The Enlisted Man…on the front lines of fashion

While thrifting in a cavernous warehouse somewhere near the Hackensack waterfront of Urban New Jersey, I found a dress. A sleeveless, shapeless, mustard maxi with a sparkling band under bust; way too big without binder clipping the back, for only $5. Of course I had to have it. But then I found the piece de résistance. Isolated in utilitarian loneliness, the olive-drab perfection, with pop-of-color patches, I had found the outerwear du jour. But this time I had a bit of sticker shock. A price tag with 0’s was out of character when one is risking bed bugs and other such nuisances. So I “hmph’d” and I walked…with the melancholy mustard madness and nothing to make it work. No overcoat to hide the clips. $5 poorer and a soul left empty.

Three months passed. The urge intervened and off I went. This time knowing full well I had lost my chance, my opportunity to have a part of my fashion favorite piece of non-peace history, WWII, was gone. I idled the morning with a dresser purchase to pick up later and 2 fantastical antique clock shells from Indonesia or Thailand. They are worth an entirely different post. Why not just ask – ask the man who is more of a hoarder than a connoisseur of anything vintage…(I mean he practically gave me the antique clock shells just because I was willing to clean them). Ask if he remembers – the coat I couldn’t forget. Amidst a dusty pile of endless crap that would only be touched by sensible pickers wearing face masks and rubber gloves, would he remember the pop-of-color patches with the hefty price tag and know that I was back – to claim my moment in time? To avenge my Jewish ancestors, to walk a mile in a coat that killed the Nazis, freed the survivors? Be a hero in my head?

Tony did remember. “The coat that no one wanted?”

Evoking memories of those wildly naughty childhood books The Lonely Doll (yet another post)…I could only imagine the treasure chest in which this coat lived, and I wanted to play dress up.

After haggling the price way down…(I mean let’s be realistic about the 0’s) my new best bud Tony agreed to retrieve the missing coat from a black hole of craigslist and ebay and bring it back to its rightful owner.

And now begins the fun…7 lbs of heavy duty wool, gold accoutrement,
and patches created on February 28, 1942 by Executive Order Number 9082 ‘Reorganizing the Army and the War Department’.

I journey back in time to rediscover these pieces of fashion that reflect pieces of history. What was worn by the enlisted person and has transcended definitions of style, when all style was thought lost. When Dior designed dresses for the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators and Chanel was behaving very badly in a romantic liaison with Hans Gunther von Dincklage.
Perhaps my journey will take me further, such as when I found my surname in a Holocaust museum book of the dead. Maybe the number written in the lining of the coat will lead me to the man who wore it, or the splash of white paint on the underside of the winged collar will tell a tale of unbridled heroism. For now I can at least throw on the mustard frock…while all my imaginings lead me back in time.

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