Fall is upon us in earnest, and winter’s approaching. With it comes the dilemma: what outerwear is both stylish and functional? Bomber jacket, leather coat or parka? Multiple layers or one thick pad of wool or down? Here’s a basic guide to keeping warm while you still look cool.
Know Your Style
By now you should be choosing clothes that suit your body type and personality. The goal is to fit them with outerwear that not only provides protection from the elements, but also finishes your look.
If you’re thin, you can pull off a tight leather jacket or bomber. For the larger man, a more structured jacket or overcoat that squares your shoulders can give you a strong silhouette. Try on a variety of jackets, and ask for opinions on what looks good on you.
Another bit of advice: always try on coats and jackets while you’re wearing the clothes you’ll most often wear with them. That $500 leather coat that fits perfectly over just a t-shirt might not fit right when you’re wearing your favorite sweater. If you’ll be wearing button-down shirts or suits with your coat, make sure the necklines work together.
The Fashionable Choice: Layers
Here in Seattle the weather changes so much from day to day that on a typical December day I might need a light jacket, a thick wool overcoat and rain gear, all in the same day. My answer to this problem is to have a variety of options in the hall closet.
What I rely on most days is a system of layering that keeps me from looking too “thick” while enabling me to discard or add layers to meet the changing temperature. I almost always start with an undershirt. For temperate weather, a simple, cheap Hanes or Fruit-of-the-Loom t-shirt works fine. Mix and match the colors to work with your wardrobe (especially if the T will be visible), and you might find a V-neck or A-shirt (the style colloquially known as the “wife-beater”) works best with lower shirt necklines.
Then comes your shirt, then perhaps a sweater or (if you’re really going casual) a hoodie, topped with your choice of jacket:
Denim jackets are a perennial favorite, protect moderately against wind, and as long as you’re not wearing jeans at the same time, can make for a great layered casual look. (Of course, you can wear it with jeans for that ’70s metalhead look.) Try both light and dark denim, and maybe a similar style or military jacket in cotton twill.
Leather jackets offer superior protection from wind, and hold in heat well if they’re thick enough or have a good lining. For a casual look, find a bomber in brown. For dates and going out on the town, find something in a dressier 3/4-length (to the hip) coat. A well-made and looked-after leather coat should last for years, if not decades. Skip the leather trenchcoat, though.
Langham or Pullman jackets are a modern outerwear choice based on a classic look. They’re like an outerwear version of the Pendleton shirt, often in the same traditional plaid. I’ve seen them in both wool and oilcloth, which is cotton that has been treated with linseed oil to make it water-resistant. This is definitely a casual look, great for going out to the stadium. Langham jackets tend to be more of a 3/4-length option.
The Comfortable Choice: Coats
When it’s freezing, it’s freezing, and I know I just want to be warm. Add some rain and you’re not going to be very comfortable in a denim jacket. So at some point you’ll need to turn to outerwear that’s built to keep you as protected as possible. Also, if you wear a suit to work you’ll look a little funny with a leather bomber over top.
Let’s look at the classic coat styles:
Overcoats (also known as topcoats) are longer, usually down to the knees. They offer the best protection for a suit and look best over collared shirts. A nice wool overcoat will do a great job of keeping you warm while offering moderate water-resistance. You’ll definitely need a place to hang your overcoat when you reach your destination, though. One common type of overcoat is the Chesterfield coat, which has no defined waist.
Trenchcoats like the iconic Burberry or London Fog are a great choice for a day that’s warm enough for rain instead of snow. Typically made of thinner material than an overcoat, a trench‘s first job is repelling moisture. They’re also a classic look over a collared shirt or suit. While the classic trench is a full-length coat, newer trenchcoat styles are 3/4-length. As I mentioned above, skip the leather trenchcoat unless your name is Neo.
Peacoats seem to never go out of style. Usually cut at a 3/4-length and made of wool, the peacoat is an great all-purpose option that can look good on a night out but also get you to work in comfort. You can use a hoodie as an intermediate layer between your street clothes and peacoat for a funky casual look.
Parkas are sportswear, best suited to winter football games and climates where wearing any other type of coat would result in hypothermia. When you look for a parka, make sure it’s close fitting around the neckline, wrists and hips. A down filling will provide maximum warmth and a dual snap/zipper will prevent wind from whistling through. For more options, consider ski jackets, which also offer superior water resistance and the room to layer underneath without looking like the Michelin Man.
While these are the major options, there are many other styles and sub-styles you’ll find out there. Take your time shopping, try everything on and ask for opinions. If you have a favorite coat, let me know.