The Hunt: Professional Winter Coats

professional winter coat

2017 Update: Check out our latest roundup of winter coats that work as hard as you do!

Sure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

Sure — everyone who lives in a cold climate knows that you’ve got to have a warm winter coat. But who makes the most professional winter coats? What qualities define it — and how crucial is it to your office style? For our $.02, it’s knee-length, which covers skirts but doesn’t overwhelm you if you’re petite, and is slightly bigger than the size you normally wear, so you can fit your suit jackets beneath it. Also, we’ve always heard that a wool/cashmere blend is much warmer than a pure cashmere blend. You should try to get it dry-cleaned once a season (too much more and it will look worn too soon), and hope to have it last at least 3 winters. Although funnel necks seem to be in this season, we’re in favor of the traditional “walking coat” for the your basic (but preferably one that does have the option to fasten all the way up to your neck, so you don’t need to rely on scarves to keep you warm). These are the best winter coats we can find online, but we really suggest going to the store to check them out — the wool should feel soft, not scratchy, and that’s something best compared in person; furthermore, the intangibles (such as inside pockets and a fun printed lining) aren’t often featured online).

office winter coatFor our money, this is a great looking coat. We wish it were made of a more lux fabric, though — a wool/nylon blend can sometimes be itchy. Larry Levine Coat, A-Line Wool Walker, available at Macys.com — was $290, now $216.
winter coatThe J.Crew coats are classic ones, also; they come in a ton of colors and have the option for thinsulate. Double-cloth lady day coat, available at Jcrew.com for $318 with thinsulate (and available in talls and petites).
winter coatsThe belted coat is another way to go, although not our preference — the belt can sometimes rumple the jacket, or make the overall effect look a bit like a bathrobe.  If you don’t mind those caveats, though, then we like the asymmetrical zip on this one, and particularly love the wool/cashmere blend.  Now $319, was $470 at Overstock.com.  Cole Haan Wool Cashmere Asymmetrical Zip Belted Coat

(Be sure to check out the Cole Haan sale at RueLaLa.com today, as well!)

professional coat for workThis is a great example of this season’s funnel-neck craze — we like the fitted look with the belt here (caveats noted above).  Burberry Wool/Cashmere Coat, available at Saks.com for $795.
professional coatsThis is another great example of the funnel-neck trend, but one that seems a bit more conservative — the length is also very wearable, and the shape isn’t too flared or dress-like.  Like it.  This one is the major splurge of the bunch:  Fleurette Cashmere & Wool Coat, available at Nordstrom’s for $1425.

Our current winter coat is a Via Spiga wool/cashmere blend walking coat that we got at Macy’s about two years ago; it was originally priced around $500; we particularly like the colorful silky lining, which makes it very easy to find quickly in a coat closet. Readers, what do you look for in a professional winter coat? How important is it to your office style?

Comments

  1. Maine Susan :

    I want my winter coat to be longer than my longest skirt so that means mid calf at least. And I don’t want any leg showing between my boots and the hemline of my coat. And I love collars that button up or turn into hoods, for those really snowy days. Maybe its the weather here, but we take winter coats very seriously. Its the only thing I own that I wear every workday from from mid November til mid March.

  2. I need to replace my knee length coat this year and have not been looking forward to shelling out lots of money. (I also need to replace my knee high boots – two big clothing basics expenses.) I just ordered a very similar coat to the first one featured here, also by Larry Levine, on overstock.com for only $100. They have a wide selection of short and “walker” length coats. Im generally brand ignorant, so, I cant tell you are wearing Jcrew or TJMaxx if it gets put together right, and the Larry Levine coats are nice, professional looking and get the job done. (The coldest it gets here is about 20-30 degrees and I am not walking around outside much.)

  3. None of these would work in the climate where I live. I tried cute wool coats for about 2 days my first winter here and they just didn’t cut it. I have to go full-on down-filled ski parka, although I did get the two cutest ones I could find – a shorter, non-hooded one for normal days and a long one with a faux fur-lined hood for blizzard/windy/below 0 days. I will revert to the cute wool coats if it gets above 20 or so, though.

  4. Any advice on maternity coats? I just found out that might be the order of the day for me this winter… I don’t want to drop a lot of money on something like that, since (obviously) it’s not for the long haul, but I’m a Florida girl stuck in the Chicago area, so I’m kind of a wimp for cold.

    • Last time I was pregnant in the winter (due in mid-February) I used a cape as a winter coat. It worked well and made me feel slightly more glamorous and flowy than I would have wearing a huge coat.

