
After hours of effort I was packed and flew off to Hong Kong, wearing my yellow coat and my comfortable, stylish shoes. (Yes, I found some: black suede lace-ups with 15cm of rubber sole by Isabella Anselmi, and 2 women in Glasgow and Hamburg wanted them). Hong Kong was amazing and a humid 30 degrees so I wore a summer dress. People queued to get inside the big fashion stores in Kowloon, but to me it all looked fake and strange. Endless expensive bags, watches, perfume, jewellery, and clothes that made no sense in the street outside. Who cares enough about the distinguishing details of wealth, of status? I didn’t.
In Glasgow I saw interesting looking people wearing some colour, some retro, some arty and my yellow coat took its place in the crowd. But the cold weather forced me to buy another coat: a gorgeous blue wool 1960s double breasted coat in perfect condition for 20 pounds from one of the many retro shops on that long street running parallel to the Kelvin River, just along from the Laundromat and the great little bookshop where I found a Chinese classic I had been reading about….My suitcase complained. I began to wonder what I could ditch. Nothing rare of course; what did I carry that was generic enough to be easily replaced at home? Actually not much.
In Hamburg it was summer and I was part of an international community, so absolutely wonderful. In the street I loved the direct, handsome people and the naturalness of being myself there.
But London! I was surprised how dull and gloomy most of the people looked, even in that great beating heart of culture and history, that teeming great city. Don’t they care anymore about the art of dress in London? I walked and trained and bussed and tubed my way through a list of adventures, encounters and visits, all the time also looking for stylish people, something to impress me. I met a wonderfully stylish woman in the Museum of London (from Australia!) but in the street most people were camouflaged in black, grey, and neutrals. Tourists like me provided the occasional splash of colour and in my yellow coat I began to feel obviously from Elsewhere.
Then I saw another yellow coat. She was in the City, and dressed like she belonged there. She crossed the road and glanced at me as our paths diverged, deep in conversation with her suited companion. Later I saw another, far away. During my 5 days in London I counted 3 yellow coats in the street, including 1 in a shop window near Harrods. But then I went to the Globe. They were doing 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages and I saw “As you like it” in Georgian. What a blast! It was so good. There I was in the Globe Theatre in London, 12,000 miles from home and in a centre of history and excellence, captivated by this wonderful performance. And in the audience of about 100 people there were 4 yellow coats.

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