How to Buy a Great Winter Coat

How to Buy a Great Winter Coat | CorporetteHow can you find a great winter coat? Reader M asked us to “share some guidance and advice…”

I’m curious to hear what the readers say here, because despite a lot of poking around online, I haven’t found a lot of other articles talking about this.  Here’s what I know:

  • I read somewhere once that a wool/cashmere blend is better than a 100% cashmere coat — after looking at this Ask Men article it looks like it may be because cashmere is such a delicate fabric, which makes sense.
  • I’m still largely against down for the office, but at this point I think that’s my own issue, perhaps caused by memories of Kathleen Turner’s puffer coat in Romancing the Stone — the look is hugely popular.  Land’s End notes that down is technically the warmest insulator.
  • As noted at Style Bakery, J.Crew and Delia’s offer coats lined with insulation like Thinsulate.
  • As someone who went to college on Lake Michigan (where they sent around a shuttle for us to get to class when it hit 20 below with the windchill), the wind is often what gets you more than the “cold” — and underlayers (such as silk long johns) can be almost more important than the coat itself
  • I don’t care if it’s a medical myth that 80% of your body heat escapes through your head — I still recommend wearing a hat when it gets cold outside.
  • I’m a total wimp, but I wear gloves the second it’s vaguely acceptable — when I go for a run or a walk I’ll often be in a t-shirt and gloves.  Yes it looks dumb, but I hate hangnails, raggedy cuticles, and other dry-winter-hand problems.
  • In terms of style, as the WSJ advises, bear in mind where most of your skirts and pants hit you; I have also made the argument that a winter coat should be big enough to fit a suit blazer (or very thick sweater) beneath, comfortably. (So watch out in July when you find that amazing coat that fits you like a glove… with bare arms.)

Finally, for my $.02, consider your coat an investment, and spend accordingly — I’d rather have one $800 coat that lasts me five years, rather than eight $100 coats that last me a year each.  (PARTICULARLY considering that it’s not uncommon, at all, to find $1000 Cinzia Rocca coats or $800+ Brooks Brothers coats on great sales, bringing prices down to $250 or less (at BB, there was one around this time last year, and I’m stalking the website again.)  This view is also formed by NYC practicalities, where closet space is limited so it doesn’t make SENSE to have eight winter coats.

I’m curious, though, readers — what rules of thumb do you follow when you’re hunting for a new winter coat? How long do you expect a winter coat to last?  What is your ideal style of coat, if you could only buy one?

(Pictured above: Cinzia Rocca Due Stand Collar Wool Blend Coat, on a baby sale at Nordstrom for 25% off.)

Comments

  1. kjoirishlastname :

    If I could buy only one? I’d want a knee-length sleek-ish down coat like the LE Commuter Coat or the Stadium Squall. Something that doesn’t look too much like “gear”, but will still stand up to rain, snow, and wind. Machine-washable.

  2. If I were going to pay $800 for a coat, I would expect it to last 10-20 years, not five. I think you can get a quality coat that will last that long for half the price or way less, though. I’m in favor of buying coats or investment pieces at places like Patagonia that have lifetime warranties. They have some nice-looking urban styles that women on here might like.

    • Equity's Darling :

      I have the Patagonia Tres 3-in-1 in black, and it is absolutely stellar. I only bought it a year ago (after a lot of hemming and hawing over this jacket versus a Canada Goose one..).

      I love that it has a lifetime warranty, and that it’s versatile because I can zip out the down and wear just the shell when it’s spring or a cold summer evening, or just the down in early fall without the wind-breaking shell. I’d say it’s well worth the price, and it looks pretty good with both jeans and with a suit. And it’s warm enough to get me through the -40 days, and great at blocking wind.

      I wholeheartedly endorse this jacket, I have never been so happy that I spent the $600 on a warm versatile winter jacket, and I’d do it again in a hearbeat, though it’s so well-constructed and shaped in a classic way that I expect it will last me another 10 years, if not longer.

      • Equity's Darling :

        Oh! And the shell is waterproof too, so this jacket literally has it all, it’s magical.

        • Patagonia is seriously a magical brand. I really like their practices and corporate philosophy, but other than that, their stuff lasts forever. My parents bought me Patagonia baselayers for skiing when I was in middle school and I’m still wearing them today at age 25.

      • I bought the Patagonia Tres 3-in-1 last winter after 8 years of buying cheaper, lesser quality coats and I couldn’t be happier with the purchase. It’s so versatile and high quality. I’m a native Texan, and neither wool or down alone are warm enough for me.