  5. Midori- My pea coat with an empire waist lasted me a long time before I had to go maternity. Since its something you wont need for very long, check out Target – they have some cute maternity styles on line (and in some stores). I remember coveting one of the maternity coats I saw there, and just never pulled the trigger.

    • Oh, empire waist is a good idea–I forgot how roomy those can be. And I’m hoping we’ll be into spring again by the time I’m REALLY big (crosses fingers). Thanks for the suggestions!

  6. Are brightly colored wool coats appropriate for a conservative business environment? I love my knee-length kelly green J. Crew coat, but I was thinking I’d have to replace it with something black or camel after law school. I’d be really happy to go with that cobalt blue instead!

    • Anonymous :

      I wear my kelly green jcrew coat all the time. not to federal court, but will wear it to status hearing type things in state court, and to the office.

    • I don’t see why a solid bright color in a classic cut wouldn’t be great. I wore a bright red polo coat in the depths of the “Dress for Success” eighties in Chicago to many compliments.

      You aren’t actually wearing in the courtroom or meeting, just over your arm.

      I adore the vivid blue J Crew!

      • M,

        I have both a mid-calf, black, belted wool coat that I got for Christmas the year that I graduated law school. I also shelled out the big bucks for a camel box coat my 2L year because I was competing in a mock trial competition in mid-Feb. I love them, and I’m only 25. Go for the neutral. Both of my coats are in great condition. (I take very good care of them.) They will last you forever. Plus, because I practice primarily in federal court, I never have to worry that my coat is inappropriate.

        I adore the cobalt blue, but cobalt is a very specific color that will go out of style within a year or two. I just change up my coats by investing in new, colorful scarves. Also, invest in a great pair of lined, leather gloves…I love mine. ; ) You won’t be sorry that you go for the neutral. BUT, I will say, if you are going to get a color…go RED. Red never goes out of style. I’d like to invest in a red coat myself…

        Hope this helps!

    • Hi M!

      How long ago did you purchase your coat? I’ve been in search for a “kelly green” peacoat since I saw it at the mall a few years ago and couldn’t remember the store I saw it at.

      Thx,
      MRL

  7. Liz from Europe :

    I love this issue of Corporette! I also love the type of coats you recommend.

  8. My winter coat is 15 years old and must be replaced. The lining has been repaired 3 times. And it has acquired minor moth holes. And the wool is wearing away on the cuff.

    That said, it still looks fantastic if you are more than 6 inches away. It has a princess cut (fitted waist) and flares all the way down to my lower calf, which means it’s really quite warm. I haven’t been able to find anything I like as much for the past 3 years. Plus, it’s burgundy, which is a nice alternative to boring black.

    • Why don’t you take the coat into a good seamstress? She should be able to cut it apart to use as a pattern and make a new one that is identical in the fit – you’ll still have to find the fabric.

  9. divaliscious11 :

    I think coats depend on wear you live. Having recently relocated from a location with relatively mild winters to long cold ones, most of my coats that look like the above coats are now my early fall/late spring coats, with the in between being full length down or fur (which if you are a PETA type- go faux). I also agree on the length, but I am tall so I prefer a full length coat unless I am wearing trousers of jeans.

    Midori – I went with a full length wool wrap coat tha t I have had for 10+ years that still looks as fabulous today as the day I bought it. The tie naturally adjusts and you can vent when needed – when I was pregnant I felt like I had a little space heater in me both pregnancies.

  10. I didn’t bother buying a maternity winter coat for any of my three pregnancies (and neither did my two sisters for their three kids). I just wore my regular winter coat, but I left it unbuttoned. We live in the Midwest, so it’s not like it doesn’t get cold here, but as noted above, when you’re pregnant warmth isn’t generally an issue – the space heater analogy is good!

  11. Delta Sierra :

    Never, ever, ever wear fur in a business situation, even just a little trim. There are a lot of people out there who will judge (and condemn) you ruthlessly for it.

  12. anonymous :

    i like mackage coats.

  13. A funnel neck will work like a chimney and vent all the heat up. I have a Polarfleece top that has a funnel neck on purpose–you put a scarf around your neck and then you can vent it as you heat up exercising. You will want to fill in the neck with a good scarf in a cold climate.

    Also, a funnel neck may brush up against your chin and get makeup on it–my Polarfleece gets white sunblock on it.

  14. I have a wonderful, not too puffy, down coat from Patagonia that is 3/4 length and worth every penny. I bought it in black, but there is often a deep plum or burgundy. Around here, no one expects too much in the way of fashion when it gets blustery, but this one still doesn’t take away from a professional outfit.

    http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/product/womens-down-with-it-parka?p=28436-0-782

    and

    http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/product/womens-downtown-loft-parka?p=28465-0-665

    Obviously these aren’t for the typical, 40 degree chilly days, but that’s considered spring weather here.

