So a few weeks ago I went out to look for a raincoat and accidentally came back with a full-legnth velvet opera cloak by mistake.
You may be asking yourself how this sort of thing happens. Well, I started by looking at all the major department stores but they were all full up with cute little summer dresses like they were trying to pretend that summer in England doesn’t involve vast quantities of rain.
So I took myself down to our local vintage store, a very cool little shop called Real McCoy’s. The only trouble with going in there is that all sorts of shiny interesting garments leap out at you, demanding to be tried on.
As I was browsing through the mackintoshes I happened to glance over and notice a small but intriguing section of capes. There were several: a woolen riding-cape with a hood, a dark blue one with frog closures at the front, and a long, velvet, silk-lined black opera cape with little slits to put your arms through. I tried this on.
I am a very tall lady, as you may already know. I find it difficult to shop for pretty much everything because the sleeves and legs are always too short. Yet the opera cape reached all the way to my ankles.
With a sigh I returned it to its hanger–after all, I’d come for a raincoat and this wasn’t exactly going to fit the bill. But I stayed there petting the rich black velvet for about five full minutes, then decided to try it on again just because I don’t often get to wear something so beautiful or well-fitting.
So yes, I bought it. And last night I took it out for a test drive.
I really struggled trying to think of a place where I could appropriately wear a full-legnth opera cloak in Exeter, but in the end settled on a little place called The Speakeasy, a cocktail bar upstairs from one of Exeter’s many convivial pubs. Conveniently, both of the bartenders are named Chris. Shortly after I arrived one of them made me a little treat by cutting a passion fruit in half, putting sugar on top, pouring some high-proof alcohol over it and lighting it on fire until the sugar caramelized. I do love going in there.
I wasn’t with friends that evening, so I sat at the bar and conversed with people who were in varying stages of drunkenness. I’d brought a book in case there was a lull–Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. I’m worried people will think I’m deliberately being an intellectual snob when I’m reading it, but I’ve actually read it so many times now that it feels like having a conversation with an old friend (not that I understand most of it anyway–I tend to gloss over all the intense theological bits and just read about the grisly murders.) So there I was on my second drink (a nameless concoction of gin, lemon, lavender, apple, and elderflower) listening to the buzz of conversation and idly paging through my book when the song “Lowrider” came on. I couldn’t help but giggle at this strange clash of cultural references.
Now, the thing about wearing an opera cloak out at night, especially if you’re by yourself, is that you’ve got to be comfortable with strangers coming up and talking to you. I was prepared for this, but of course you can’t predict everything that people might say to you in any given situation.
As I started on my way home, the first person I passed was a young woman shambling along the sidewalk using a handy wall as a guide for keeping level, holding her shoes in one hand. Some police drove by and it may have been my imagination, but I feel they looked at me suspiciously. It was getting a little chilly by this point so I was trying to hold the cloak closed from the inside (cloaks aren’t actually that warm because you can’t button them all the way down, so all the cold air just gets in.) I started to pass a group of noisy drunken people, one of whom said, “You’re not going to flash me, are you? You’re not going to flash me, are you??” and then attempted to engage me in conversation. Fortunately I was quickly able to make it clear how very much I did not want to talk to her, and she rejoined her friends. But my favorite encounter of the evening was a young man leaning heavily on his girlfriend (I didn’t envy her in those heels) who, upon seeing me, raised one arm in the air and cried, “To infinity and beyond!”
Yes, that is in fact the Buzz Lightyear catchphrase. I am not aware of any circumstances under which Buzz Lightyear wore a full-legnth black velvet opera cape, or even a cape of any kind. He’s more of a helmet man. I’m not sure what in my appearance precipitated such a reaction.
Soon enough I was home with scrubbed face, tucked up for the night in my childish pyjama bottoms with the cupcakes on them. My cloak hung gracefully on its hook, ready for mischief another day.