  3. I have 2 wool coats (one black, one black/white tweed), a Drizzle waterproof raincoat lined with fake fur which is dressy and incredibly warm, and a black Gap down parka. I wear the Gap parka almost every day to my business casual workplace. If I wear something else, it’s the tweed. I rarely wear the black wool or the Drizzle coat except for dressier events.

    • I need to add that I commute by car. I might need a warmer coat or wear the Drizzle coat if I spent a lot of time commuting outside.

  4. Lady Tetra :

    For those who wear winter boots to commute to the office, what do you do if you go out of the office at lunchtime? For some reason I’m fine wearing the boots in the morning and changing into heels at the office, but changing shoes again at noon feels silly. But on the other hand, I don’t want my bare feet out in 20-degree weather!

    • I would definitely change for midday if I needed to go out.

    • I always change back to my boots if I go walking at lunch. It only takes a few seconds. Of course I never want to put my regular shoes back on after lunch!

    • Why are your feet bare inside during wintertime, let alone outside? Not even trouser socks or knee-highs?

      • Baconpancakes :

        I consider knee-highs basically bare feet when I wear thick wool socks 24/7 every hour of the day I’m not at work from November through March. (Yes, super s3xy for LGPs.)

    • I actually had this same exact question when I went down the block to grab lunch this afternoon. I was in flats today and always wear at least knee-high stockings in the winter so it wasn’t too bad. I agree that putting boots back on seems like a hassle since it just about doubles the time you’re taking. If it’s obviously snowy/icy out, I’d change, but if it’s a day like today (in the North East) where it’s cold but the ground is realtively clear, I wouldn’t.

      • S in Chicago :

        Maybe it’s because I have a sickiness for turning my office into my closet away from home, but I keep a pair of Ugg duck shoes in one of my drawers just for this mid-day purpose. It’s shocking how handy they are since they slide off and on so easily. If we have visitors on a particular day, I’ll sometimes throw them in a bag and just change in the lobby. I keep another pair at home near our back door since they’re easier than full-on boots to slip on for going out with the dog for brief airings.

      • Putting boots back on is definitely a hassle, but that’s exactly what I’ve done all week because the streets are slushy/salty/snowy and it’s too damn cold for me to wear any other kind of footwear outside.

  5. Diana Barry :

    I have 2 winter coats:

    - J Crew Lady Day with thinsulate. This is OK down to about 25 or so with no wind, 30 with wind, including hat/gloves. It is the most ‘professional’ looking so I will wear it if I have a meeting out of the office. I normally wear an 8 in J Crew blazers and I got a 12 tall in the coat. It fits comfortably over a blazer. The sleeves are just a tad long, but it keeps my hands warm.

    - LL Bean parka – I think it is the “ultrawarm down” one with a fur lined hood. Great for when it is COLD. Only issue is that it is a bit big and the air comes up along the sides. I might try to get a Patagonia or more fitted parka the next time I need to replace this – I typically wear them for 5-10 years before replacing. I still have my parka from college (Eddie Bauer) that is warm but not at all waterproof any more.

    • I have the same coat wardrobe (plus a few more, of course). And I also keep coats for 10+ years, so they need to be classic and well made. Still can’t justify $1k on them though.

      The J Crew Lady Day coat with Thinsulate is just not all that warm. And it is cut really small. I received it as a gift in one size up from my J Crew blazer size, and should have gone up one or two more. I really only wear it to about 40 degrees, maybe 35. Some DC winters, that is fine, but it is more of a fall and spring coat for more northern climes.

      My LL Bean down coat comes to the tops of my boots. It is not flattering (the ones with the belts and diagonal channels came out after I got mine) and I refer to it as my walking sleeping bag. But it keeps me warm and cozy. I just need to have my bum and thighs covered to stay warm. I bought the matching mittens, and they are so warm. I wear this thing to work, walking the dogs, watching soccer games, you name it. I’m 5’5″ and bought a petite.

      What hats are considered professional and don’t make you look ridiculous when you pull them off? Hoods aren’t as good as keeping the wind out of my ears, and also block my peripheral vision.

  6. Gail the Goldfish :

    If it’s more than a couple of degrees below freezing, I’m wearing my LL Bean down coat to the office, professional or not. I don’t deal well with cold, and I don’t think anyone will really judge you for wearing a warm coat. My wool ones aren’t even close to it in terms of warmth (though perhaps it just means I need better wool coats). If I lived somewhere I could drive to work, maybe I would wear something different, but walking to and from the subway in the morning is cold.

