04 December 2009

How to keep warm and look good at the same time: Coats

For the last couple of years, I did not have a good winter coat. I had my light trench coat and a sheepskin jacket. Neither was able to really keep me going in the blizzard-covered tundra known as a college campus. In fact last year, the long winter began to feel like the last act of Diablo II (expansion pack). There were goblins and assassins and winter just took forever to get through. I had outgrown my parka thanks to a late growth spurt. Never again will I make that mistake.

My daily commute in the winter

How to find the perfect coat

Take into account your circumstances

If you live in New York, you will need a different coat than someone in Texas. If you’re in Florida you’ll need something lighter than someone in Upper Peninsula Michigan. Will you be facing cold rain or tons of snow?

Geographic location plays a big part obviously. But keep in mind your life style. Do you spend a lot of time hiking? Or do you drive to work and are exposed to the winter for five seconds a day?

Do your research

When you buy a coat, make sure to see if it’s rated. Many outdoor stores like LLBean have coats rated for how low the temperature can get while you remain comfortable. Many places that sell more fashionable/less utilitarian coats do not have ratings. Surprisingly ModCloth has a rough rating system for their coats.

Favor natural materials….

Thinsulate is over-rated, in my experience. The warmest you can be is when you’re inside a down filled coat. It is like being wrapped in a giant comforter for goodness sake!

Leather, cashmere, wool, and down are good friends to have in the coat business.

… except for waterproofed or wind breaking.

I love down but staying dry is awesome too. That polyester forms a giant plastic bag around that down comforter of a coat, keeping big fat snowflakes from melting on you.

Get more than one coat

I have a lot of coats. Probably too many. That’s ok though. I get all four seasons, plus a few extras when standard spring/summer/fall/winter decide to mix together.

Due to my circumstances, I like to have three: a light spring/fall coat, a heavy winter coat, and a raincoat. Previously I had done fine without the raincoat but now I herd small children around outside while waiting for their parents to pick them up. That raincoat paid for itself the first time I wore it.

Optional but useful: A dressy coat for special events, a second spring/fall coat that is slightly heavier/lighter, one awesome leather coat just so you can be a bad ass.

Get a detachable hood

Hoods are great for keeping your head warm. A really good hood can be closed over your face, like South Park’s Kenny. A hood over a hat will keep you warm through anything. Well, except maybe the freezing vacuum of space but if that was your situation, you would have bigger problems to worry about like depressurization and a lack of oxygen.

Detachable is a must for me. I like having a warm head but I hate that wadded up hood at the back of the neck on long drives.

Make sure everything is long enough

A heavy-duty winter coat should not stop at hip length. But I really dislike knee length coats because I associate knee length parkas with homeless people and Vietnamese exchange students who have trouble with the cold.

The perfect length is one that at least covers your butt, even when you sit down. A cold snowy metal bench is the worst place to put your non-insulated butt. So make sure your coat is long enough.

You don’t have to look like a marshmallow man.

Not very flattering...

I call these coats Marshmallow Coats. I’ve heard terms like Michelin Man and puffy coat throw around too. And North Face jackets might keep you warm on the slopes, they do look like black (or dark green) shapeless blobs. You can do better than that!

Look for details

If you’re going to get a big puffy coat, go for the nice details. Look for quilted patterns, rather that the lumps that look like love handles. Keep an eye out for colored zippers, fur trimmed hoods, and nice textures.

The parka

For example, this is my winter coat. It isn't the most flattering shape, but it has a lot of little details to make it fancier than a mega-coat of blackness. Quilted pattern, nice fur trim, and (unseen) gold colored snaps and zippers that contrast nice with the navy. Also since I am indoors, I am sweating to death in this picture.

Look for colors

Winter blows because it is dark from 4PM until about 9AM. The daylight in-between is heavily filtered through gray clouds. And that light, fluffy cake frosting snow? Usually it turns into a gray icy sludge before lunch time.

Winter is generally depressing. Do you know what isn’t depressing? Colors. Really bright colors. Combat Season Affective Disorder by wearing a coat that isn’t black, gray, or dark green!


Pin a giant gaudy cheap brooch to your coat collar. The bigger and sparklier? The better.

Spring Coat

My stepmother introduced me to the idea of wearing jewelry on the outside of your coat, rather than keeping everything nice underneath it. She has a system too; each of her (bajillion) coats has an assigned broach that she keeps on the collar. I don’t suggest keeping with such a rigid system. Change pins regularly and you'll finally have a use for all those Christmas themed pins your great aunt has gifted you.


WendyB said...

Puffy coats come in so many shapes now!

That corgi :) said...

love your coat and the advice you gave to choose the "perfect" one(s) for each person. I know its true, the coat I had in Montana is nothing like the coat I have now in So. Calif. I would burn up in it even in our coldest of temps down here

great advice :)