    • Thanks! I would have never guessed that Patagonia made a coat like this. It looks great for really cold weather.

  15. Anonymous :

    I have to stand outside at a train station early in the morning when it’s often well below freezing and windy. Wool coats just don’t cut it! I ended up with a thigh/knee-length down-filled black coat with a hood. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to find one that was as fitted and figure-flattering as a down coat can possibly be.

  16. Sierratradingpost.com has some lovely luxury coats for great prices.

    • Delta Sierra :

      Yes, their coats are beautiful! Sometimes there’s a good plain skirt, too.

  17. My JCrew ladycoats have held up the best by far. My black one still looks great after a couple years of wear and my khaki one is still holding up just fine going into our third season together. However, the one I get the most compliments on by far is my red wool knee length coat from BReps. Yes it is red, not brick red but red, red and I think it is fun to wear over my black and charcoal suits in the winter (and I have dark hair so it works well). I wouldn’t wear it to court but yes to client events, yes to the office and definitely yes with jeans on the weekends. Its a great way to have a pop of color in such dreary weather :)

  18. I’m from up North where it’s usually -4 F and colder from late October right up til mid-March (a little nippy!). So for me, wool and cashmere blend coats are about the only thing that will cut it. Down-filled coats are pretty warm as well, but I find that after a while they lose their form; and if you don’t pay a hefty fortune for them, sometimes they shed feathers so it looks like you’re molting (SO not a good look!)

    I know funnel necks are the “It” coat right now, but personally I prefer wearing the traditional style and just pairing it with a coordinating wool scarf. Plus, I usually buy a matching hat so that when the mercury REALLY drops, I can cover my ears (I try to avoid wearing hats as much as possible since hat hair doesn’t really look professional, but when you have to trudge through the snowy downtown streets in -13 degree temps, you have few other options.

    PS. I wouldn’t suggest wearing furs- or even faux ones for that matter. Some faux fur coats tend to wear out quickly and look cheap; Others look a little too real, which may draw critique from people who oppose wearing furs.

  19. For those of you who mentioned wearing down filled coats, what brands have been your favorites. I need to replace mine this year.

    • girltuesday :

      i like patagonia for down coats (in a variety of lengths). when/if the down become compacted, stick the jacket in the dryer with a couple of tennis balls (low or no heat). it should break up the feathers.

      • If you’re going to spend some money and you want the coat to last for years: Marmot. Amazing!

        I also had good experiences with Andrew Marc (somehow manages to look flattering) and Northface (incredibly warm and comes with hoods, which is nice).

        • I have and love Nau’s Cocoon Trench and Shroud of Purrin Trench. (www.nau.com)

          • My Northface down coat is going into its fourth winter and still looks fine – even after a friend spilled a jug of vinegar on it and an emergency cleaning session was required! Can also handle drizzle, though like most down it’s not completely waterproof.

            It’s knee length (admittedly only on me – I’m five foot nothing), plain dark brown and with a very comfortable hood that’s also removeable. It’s also got lots of useful and largely invisible pockets. And much less shapeless than you’d think from something that’s essentinally a quilt. Plus it’s very, very warm. So I’d definitely try there.

  20. housecounsel :

    Hillary Radley makes some great classic winter coats.

    As a Chicagoan, I prefer a longer-than-knee-length coat for wearing with skirts and boots. Knee-length coats are great for pantsuits, but if I’m in a skirt, I agree that the coat should cover the top of the boot. I have a lovely long winter coat that is military-ish on top and then super-flared below the waist, to mid-calf. I think it would qualify as dresslike, and now I am stressed there is something not OK about it . . . is there?

    I wouldn’t hesitate to wear a brightly colored coat anywhere that wasn’t in front of a jury, but I wouldn’t make a bright coat your primary one.

    I will admit that when I see a woman in a fur coat (or one of the ratty vests that is all over the fashion magazines this season), I get a little bit judgy.

    • Re the down coat- I have one from Michael Kors. I had to stuff it in a storage unit for a year and it still looked like new when it came out. I just can’t handle a wool blend coat when it gets to be below 15F, and the MK is more than adequate.

      I have a coat that is more dresslike as well. It’s a bit longer and is pleated at the bottom. Then again, I see no reason not to wear a bright coat as a primary one. It’s not like you’re running around the office with the coat on, so it shouldn’t matter whether you choose a red coat or a black coat.