    • I’m totally with you on that. It was 1 degree as I waited for the bus in Chicago this morning and now we’ve reached a high of 16. I NEED to wear my North Face down coat (sleeping bag coat as I like to call it.) I’m always cold so I’m wearing leggings under my work pants and even my North Face Denali fleece jacket under my down coat (and over my thickest sweater). A peacoat is simply not an option to me if it’s less than 30 degrees. And no, I don’t think you can just get a better/warmer wool coat. I have a $300 stadium cloth coat from JCrew. The associate told me stadium cloth is just as warm as their Thinsulate ones. So unless there’s some kind of higher end magical peacoat I’m not aware of, I don’t think they get warmer.

      Chicagoans in general don’t mess around. We all look like goons with our work pants rolled up or tucked into our Sorel/whatever heavy duty winter boots right now and the majority of us commuters are in sleeping bag coats and none of us care because we’re warm rather than looking dapper in a peacoat.

  7. (Former) Clueless Summer :

    I have one down coat from LE that is absolutely fantastic. I got it end of season on super sale, so it is brown which is not my favourite colour, but it’s so lovely and warm, with lots of great features (huge hood, fleece lined cuffs and pockets, good zipper, perfect pocket height, etc.). In a world of $800 Canada Goose jackets, I feel insanely smug about how I paid $100 for my LE down coat. It is just above the knee-length, which I find keeps me warmest. I wear this only on the coldest days of our winter (-20 C and below with windchill), when walking the dog late at night or when I am in legitimately cold places (Winnipeg, Yellowknife, Edmonton, etc.).
    Then I have one wool coat from J. Crew, no thinsulate. I wear it til about -10 pretty happily. My legs get cold but my upper body is fine with a sweater. I had a soia and kyo wool coat before that for about 5-6 years. It was pretty excellent, but just got too ratty looking.

    The fit key for both is that they have belts. My weight goes up and down, so I need a coat that can accommodate that if I expect it to last more than a winter. Currently they’re both too big on me, but belting them makes it looks fitted in the waist and not sloppy.

  8. Sydney Bristow :

    I’ve had this problem for the last several years and I’ve finally found a coat that I love. I was really looking for something on the dressier side since I kept finding myself drawn to more casual styles and buying them then feeling a bit out of place. I learned that I also do best with a longer coat, so I made sure to look for that as well. Luckily for me since I wound up disliking my coat choice each year, I’ve been losing weight so I’ve had to buy a new coat each year anyway. That meant I was only willing to pay around $250 but I still wanted something that was of nice quality since there is always a chance I’ll be wearing it next year too.

    I bought the London Fog wool/cashmere belted trench coat. It was around $230 at Nordstrom and I love it so far. I’ve only experienced one really cold windy day so far but only my ears were cold since I’d forgotten my headband. The length goes to about the top 1/3 of my calves and the fabric is great. I also think it looks very nice and I currently work in a fancy building and haven’t felt out of place at all.

  9. If wind is an issue, don’t wait for your long underwear to stop it. Make sure your coat has a windproof layer.

    Make sure your coat covers your butt when you sit down.

    If it’s cold enough for your down coat, it is professional enough for the office.

    Your warm coat should be able to fit a suit jacket or heavy sweater underneath while still having a little room. That air layer between layers of clothing is as important to staying warm as the actual layers themselves. Multiple layers of tight clothing won’t keep you as warm as a couple layers of looser but still close fitting (doesn’t have to be baggy) clothing.

    Mittens are warmer than gloves.

    • Important to remember to TRY ON the coat with a suit jacket underneath. I always try to bring one with me, or grab one from another rack in the store.

  10. wish me luck :

    going in to talk with my boss in half an hour to present her with the salary research I’ve done for my position. Long story short–I outgrew my job description over the last few years (only 6 years at this organization, but 11 years post-grad) and so while the organization is undergoing a global shuffle of job descriptions and such, they decided to look at reclassifying my job (among others, I’m sure). So, I took it upon myself to do some salary research, knowing I’m ridiculously underpaid. In summary, average equivalent (adjusted for COL, even) is about 50%-60% higher than my current salary. Up to 140%+ Wouldn’t that be something…

    • marketingchic :

      Sounds like you’re prepared – knock ‘em dead!

