Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/10/2011 (2084 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I spotted the coat on a recent thrift-store outing.
Even from a distance it caught my eye, peeking out among the layers of suede, fur and leather coats on the rack. It was emerald green, with a thick black border along the bottom and the sleeves.
I made my way over and looked it over. It was a wool pea coat, and not the scratchy kind of wool. Ever the frugal fashionista, I opened it up to check out the lining and tags. The labels said it all.
"This garment is made from genuine Hudson's Bay Point Blanket."
And it was 100 per cent virgin wool. Nice.
We aboriginal people have a bit of a history with the Hudson's Bay Co.
I checked for moth holes, stains and tears. Then I tried it on and realized it fit me -- and looked good. Now I was smitten.
The jacket wasn't one of the well-known multi-coloured striped ones that are often collectible, but could be valuable since good old HBC doesn't make blanket coats anymore.
Stylish starlet Rachel Bilson really upped their value when she wore the covetable limited-edition Smythe version while strolling around at the Vancouver Olympics.
This coat's price was a little steep, but a good woollen jacket can last a lifetime. I had a flicker of doubt about it. Wasn't the Hudson's Bay Company founded on the backs of my ancestors?
Then I bought the darn coat despite my reservations. Damn you, HBC. I wouldn't have this problem if it was a vintage Burberry trench coat.
When I got home, I did a little more research on the coat and its history.
Point blankets have been around for about 200 years. They were a staple of the fur trade that helped make the HBC one of the biggest companies in the world at the time. This I knew.
They were named point blankets because of the black lines sewn into them, which signify their size and weight, not the number of beavers traded for them. The blankets were hugely popular trade items with indigenous people, and later the Métis people.
The classic white-striped blankets everyone knows were called "chief's blankets" because they were so loved by First Nations people. They were great to provide camouflage in the winter.
Both Métis and First Nations people started making coats out of them, making many different styles to suit their needs. In 1812, HBC started making coats out of blankets, too.
Point blankets were also hugely popular because they were warm, easy to sew, mostly water-repellent and didn't take as long to dry as traditional buffalo hides. Of course, finding hides would soon become a problem anyway.
Besides, that's the way aboriginal people were back then -- always adapting to survive and live a better life.
I found out the HBC made point blankets in many colours, chosen mainly to suit the tastes of their valuable trade clientele -- aboriginal people.
My coat was made from a 3.5-point blanket in Pine Green from the "Deep Tones" period, which was introduced in the 1930s. My guess is it was likely made around the 1950s or 1960s.
And I found a similar one listed on eBay for $349!
So I mulled things over.
Fashion lover that I am, I've never had a problem wearing other "aboriginal fashion" like Pendleton jackets or purses, "native" prints and feather or turquoise jewelry. And I've never met a fringe I didn't like. If anyone can wear this stuff, it's me.
So is it really so bad to wear an HBC coat? Am I a slave to fashion or a colonized fool to wear it?
Nobody ever says anything when non-aboriginal people do it. Actually, there are a few people who have.
A female aboriginal collective called The Ephemerals delved into fashion's love/appropriation of native culture recently with an art show called "Trending" at the University of Winnipeg.
It's true: Fashion has a crush on tribal style. I blame Ralph Lauren and his obsession with tipis and Indian blankets.
And I tend to get a little smirk on my face whenever I see hipsters wearing mukluks.
Well, in the end I decided that much like my ancestors, I'm a practical person. Is the coat going to keep me warm as well as looking nice? We'll see how it goes.
The real test will come once the snow flies.
And there's always eBay.