What Happens in the Coat Check Stays in the Coat Check — But Does It Really?

Vogue’s 125th anniversary + Free People = Coat Check Stories

For actress and writer Hailey Benton Gates, a venue’s coat check is more than just a place to hang clothes — it’s where you find out the secrets of the patrons inside. “The coat check is a profession ripe with strange encounters and one that is predominantly female,” Gates explains of her interest in that small closet by the entrance. “Why is it that we trust women to guard our precious things over men?”

To answer that question, Gates interviewed scores of real coat-check girls from all over New York City. Some were friends, others were strangers, but what these women had in common is they all had spent a significant amount of time handling the outerwear of the city’s finest clientele. “Director Danielle Katvan and I cast a wide net, so I still have people sending me coat-check stories,” Gates says. “There’s almost enough to make a documentary!”

For Vogue’s short film, Gates compiled stories from three of the women she interviewed. Alissa shared her memory of the night a famous director walked into the upscale Italian restaurant she worked in. “I won’t say who, but he may have directed a movie that rhymes with gulp diction,” she admits. Meanwhile, Rebecca revealed which customers are the ones who always lose their tickets and almost never tip. (Hint: It’s whom you’d least expect.) And Laura opened up about the time she gave a client the wrong jacket — a coat-check girl’s worst nightmare.

Gates plays the part of all three of these women, lip-syncing their taped stories while a rack of Free People’s coats circles around the closet of Gramercy Park’s National Arts Club. “We took a long time to pick a location,” Gates explains. “I really wanted one of those coat checks that has that dry-cleaner conveyer belt thing, but there are not very many of them.” Lucky for her, she found just the right setting for her video at the historic spot. “It was exciting for me because the National Arts Club is also home to the Newswomen’s Club of New York, of which I am a proud member.”

As for whether there were any stories too salacious to include in this short film, Gates remains coy. “There were many,” she says with a laugh. “One of my favorites concerned a young girl whose father ran a bar in the East Village. He had her running the coat check at the ripe old age of 11. Hilarity and strangeness ensued.” Only in New York.

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