    • wish me luck :

      It went well! There are still hurdles, but my boss is pretty much going to do everything that she can to use what little discrepancy that she has for me. It’s public sector, so there’s not a lot of wiggle, but with a change in job description/classification AND a change to make me a supervisory position (with empty underling position) reporting to her rather than my current supervisor, it rose to the occasion of needing a salary study.

      Backstory: consultant firm hired to do a comprehensive job description survey of all employees. When the surveys were done, it was clear that the things that I actually do FAR exceeded the job description for which I was hired 6 years ago (almost to the day!). Consultant firm totally dropped the ball and basically put the whole thing on hold until the organization could flounder to keep the project in motion.

      Through all this, I had given some thought to kind of a restructure of our department, that would put me in that supervisory position, equal to my current supervisor. I couched that to my boss a few months ago, and she said that kind of a similar plan was in the works: write a job description for the tasks I am currently doing, classify me as a supervisor, and pay me accordingly. As a second part of this consultant thing, the organization hired a different team to look at salaries. That’s when I started to do my own research. Today’s meeting was just to give my boss the rundown of the research I’ve done so that she can take it to the consultant guy and HR. The consultant guy is apparently pretty savvy, so hopefully the things that I have found won’t be far off from what he will find. What I understand is that the organization is basically creating a new job for me, with new (and hopefully competitive/appropriate) salary, for which there will be no ad or anything. Almost like an internal promotion, I guess, which of course doesn’t happen much in public sector.

      We shall see. Thanks for the vibes.

  11. Miz Swizz :

    Kat’s aversion to puffer coats reminds me of many a high school winter formal where girls would be wearing super nice dresses, strappy sandals and their Starter jackets. It definitely left an impression on me. Not that it stopped me from busting out my puffy coat this morning.

    • Yeah, I can’t believe those high school girls didn’t shell out significant sums of money for a coat they’d wear twice a year to a winter dance. Where were their priorities?

  12. How best to recover from a networking etiquette fail? :

    TJ: In a previous thread the OP expressed dismay about re the admin who didn’t promptly say yes or no to when alerted about a job becoming available. One of the responses suggested that the admin might be motivated by hidden but high-level anxiety, rather than by any desire to be rude or unprofessional. True that! Sometimes people lose confidence even if others think they are doing their work just fine.

    What’s the best way for the shy admin, self-deprecating lawyer, etc. to stop hiding from job referrals, networking gestures, LinkedIn invitations, etc? Yes, less is more–nobody wants to read a long sad message re “how I finally solved my terrible problems”–but when does “long ago” become “too long ago” to justify sending a response? TIA.

  13. I love coats and like to have a variety – both for temperature and event. I have at least ten that I wear between October and March. Because of that, I spend less on each coat – I also don’t necessarily want to buy a coat expecting to wear it ten years and then have a weight gain/loss or lose interest in the style.

    But because some people do buy an expensive coat and then get rid of it a couple years later, I’m a firm believer in looking at thrift stores for coats. Three of my favorite (and warmest) coats came from Goodwill, for no more than $10 each.

    • Word.

      I was thinking about saying this, too. Although, I really miss Portland where I would find amazing coats for around $20. I haven’t found as many great choices here. But my latest coat came from a consignment shop for $70. And it was totally worth it.

    • kjoirishlastname :

      amen to goodwill. I’d venture to guess that 90% of my current work and casual wardrobe is from goodwill.
      Including some stellar finds such as a classic navy wool lined a-line Pendleton skirt; Lofli Jeans; numerous BR, JCrew, LOFT, AT & Talbots pants, shirts, sweaters; vintage ostrich leather handbag (which I am still trying to figure out how to value & sell)

  14. This is quite appropriate as I just ordered two new coats to try on (and that I will probably return). I am in the market for both a new wool coat and a new down jacket, but it’s so cold in NY today that I may not have been thinking too clearly about either choice.

    As for the down aversion, I think there’s a difference between a short sporty down jacket and a grown up coat that happens to be made out of down. Nothing wrong with the second, in my opinion. I actually had a job interview once and it was about 10 degrees out. I wore my long, down coat and received a big compliment from the interviewer about being sensibly dressed for the weather. I ended up getting the job, too. I think dressing like someone who checks the forecast can only be considered a plus.

    • Yes. Situational/news & weather awareness makes a good impression. I also find it fun to get out of my very warm, puffy coat and reveal a very nice, well-tailored classic suit underneath. I feel very “butterfly-emerging-from-chrysalis.”

