When a friend and I were planning a winter-time trip to London, we were discussing -- as women tend to do -- what clothes we were packing.
Women can never go on a trip or to a special event, without having other women approve their wardrobe, especially those who will be in attendance.
Just in case, you didn't know that.
Now, first, please understand that I have an absolute passion for coats, perhaps greater even than my passion for shoes. I own a slew of coats in different colors and styles, as well as some in the same color and two identical trench coats, one in dark brown and the other in sunny yellow. So, choosing a coat to take to wintry London definitely took some deciding. I put a lot of careful thought into it.
"I have decided," I said, "that I'm going to take my Kelly green wool coat. It's a great conversation starter."
Once I wore it on a weekend trip to New York City, and in a city where strangers normally remain strangers, many approached me to comment on the beautiful color. Remember: In New York, the natives wear mostly black, so color stands out on the street like a missing tooth on a prom queen. Complimenting my coat was often the opener to what became lengthier conversations, and a couple led to temporary friendships, the kind where someone offers to show you the best restaurant or to give you some piece of inside knowledge.
In one of my books, I have written about "chat-makers," an item of clothing, jewelry, hat, purse or shoes that is so eye-catching, that strangers will comment on it and a chat is begun. Once, I sent a truly unique and fetching purse, decorated with gorgeous, colorful buttons to a friend in Pennsylvania as a thank you for a favor she had done for me. When she began carrying the purse to church, she found herself making all kinds of new friends, ones she knew by face but had never met. The pretty little purse became a matchmaker of friends, giving them something to discuss.
"Suddenly, we have something to talk about," she wrote excitedly to me. "This shared mystical commonality that bonds women together: dainty, pretty things. Men, too, comment. This little purse has a story of its own and has made me so many friends. I cannot thank you enough."
A chat-maker had done its job admirably.
"If I take this green coat to London, it will start conversations with people who wouldn't otherwise chat us up," I predicted. For good measure, I threw in a bright, multi-colored scarf, a pretty hat and a large, glistening broach pinned to the coat's lapel. I feel safe in declaring that it was the only green coat on the streets of London, which mostly teemed with black, navy and occasionally dark brown. In other words, St. James Court differs little from Fifth Avenue.
"Nice coat!" commented cheerfully the man at the ticket counter of the train. "I like that color." Then one word led to another and very quickly, he was giving us bits of key information, sharing maps and warning us not to "buy a three-day pass. It costs two pounds more than buying three one-day passes."
Good job, green coat!
As the trip continued, others would comment on the coat, the hat, the broach or all. It was always the perfect opening for a conversation to begin and questions to be asked. I highly recommend a chat-maker whenever an opportunity needs an icebreaker. Just choose to wear or carry something unique, colorful or sparkly.
Southerners don't really need anything to start up a conversation. Just stand still and we'll talk. But for the more reserved folks, a chat-maker is a jolly good idea. You might enjoy having people start conversations with you, for a change.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.