      • RE: Hillary Radley

        My experience has been that this brand is not for everyone — if you have broad shoulders, great; otherwise, you will look like you’re wearing your grandfather’s coat. I have yet to try on something that made me feel more matronly and left more room in the arms/shoulders even in size XS.

    • As another Chicagoan, I completely agree. My go-to winter coat is a long winter white cashmere / wool blend. Then I have a long black boiled wool with some interesting detailing that looks great over black or charcoal gray outfits. And then a camel peacoat, a burgundy peacoat, and a black swing coat. You really need a wardrobe of coats in cold climates.

  21. For those looking to get a deal, J. Crew coats always go on sale mid-winter. Although it might be worth it to order one now and return it to check sizing.

  22. Anon for this one :

    Since none of the coats C mentioned are in plus sizes, I thought I’d point out these coats from Talbots:

    Thinsulate Lined Herringbone Coat

    http://www1.talbots.com/online/browse/product_details.jsp?id=prdi23404&rootCategory=cat70012&catId=cat80020&sortKey=Default&section=Regular&conceptIdUnderSale= (I just ordered one in the “Raven” color)

    Wool Angora Blend Coat

    http://www1.talbots.com/online/browse/product_details.jsp?id=prdi23402&rootCategory=cat70012&catId=cat80020&sortKey=Default&section=Regular&conceptIdUnderSale=

    Alpaca Blend Coat

    http://www1.talbots.com/online/browse/product_details.jsp?id=prdi23407&rootCategory=cat70012&catId=cat80020&sortKey=Default&section=Regular&conceptIdUnderSale=

  23. I second the Mackage vote. I’ve been obssessing about this one…November birthday splurge perhaps?

    http://www.bluefly.com/Mackage-silver-wool-herringbone-Elle-V-funnel-collar-coat/SEARCH/302112601/detail.fly

  24. Nevadamtnbear :

    Again, it must be where I live and the casual nature of the community. I wear either my North Face Guide Parka when it’s particularly cold and I need to layer, as it is roomy enough for a down parka underneath. Otherwise, I got a SheSafari coat a couple years back and I ADORE it.

    http://www.shesafari.com/images/prod_large/2007_3007.jpg

    It’s fleece lined, so it’s quite warm, it’s waxed canvas so it’s water resistant and it’s got a nice style without being too stuffy for me. It’s a woman’s upland hunting coat, but I just fell in love with it when I saw it and I’m so excited the weather is FINALLY going to turn cold here so I can break it out of the basement.

  25. I worked for this kind of over the top female attorney when I fist got out of lawschool. She did give me one good piece of advice. Got to Neiman Marcus after Christmas sale and buy a good, classic camel hair coat. I did. It is black. I had to get my mom to donate money to the cause. But, close to 20 years later, it is still my winter coat. I live in Texas and rarely have to wear a winter coat so it is still in great condition.

  26. Love all these suggestions. I have a Halston full length coat, red with black buttons and collar (velvet) that I got in college 12 years ago. I only wear it to dressy events and it looks nice.

    For everyday wear in the winter here (Boston), I usually wear a down parka. Not dressy at all. My newest is from LLbean (hooded, hood has faux fur) and I got it with coupons so it was free! :) Love the Patagonia coats.

    I am never in court, so that is not an issue for me – it is just the commute.

  27. J. Crew with thinsulate is a little expensive but completely worth it if you live somewhere where it gets really cold. I remember walking from my garage to my building in -12 degree weather last year, and it at least held off the frost bite!

  28. I am a SoCal girl who has lived in New Hampshire.

    For down coats: patagonia, llbean, eddie bauer and I got an AMAZING no-name full-length (sleeping-bag style) coat in Montreal on sale for US$80 in January. So–run for the border, gals.

    For tall ladies: I highly recommend the JCrew lady day coats. The plaza coat is really roomy, and I have swimmer shoulders, so that tells you something. I have several of them (including the blue pictured–it was on sale briefly in August). My favorite thing about them is the highly tailored linings, with a pop of color across the empire seam–they look bespoke.

    I also highly recommend Whistles, if you are in the UK–they cut their coats very long. I bought a red wool/cash overcoat there in 2001, and everytime I return to the UK in Winter, they have a great selection. I had Selfridges let out the sleeves an inch or so, and it worked out great. I got a lot of flak from my co-workers at the time for such a bright coat, but colored coats are more in style now, and the only time it went over badly was when I wore it to a meeting at BP–very conservative. Oops!