  15. I have found that, to even have a chance of being warm, a wool coat must be 100% wool (or a wool/cashmere mix). The Lady Day coat from J. Crew is something like 96/4 or 94/6 wool/nylon, and even with the Thinsulate lining it is just not that warm.

    I have a 100% wool coat that I bought in 1997 and although the lining is shredded to bits, the wool is still good and it’s much warmer than the Lady Day. It’s hideous and I don’t really use it anymore, but it is warm.

    I live in DC but spend Christmas in Chicago and a couple of years ago I watched the Thanksgiving sales and bought a down coat (just below the knee) from Eddie Bauer for about $100. It’s an odd mauve color, but so warm and lightweight. It’s not totally necessary for DC (although I am appreciating it these past few days) but I was so tired of being miserably cold in Chicago that even if I only use it a few days a year when I am there, it’s worth it.

  16. I have a wool/cashmere blend coat and a Gore Tex performance shell jacket that looks barely OK for business setting. Barely OK only, because it’s subtle colors and the zippers are black too and don’t scream “I’m an outdoor/ski jacket” in everyone’s face. Where I live, the wool coat is mostly too cold for many days, and because I don’t like umbrellas, I really need the hood. The advantage of that seems to be, my wool coat will last me for years … I’m currently thinking about buying a primaloft vest to layer inside my wool coat, but that doesn’t solve the rain and snow problem, and during many days you can never predict whether it will rain or not after you’ve left the house.

  17. To Miss Swizzle: when I was in high school, many years ago, formal dances were in the spring but everyone had a topper of some sort. Bunny fur wraps were popular, (you could rent them!). I had a beautiful, full length white faille coat with one covered button that was gorgeous. Very Jackie O, this was 1967. And if I remember correctly, it cost $25. But no one would have shown up at a dance in a Starter jacket, or the equivalent. That must have been an 80′s thing!

  18. N Coast Esq :

    I’ve got 2 go to winter work coats. A black knee length cashmere wool blend I’ve had for maybe 12 years, and a deep purple wool, also knee length, that is 3 years old. I get lots of compliments on the purple, and it gently breaks up the black suit, gray suit monotony. Love the black one still and it is still in good shape and warm. I got the purple one for something a little different – especially for differentiating on the coat rack at the courthouse. How many black coats can a coat rack hold anyway? Also, I’ve found that sometimes the primary coat needs to go to the cleaners, and you need that back up. Bought both on super sales, less than $150 each.

  19. Anonymous :

    I got a wool/cashmere (I think 80% cashmere, 20% wool) 3/4 length coat from Anne Klein at Macys 2 yrs ago after christmas and I LOVE it. I’m mid-twenties and I wear it to work. It fits well (so I still have a shape) but is very professional. When its really cold (below 20 degrees) I’ll wear my down coat to work and that’s perfectly acceptable. I think people understand its frigid out.

  20. kjoirishlastname :

    I’m reaching an age where I might want to start looking at “beauty” products. I still have acne (yay!), though the bcp is doing a pretty good job of keeping it minor.

    But, I feel like I should be looking into products for skintone-evening? Redness/discoloration correction…Also, probably some wrinkle stuff.

    And I have notoriously and chronically puffy eye-bags.

    What are your favorite products? Have you found any that aren’t in the hundreds of dollars? This girl is cheap.

    • For puffy eyes, I find that Origins Eye Zing is a miracle. I still have them but so much less. I also like to put it on just a little after my BB cream so I get an extra little bit of light reflecting camouflage (I put it on before too).

    • chicago chic :

      For moisturizers… Oil of Olay Regenerist line. Often on sale at Walgreens, Costco etc.. High rated, use on face and under eyes. For redness/discoloration, think about picking up some samples of BB or CC creams and try them out. Alternatively, spring for Clinique redness-reduction lose powder.. forget the exact name. Pricier, but will last a very very long time.

    • Retinol for everything. I like ROC. Seriously. I took a whole box full of stuff to the derm (sephora VIB $$ worth) and she tossed everything but the sunscreen and moisturizer, and then added the retinol and a clarisonic brush. She told me to get ROC for the retinol and then use any of the better drugstore brands for the rest. I’m partial to Olay and Neutrogena. After 3 months I looked years younger and no more acne.

      My routine now is cleanser and Clarisonic and either Olay Regenerist or ROC for PM, alternating nights. AM is sunscreen and Smashbox blemish control primer, then makeup. In the AM, when I wake up, I massage my face with coconut oil before I shower. It wakes me up, reduces puffiness, and then I don’t need moisturizer.

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