Coats are a winter Must-have. This guide helps you to build the perfect coat wardrobe for your climate region and lifestyle. Learn how you can create an awesome coat wardrobe.
- A great coat makes a serious style investment
- Why you should care about your coat
- How many coats do you really need?
- 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
- Statement and special occasion coats
- Have Fun Styling Your Outerwear
- Outerwear Is Not Warming You
- Create an Awesome Coat Wardrobe in a Nutshell
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.
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.
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.
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 sees 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.
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. 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. 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. See this guide for finding the best down coat for your climate zone.
What coats to buy?
Always buy the highest quality you can afford unless the coat is intended for fun, i.e. this winter season’s It trend that you can’t resist. Make sure that you are ok with tossing after the season is over or the coat starts looking shabby, whatever comes first.
Coats are expensive and may seem like and everyday luxe. However, 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. Then do the math. If the coat gets under a dollar per anticipated wear, go for it.
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. Don’t shy away there are many ways not to look fat in a shearing.
- Lined leather coats are great in windy dry weather. They definitely make a statement, but they don’t work in rain.
- Loden coats are great for temperate maritime climate. See what to look for in a great loden coat in the post at the link.
- 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.
- 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. Duffel coats are an eternal classic in this category. You can roll them before putting them in the overhead bin (in case you didn’t get a first class upgrade and your company doesn’t buy first class tickets). Did you know that pea-coats made in a traditional way also have a double layer wool?
Shearling, wool and downs from cold countries (e.g. Canada) are better insulators than those from countries with warm winters.
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.
Soft belted coats with a hem around the knee work and almost all shapes. The belt namely 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. The shortness namely 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
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 at the store, 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 or tram. 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 look, i.e. a look like the female version of the Michelin man.
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 multi-color coat as a statement piece. Great options are floral prints, 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.
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 for winter, but not when you live in subtropical climate.
When dressing forgoing to the opera, attending balls or many weddings are on your list, a special occasion coat may be worth the investment.
Have Fun Styling Your Outerwear
When I was interviewing for my job in Alaska, one of the weather office forecasters said
At 40 below, everyone looks like a dumpling, but a 40 below cold snap only happens every 500 days or so on statistical mean.
I had no clue what he meant with looking like a dumpling, but I knew we don’t dress for the means, do we?
In Interior Alaska, the cold season lasts about seven months. Just bundling up to increase the insulation layer and stay warm longer than without can get pretty boring. I became a firm believer that styling your outerwear can make a frigid day at -20F (-28.9o) more bearable. Which fashion and style loving woman doesn’t feel great in an awesome outfit no matter what?
Outerwear Is Not Warming You
In general, coats and outerwear only warm when you burn them. Their actual purpose is to create insulation between you and the cold environment. As I explained in my post on the physics of clothes, wicking fabrics with low conduction, adjustable wrist, neck and feet closures and thin air layers between layers are your best friends. Now we are talking! We can do layers!
Shearling coat, GNW tights, head band, Kate Moss for Longchamp bag, tan LeatherCoatEtc cashmere lined leather gloves, detachable collar, tiger-eye buckle crocodile imprinted belt, Michael Kors wedge heel lace-up booties with pony hair, Oliveo pleated leather skir.
Create an Awesome Coat Wardrobe in a Nutshell
When setting the priorities, double up on the coat type that gets the most wear according to your lifestyle.
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 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
© 2013-2023 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved