How to create an awesome coat wardrobe (Guide)
Striped winter coat with hat, London Jean BF
  1. A great coat makes a serious style investment
  2. Why you should care about your coat
  3. How many coats do you really need?
  4. What coats to buy?
    • Examples of great coat options for various lifestyles
    • Look for coats that work with your shape
    • Watch the fit of the coat
  5. Statement and special occasion coats
  6. In a nutshell

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A great coat makes a serious style investment

Winter is just around the corner on the Northern Hemisphere. Depending on the climate you live in your comfort level for the decreasing temperatures will differ. An Alaskan fashionista, for instance, still feels comfortable outside without a coat at 40F (5oC) at low relative humidity and calm wind, while her California or Florida sisters feel it is the right weather for their new down coats. It is just a rumor that the southern gals need less outerwear than the ones living up North. What differs is when these women will start wearing them. Thus, you have to identify the best down coat for your climate zone. This guide lets you identify which coats you need for your lifestyle.

post logo woman in trench coat

Why you should care about your coat

Don’t think of a coat just as a mean to insulate yourself from the cold ambient air. Instead treat your outerwear as an outfit all by itself. Furthermore, these coats must meet your mood and style.

#fashionover50 mature woman in leather coat with faux fur collar
Winterwhite leather coat with faux fur accents, Steve Madden burgundy patent leather ankle strap pumps, burgundy leather gloves, Burberry plaid purse, and burgundy beret (all own)

How many coats do you really need?

It all depends on your lifestyle and the climate you live in. In winter, your outerwear is the first someone see when you enter a new place. You want to dress to impress and to make an entrance. Thus, you need coats that make you feel great about you. This means you need coats for your various life situations.

midlife blogger looking posh in a classic peacoat winter look
Classic red peacoat with Kate Moss for Longchamp bag, leather gloves, hat, booties (all own), and boot toppers c/o Top of the Boot

To create your perfect capsule coat wardrobe think about your lifestyle and set the priorities accordingly. A working midlife woman, for instance, needs an everyday winter coat and a raincoat to wear on the commute to and from work, and, when living in a climate with temperatures in the single digits or below (colder than -12.8oC), a cold-weather parka or down-coat, an evening coat for going out, and a laid back casual coat for the weekend. A woman who is retired and/or baby sits her grand-kids a lot, may be fine with one everyday coat for shopping, running errands, and doctor visits, etc., but needs to stock on laid back coats. When you rarely go out, an evening coat may be luxury, and when on a budget, the everyday coat can be styled up with brooches and an evening scarf instead.

midlife blogger in posh chic street style winter outerwear
Burberry motorcycle coat with Kate Moss for Longchamp bag, headband and Salamander shearling booties (all own)
mature winter look with motorcycle coat and green beret
Burberry London loden motorcycle coat styled with green beret, black scarf, green SAK bag, and Nine West camouflage booties that pick up the different shades of green and black of the outerwear outfit (all own)

What coats to buy?

Always buy the highest quality you can afford unless the coat is just intended for fun, i.e. this winter season’s It trend that you can’t resist and that you are ok with to toss after the season is over or the coat starts looking shabby, whatever comes first.

Keep in mind that in contrast to many other wardrobe items, coats are worn often on a daily basis in winter. Thus, your cost-per-wear will go down fast in no time. Therefore, don’t shy away from a high price tag too fast. Instead, think about how long you anticipate to wear the coat and then do the math. If the coat gets under a dollar per anticipated wear, go for it.

Pro tip:

Keep in mind that the simpler a coat, the more versatile it will be, and the longer it will look ageless.

Examples of great coat options for various lifestyles

  • A well-made trench coat is always worth its money, as trench coats are so versatile. In a maritime mid-latitude climate like in the Pacific Northwest, New Zealand or West Europe, for instance, a coat worth the investment is a trench coat with wool lining that can be buttoned in on colder days and taken out when temperatures are not so unpleasant. See this post on what to look for in a trench coat.
  • When you drive a lot, a 3/4 or coat that just ends below your bum are great options to avoid that your coat gets caught in the door and will look dirty and wet once you descend. Virgin wool is a great fabric as it resists wrinkling. To test how easy the fabric wrinkles squeeze it between your fingers for a minute. Then let it loose. If the wrinkle stays, the coat is not a great option when you drive a lot or spend a lot of time sitting in your coat on a bus, tram or the subway.
  • A shearling is a great insulator against cold and windy weather, but a nightmare in wet weather.
  • Loden coats are great for temperate maritime climate. See what to look for in a great loden coat in the post at the link.
  • Lined leather coats are great in windy dry weather. They definitely make a statement, but they don’t work in rain.
  • Down coats are great in cold dry weather, but dry slowly and feel uncomfortably cold when the downs get moist. Thus, they are only suitable in cold dry weather. Note that a down coat may have up to 30% feathers and still are called down filled. Feathers are not as good insulators as downs are. Furthermore, they have quills that may stick thru non-tightly weaved fabric. Thus, read the label and look for 100% down filled. Also look for coats with small sewn compartments as the downs are subject to gravity. Wide compartments, especially when in vertical direction lead to uneven insulation. Not fun at all. Horizontal compartments are better from an insulating standpoint, but they add weight. See this post what to look for to find the best down coat.
  • Puffer coats with high-quality synthetics fillings like microfiber can be just as good insulators than down coats. However, the filling has the advantage to dry faster than downs.
  • When you travel a lot for business, lightweight and wrinkle-free are key. Look for double-layer wool or cashmere coats. They don’t have a lining that can wrinkle, and you can roll them before putting them in the overhead bin in case you didn’t get a first class upgrade or your company doesn’t buy first class tickets. Duffel coats are an eternal classic in this category. Pea-coats made in a traditional way also have double layer wool.
mature woman in short peacoat
Short pea coat c/o London tradition as an example for a laid back coat. Coat styled with own London Jeans leather pants, Jeanne Pierre striped sweater, scarf, H belt, beret and Burberry bag

