Can we talk for a moment about coat fetishes?
Although it’s easy to overlook because it’s so modern and subtle, the costuming in Supernatural is some of the most brilliant I’ve ever seen. Just take a look at Dean here. From his creepy, pagan-esque amulet (in the shape of a scapegoat, natch) to his uniform of ripped jeans and oversized workman’s shirts, faded from too much abuse in cheap laundromat washers; from the oddly oversized ring on Dean’s left hand (his father’s wedding ring, perhaps?) to his close-cropped, poorly trimmed faux-military haircut, Dean’s wardrobe is brilliantly thought out, a perfect visual shorthand for his character. It’s a mirror onto his history and his belief patterns, his ideals and his motivations, and presents everything you need to know about him in one easy-on-the-eyes package.
Then there’s that coat.
Faded, stained beyond repair — but never ripped or torn — this is a coat that’s seen too many battles. Far more battles, in fact, than its wearer. It’s too large for Dean, and in a style that hasn’t been current in thirty years—clearly this is the coat of an older man.
Whether it was ever said or not in the show, I don’t remember, but it’s obvious, isn’t it, that this was once John Winchester’s coat.
But it’s more than a coat. It’s a talisman, a uniform. The perfect armor for the perfect soldier. A cape for a superhero, be he a crusader for justice or vengeance.
It’s more than a coat. It’s a symbol of protection, of family, of the things we carry with us to connect us to who we are, even if we don’t really like who that is. It’s the physical representation of a father’s sins inflicted on his family; of a burden too great for one man to bear, so he makes his sons carry it in his stead. It’s taking what your father gave to you with open arms and thinking that’s who you are, until one day you meet another man in another coat, who tells you that you’re the most important man in the universe, that you deserved to be saved, and maybe you don’t ever believe him, but it’s the first time anyone’s ever said that to you and just hearing it changes everything.
It’s more than a coat. It’s a promise Dean makes to himself every single day of his life that he will do it differently, that he is not his father’s mistakes, that he is not doomed to the fate destiny handed him, that he will rebel and he will curse and he will fuck and goddammit, he will eat all the pie, thank you very much, because those are his choices to make, his future to decide, even if it’s born out of what was given to him in the first place.
This is more than a coat. It’s a rebellion: because whereas his father gave his son a cast-off, battered coat as if such a gesture didn’t matter, Dean knows that it does; Dean knows that nothing else matters more. The truth is, Dean is haunted by the man who once wore this coat when really, he fills it out more than John ever could have, because he’s a thousand times the man that John Winchester ever could have been. To John Winchester, a coat is just a coat. To the Righteous Man in Hell, however, a coat means nothing less than family first.
So Dean wears that coat—and no, it doesn’t protect him. It doesn’t make him better at his job, or stronger, or more powerful or more resilient. It doesn’t make a damn thing easier, and sometimes it’s hot and heavy and just gets in the way. But he wears it anyway, and he makes all of those choices anyway; and no matter how much he fucks up or fails, he never knows when to quit; he never knows when to give in and accept; and he takes the fate he is given and makes it something new, something his. And when Dean Winchester says fuck you to Heaven, Hell, God and Father and he chooses family anyway, it should have surprised no one, because from day one, the coat always said it all.
What’s really telling is that after Season 5, Dean never dons the coat again. Of course, by that point, he doesn’t need it anymore. He made his choice. He already proved to all the world that family comes first, that he is not his father’s son but his own man, and so such a physical symbol is mostly redundant.
But now he’s the one giving out coats, of reminding his loved ones of who they are and what they can be, and of the love that can be theirs, if only they too choose family first.
But of course Dean handing Cas the trench is so much more than John giving his son a too-large leather overcoat, because if nothing else, Dean understands that a coat is never just a coat.