It was fire-engine red - can't-be-missed red - and the fabric was nubby. It was what the beautiful Jackie Kennedy wore in the photo I memorized.

I had to have that coat, and so did everyone else.

So there we were, legions of suburban women decked out in Jackie knock-offs. Some were even brave enough to add a pillbox hat, a la Jackie. I was not.

But how I loved that coat! I wore it everywhere I could through two winters.

Still, that first grown-up coat of mine was definitely a far cry from the real thing, as evidenced by the way the lining ripped, the buttons fell off, and that nubby fabric that looked so fabulous grew fuzzy and frayed.

Eventually, my coat Camelot - and not long after that, the country's - came to an end.

But there would be others in my coat chronicles.

With two babies in my life, and a third coming, I yielded to corduroy "mommy jackets" worn to the supermarket, unbuttoned, as the pregnancy proceeded.

And when my life became so totally unglamorous, I yearned for something that might lift me out of the universe of toilet training and "she hit me first!"

I found it in a black velvet opera coat seized from the racks of a local thrift shop.

I never swept into a grand ball with it, or even into the Academy of Music - back when people did dress for concerts. We'd let our Philadelphia Orchestra subscription go when both the orchestra and the babysitters began hiking their prices.

But I did get to wear the black velvet coat one New Year's Eve when we parents pretended to be something we weren't and had a formal celebration at someone's split-level home.

"Can you walk in that thing?" my husband asked. A withering glance was my answer.

I arrived at the house wearing that coat - and immediately needing first aid for a bleeding knee. I had tripped over the hem on the outside steps, somehow not the entrance I'd imagined. But I still have that coat as a relic of the fantasy.

Other winters brought other coats, always defining who I was, and who I wanted to be.

In my hope of mitigating my home-and-school-committee and carpool existence, there was the flowing beige cape with a faux fur collar that was purchased on a whim, and saw little wear. (I'm 5-foot-2 on a good day, and that cape drowned me.)

There was the classic camel hair, with miniature versions for our three daughters, a once-upon-a-time staple. It was boxy, but oh, so Town & Country.

I loved an Icelandic coat purchased from the esteemed Landau of Princeton. Part of the purchasing pleasure was just meandering down the town's Nassau Street with the Landau shopping bag in my hand. It transmitted all things Princeton, aspirational, for sure.

Eventually, I outgrew image coats when puffy down made its entrance into American life in the '80s, and we all looked like refrigerators stuffed in bulk. But were those coats ever warm - and they lasted forever, for better or worse.

Today, as a member of the Social Security cohort, I tend to wear whatever's practical.

I'm reminded of one shopping expedition with my mother when I tried to persuade her to buy an off-white winter coat that flattered her fair skin and blond hair.

There was a sag to her shoulders when she told me that she was way past the age of off-white coats, and that someday I'd understand the words "too youthful," when I would choose the practical over the pretty.

That someday is now.

My coat of choice for the freezing days ahead is dark green so it shows no dirt. It's made of one of those fabrics that somehow hold in body heat. It comes way past my knees.

And with any luck, it will see me through whatever this winter delivers.

But in a back closet upstairs, I hold dear those other coats. Although I will probably never wear them again, I can't bear to part with them, either.

One is a sassy purple that is, well, too youthful. Another, its polar opposite, is very long and inky-black, like a widow in mourning.

And on long winter days when I'm feeling a bit bored, there's still that opera coat on its satin hanger.

I may now be practical, but I'm not yet too old to fantasize about grand entrances to opera houses on the arm of my silver-haired knight.

Thank God.