  29. http://www.rei.com/product/770691

    http://www.rei.com/product/770980

    for those in colder climes, REI has started carrying better-looking all-weather jackets, see above links. i think these look better than puffers. last year now gone, they had a great-looking but pricey Arcteryx city coat. I couldn’t justify it as I have a JCrew ladyday and Arcteryx parka, but sort of wish I’d just charged it now…

    • The first one is just a rain jacket – not that warm. I love the second one though!

  30. Don’t get the comments about what coat to wear to court. Don’t you take off your coat? I’m in Chicago, so I’ll be in winter boots and a down coat, and I go into the lawyers’ coatroom or a witness briefing room in the hallway before I enter the courtroom and change into pumps and take off my coat. I guess you run the risk of being spotted by the judge or a juror in the elevator or something, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take to stay warm.

    • Glad to hear you still wear a warm coat. I was afraid from everyone’s comments that professional women (I’m a law student) are expected to suffer through an inadequate coat to be professional. That makes me feel much better.

  31. Seventh Sister :

    Midori, I generally despised Mimi Maternity clothes, but I got a great, inexpensive maternity coat there. It was peacoat-style and quite warm. It also fit well – quite a change from a lot of maternity clothes since I have small shoulders.

    I’m pretty sure it was synthetic, but it looked nice and for once I was appreciative of how little some synthetic fabrics seem to breathe. The use of synthetic fibers was my major beef with business maternity clothes – I already had a space heater in my torso, I didn’t need more rayon!

  32. Anne Vohl :

    Picture yourself walking down the street in winter in the business disctrict of the city where you live or nearest to you. (Madison Ave. in NYC, Michigan Ave. in Chicago, for example). How do you want to look? That is the coat you need to buy. In February, I watched many women walking by my restaurant perch on W. 58th Street in Manhattan, and almost every one looked bad. To look good in cold weather, you must look warm. This is hard to do without fur, but it can be done.

  33. Great post! Thanks!

  34. I have a camel-colored cashmere coat from the ’50s that my grandmother gave me. I love it! Unfortunately, it’s midcalf length (I’m of average height) and a little big in the waist, so it looks too big on me. Would it look weird to wear a belt on the outside to make it fit better? What kind of belt should I look for?

    • divaliscious11 :

      Have you tried taking it to a tailor and having it fitted for you?

  35. divaliscious11 :

    I’m with you Anne. Maybe I’ve been really fortunate in working for people who weren’t as uptight as some of the other posters. I seem to work for and with people who only get judgey when you don’t appear to have any common sense, like wear wearing a seasonally inappropriate or no coat etc…

    I am not a litigator so the court question never arises for me, but I have never looked at anyone dresses warmly in cold weather and thought “time to be judgey” other than weather I thought something was nice or fashionable and certainly not as an impacto on their ability, except again, being seasonally inappropriate because that does make me question their judgement.

    Again, I really think its is wear you live because I’ve done DC/NYC and Chicago, and have seen it all….

  36. http://marmot.com/spring_2009/womens/outerwear/shells/womens_destination_jacket

    This looks like a nice puff coat alternative for wet/snowy weather.

    • It doesn’t say anything about cold weather protection, and all the reviews talk about it as a rain jacket. Plus it’s from the “spring” collection. Doesn’t seem very warm to me…might work for those in mild winters, but definitely not a replacement for those of us who rely on “puff coats” every day in harsh winters.

  37. Nevadamtnbear :

    I must be missing something, but why the necessity/desire for a coat that goes down to one’s knees? Personally, I can’t stand that length, and it seems that even all the “alternative” coats suggested (i.e. Patagonia, North Face, Marmot, etc.) are all approximately knee length or longer.

    Is there some major faux pas that I’ve missed wearing a coat that is hip length? I mean, even when I’m in crazy cold places, I still don’t want a coat that long. If I’m worried about my legs being warm, I’ll wear pants and if necessary, tights under my pants.

    And what’s the problem with a hood?

    Call me a country bumpkin, but I just don’t get it.

    • You’re not a country bumpkin! If you’re wearing pants, a coat that falls above the knee is just fine. For business purposes, it helps if it has a classic look (i.e., not a parka). And I agree with the post about going to Neiman’s after Christmas. They have terrific sales on all-cashmere coats that will last forever. In fact, mid-January is a great time to look for a coat.

  38. Speaking of outerwear. I won’t need a heavy-duty coat for our mild SoCal winter. Any thoughts on pea coats? I love the length and the nice autumn, warm wool feel. Most I have seen are double-breasted and would like something with a cleaner line. Thoughts about them stylistically and in terms of fit?

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