Mirror, Mirror: Spring coats show their colors, but not their "Made in U.S.A." labels

I'm in the market for a kelly-green trench.

The bright color is a shout-out to this spring's punchy palette.

But even better, the prevalence of this shamrock solid and its rainbow-hued crew - think watermelon, fuchsia, purple, and sunshine yellow - is final proof that pigment-heavy primaries and pastels are the new neutrals.

Oh, the joy!

This spring's lightweight outerwear is the permission we need to pair bold colors. Hello, red coatdress and ruffled, coral coat. Goodbye, boring beiges, blacks, and browns.

It's not just punchy solids updating the classic coat.

Kate Spade features a darling navy-blue trench with white piping, while Via Spiga is offering a cool zebra print with silver buttons. Burberry's collection of outerwear includes a short, hot-pink plaid number and a classic tan coat with tangerine piping.

The spring 2012 line by Jane Lipman Post, the trench coat designer for sensible women everywhere, features a fabulous fuchsia option and a hooded blue canvas coat with contrasting white collar and white toggle buttons.

"I call them mixed-media trenches," explained Post, whose coats are available at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. "Some feature contrasting lining. They are a great way for women to express themselves and remain classic."

So with a spring in my step and a "Made in America" theme in my head, I started looking for coats to feature that are made Stateside. I didn't have much luck.

There were a few eco-friendly trenches, but they didn't have mass distribution. And there was Brooks Brothers. But its trenches are mostly gray, black, and tan - not a match for this color story.

So, I asked Post, why don't you manufacture your coats here?

"The factories just aren't here anymore," Post said.

Years ago, Post said, when she ran her now-defunct outerwear company Drizzle, she did most of her manufacturing in New York and Pennsylvania.

But when big design houses decided to move sewing facilities offshore to save money, the skilled workforce dried up. Now, Post says, there aren't many people here that can do the detail work it requires to put together a coat.

"It's much easier to sew a blouse," Post explained. "But coats have a lot of structure - interlinings, and interfacings, buttonholes, lapels . . . and fabric [canvas, patent leather, wool] for trench coats is not forgiving. One mistake and you have to start all over again."

Yet designers, herself included, are starting to realize that having the bulk of their work carried out in Asia is actually more expensive, due to the costs of overseeing production abroad and losses incurred in meeting manufacturers' minimum-order requirements.

"I would love to make my coats domestically," Post said. "I would love to find a local factory where I could make 100 or so special coats for Neimans or Bergdorfs."

What's helping the cause is the current made-in-the-USA chic factor. But fashion, like any business, is about the bottom line. Designers and manufacturing plants have to recognize the benefit of paying American workers a fair, living wage. With benefits.

And the burden doesn't stop there. Fast fashion - i.e., the H & M or Target trendy tank tops in style today and gone tomorrow - has spoiled us. What's a fair price to pay for a cute cherry trench coat that keeps jobs in the United States?


Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@

phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.


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