The Evan-Picone coat, originally $329, was marked down to $250.
Every few weeks I'd walk downtown, rifle through my backpack and plop down another $50. I was working as a wire editor at the college newspaper, and the few dollars I earned each night didn't go far.
The impeccably dressed French saleswoman, eyeing my faded jeans and scuffed boots, assured me the coat would work in any social situation.
I dismissed her words as a smooth sales pitch, but truer words never were spoken.
I wore my fashion find on my first plane trip, which took me to Manchester, England, for my final semester. It was a faithful companion on jaunts all over Europe.
When I slept on the train, it became a bedspread. The spare buttons sewn inside saved my roommate and me from disaster on more than one occasion.
There were so many pockets that I could travel for days without needing a purse or wallet.
If I was wearing some scuzzy clothes, I could throw on the coat, button it and kick on a pair of high heels. Viola! Instant woman of mystery, cloaked in suspense.
The belt held things together perfectly when the zipper on my suitcase broke.
It also has been a great conversation piece. One time I drove the whole way from Martinsburg, W.Va., to Breezewood, Pa., with the belt flapping in the wind. I thought the police officer was stopping me for speeding, but he wanted to tell me my belt was caught in the car door.
The coat also was a great umbrella when I forgot mine.
Great for meeting a prince
I was wearing it as a student intern on the rainy day I met Prince Charles in Manchester, and on the stormy afternoon when I bought my first new car. I posed beside the shiny Chevette as a photographer at the newspaper where I worked captured the moment for me.
I was using the coat as a makeshift ground cover at a picnic on the banks of the Potomac River when the same photographer asked me to be his wife.
It poured the day we got married, but I wasn't worried. My coat was in the car, in case any of the guests needed it.
The coat is a nondescript khaki color that doesn't show the dirt and allows me to blend perfectly into a crowd.
It's been a coat for all seasons. I've pulled out the wool liner in warm weather and buttoned it back in during winter. The wool collar provided another fashion option, until my dog discovered its benefit as a chew toy.
One time someone with the same maiden name picked up my coat by mistake. For a few long days I wore the other woman's coat, until the other Wells brought mine back.
I've thought about replacing the coat with a new one, but that made me feel like a traitor. I've bought several others in the past few years, but they've left me cold.
Now I understand what's going through my husband's mind when he reaches for that frayed old shirt with the missing buttons.
This buddy, with scratched and broken buckles and a lining that hangs two inches below the hem, is more than a fair-weather friend.
I picked out some tan material at the fabric store last week, and I got as far as the cutting counter before I realized the color wasn't right.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and so should this coat.
Teri Johnson is a Lifestyle reporter for The-Herald-Mail.