Pro tip:

Shearling, wool and downs from cold countries (e.g. Canada) are better insulators than those from countries with warm winters.

Nicole of High Latitude Style wearing a shearling coat
Example of a shearling coat with headband, gloves, GNW tight, Antonio Melani booties, and Celine tote (all own)

Look for coats that work with your shape

Portion is the most important thing for a flattering coat.

If you are not sure about what body shape you have take this free online quiz to identify your shape.

Curvy women want to look for figure-skimming sleek coats.  Women with a big bosom look fantastic with with open colors cut on the wider side. Add a great scarf underneath for insulation from the weathers. Accentuating the waist on a curvy body creates instant glamour.

fashion blogger featuring an outfit for a rainy day
Example of a statement coat: Golden leather Burberry trench coat with GNW tights, Steve Madden fall sandals, AMS umbrella (all own)

Soft belted coats with a hem around the knee work and almost all shapes as belts can give the illusion of an hourglass shape. Avoid coats with belts when you are pear-shaped. When you are short-waisted or wide in the middle a belted coat does not do you any favor. Skip it. On petite women belted coats with hems just above the knees look great as the shortness will elongate the legs.

Watch the fit of the coat

The coat should fall straight down from your shoulders. The closures should lie flat. The same applies to vents, pleats, pockets and pocket flaps. The armholes should allow you to put your carry-on in the overhead bins without ripping the seams. If the coat has breast darts your bosom should fill them out. The sleeves should cover your wrists. When you buy one of these trendy 3/4 sleeve coats, commit to also buy long gloves that end underneath the sleeves. Otherwise you have a recipe for catching a cold and look like a fashion victim.

Coats with 3/4 sleeves need long gloves for both insulation and style. #fashiontips Click To Tweet
mature woman showing off the pattern inside the pea coat
Example of a short double wool coat with a pattern inside c/o London Tradition. See here for a review

Have someone take photos from all sides to check that the hem is even. Move in front of the mirror to see how the coat sways. Wear the coat for a while to figure out whether you are comfortable with its weight. You don’t want to get back pain when waiting  in the coat for the bus. Also sit down in the coat to see whether its tails hit the ground. You don’t want to join/help the custodians of the bus, tram or subway company by sweeping the floor with your coat when sitting. Also look whether the buttons pull or whether you get a funny safety swim ring, i.e. look like the female version of the Michelin man.

Stylist’s tip:

Be aware that winter coats are cut with winter gear underneath in mind. Therefore, shop for your coat with typical winter wear underneath. Thus, don’t make the mistake to buy the smaller size because it fits perfect over your summer dress, while the size larger doesn’t.

Statement and special occasion coats

When you have your basic needs covered, you may add a printed coat as a statement piece. Great options are floral prints or embroidery or geometric prints. Since such a coat is less versatile and can’t be worn for a lot of dressing occasions, it should never be your only coat for the respective temperature range.

Floral coat as a statement piece in spring
Banana Republic floral print tailored spring duster, Anne Klein pumps and Coach bag (all own)

Also think twice for which season to buy your statement coat to get the most wear for your bucks. The statement piece in the photo below is a thrift find that makes sense in a cold climate region, but not when you live in subtropical climate.

Alaska spring outfit with striped coat
Striped coat with gloves, Lew Magram pants, Manolo Blahnik booties, YSL bag and hat (all own)

When going to the opera, attending balls or many weddings are on your list, a special occasion coat may be worth the investment.

In a nutshell

When setting the priorities, double up on the coat type that gets the most wear according to your lifestyle.
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Have a look at this post on ageless style in coats! #agelessstyle Click To Tweet

When you liked the style tips in this post, and want more for all kind of dressing situation in midlife, buy my book How to Dress for Success in Midlife.

When you are in the market for a new winter coat you may like to read about the classic style elements of a trench coat and the features for best insulation of a down coat.

Do you also want to look to your best in life? Subscribe to my newsletter to get tips and learn the tricks. When I can do it you can do it too.

Photos: G. Kramm, N. Mölders

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