The best winter coat should make you feel great, pulled together and, most importantly, it should last years. A winter coat is likely to be among the most expensive wardrobe purchases you make, so it’s worth being considered and taking your time. Paying more than you’re used to might feel a tad unnerving, but for the right coat, it’s well worth it. I still have my grandmother's from the 1940s – it is just as beautiful, warm and functional as it was when she wore it; a testament to its unfailing quality and proof that investing in real craftsmanship is worthwhile.
With so many options hurled at our inboxes the instant the trees turn, knowing how to find your perfect coat is tricky. It’s hard to know where even to start. To get you on the way, we’ve pulled together a guide to help you with your quest to find the best winter coat.
1. What are you made of?
The first thing to explore is the cloth your coat of choice is cut from. Unless you need a coat for real extreme weather conditions, natural fibres have our vote; good old-fashioned wool really cannot be beaten for longevity. Wool is breathable, durable and crucially, cosy and warm. It comes in so many forms and weights – alpacas, blends, tweeds and, a personal favourite, shearlings. Each offers something a little different, and most can be waterproofed for maximum practicality. The luxurious cashmere, alpaca and vicuna wools are dubbed ‘noble fibres’ thanks to their natural performance qualities and unbeatable softness; while they are fantastic materials to wear, they will drive up the price – if you’ve got your heart set on one of these, be prepared to pay extra. Sheep and lambswool are excellent value choices.
2. It’s what’s inside that counts
Always look inside a coat that’s caught your eye. A subtle mark of distinction on a high-quality coat is the attention paid to the internals. On a well made product, you’ll find a properly placed lining, edges meeting plush. The stitching will be dense, but not messy, providing real strength. If you were to unpick the seams of a coat from H&M or Zara, you’d meet a mess of thin thread and sketchy sewing. They only focus on the outside; on what the average customer sees in the shop. We’re not suggesting you hack away at the lining of every coat you try on (this would be time-consuming. And slightly illegal.) We would, however, advocate a close inspection. Look at the lining, check for loose thread. A fabric in a twill (diagonal) weave will last the longest – this is generally the lining of choice for bespoke tailors. The density and the tightly woven yarn construction will stand up against daily wear and should hold up in high-stress areas like elbows and pockets. A holey pocket is a friend to no one.
3. Button up
As soon as you walk out of a shop with a badly made coat, the countdown begins to your first lost button. Usually, they’re tacked on with minimal care and no backing. For a winter coat proper button attachment is crucial; they’ll need to pull together heavier fabrics, buttoned and unbuttoned every day. It’s a quick job to take a moment to wobble the buttons on the coat you’re trying on and see how secure they are. Button and unbutton the coat several times to see if anything feels loose. If the coat has a reinforced button (a smaller button or backing on the inside of the coat) you can be pretty confident that you’re looking at a quality, well made and considered garment.
4. Capsule consideration
To get the most out of your coat, it needs to work well with your existing wardrobe. When you’re trying on coats, put looks together and make sure they work. Shop online and you can do this in your own home with your own clothes; if you’re in a shop, take the time to use your imagination. Think about the clothes you spend most of your time in – will this coat work with those? Will you feel good putting them together?
5. Take care of your investment
Everything needs a bit of love. Take care of your coat and it will last. If you have the time, hang it up on a clothes hanger at the end of the day instead of on a hook or on the back of a door; this will help protect the construction of the garment. At the end of the winter clean it and store it in a coat cover or carefully fold it away into a box or case.
6. And finally...
Go for designs you love. If a coat makes you feel great, you’re more likely to put it on time and time again, rather than being tempted to buy something new each time autumn rolls around. Yes, it’s important to consider functionality and practical details, but no amount of box ticking will make your coat less ugly. Remember, you’ll be wearing it every day for several months.