Winter Coat Buyer’s Guide

Every season has its own set of tiny personal conflicts: It’s deciding when to switch from pants to skirts in the spring (because everyone knows that once you go bare-legged, you can’t go back); it’s deciding when to switch from pants to skirts in the summer (because everyone knows that once you go bare-legged, you can’t go back); it’s deciding when to It’s swamp ass in the summer; in the fall, it’s striking a balance between appreciating pumpkin spice and not coming across as overly basic. In the winter, it’s all about mastering the art of finding the perfect coat. The great thing about the coat challenge is that after you’ve discovered it, you won’t have to seek for it again for a long time. The hitch is that finding it in the first place is practically impossible.

I’ve started looking for a winter hanfu overcoat early. This is my fourth winter in New York, and I’m determined to succeed this time. I had no idea how cold a blizzardous city might be my first winter, and because I was broke, I ended up wearing everything I possessed at once, which included stacking three lighter coats on top of one another. My second winter was scarcely a winter (remember the delightful, mild winter of 2011-2012, my fellow New Yorkers?) It became so chilly during my third winter that I gave up and bought one of those blissfully warm head to ankle Uniqlo stuff that makes you appear like you’re coiled up in a sleeping bag with the face and feet cut off. It may have completed the task, but it was unsightly to say the least. And the ideal winter coat should keep you warm while also looking stylish. Because I have to think that we can have it all in this world. I’m obligated to.

This season, I’ve already bought and returned one winter coat. It was a J. Crew structured wool blazer-style coat. It was almost perfect in practically every way: warm, timeless, and ON SALE, but it was approximately 3 inches too long for my frame (despite being from the petite range, giant sigh), and I couldn’t bear the thought of looking like a small girl raiding her mother’s closet from December to (possibly) April. Dammit, this is MY year. The ideal winter coat can be found someplace. In their flawlessly fitted layers of cashmere, angora, and mohair, I’ve seen it on the street, worn by those awful SoHo girls who flap about as if they don’t feel seasons on their skin. We can do it, too, if they can. We’ll track out the ideal winter clothing. Here’s how to do it:

1. BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR QUALITY

Every label should be carefully read. Even if it’s from a designer with a high price point, a lot is constructed out of cheap acrylics. Sometimes items labeled as “wool” have only a little percentage of wool, followed by 80 percent nylon and spandex. Polyester will not keep you warm in a snowstorm, and it will give your sweat a peculiar odor. Make sure you’re receiving a good deal, especially if you’re going to spend a lot of money. Surprisingly, I’ve discovered that H&M and Zara both have reasonable wool alternatives among their lower-cost fabrics, so make sure you look everywhere (see again: BE PATIENT.)

2. BE EXPECTED TO BE DISAPPOINTED

It’s like losing your virginity when it comes to finding the perfect winter coat. It’ll hurt because you really wanted this to be the one the first time you try to make it happen, but you simply have to keep trying until you get it perfect. Don’t let your setbacks discourage you; perseverance and optimism are essential.

3. EXERCISE PATIENCE

Patience is essential not only for passing the time, but also for sifting through the avalanche of coats that marketers hurl at you like winter Gatsbys. If you want to discover the perfect coat, you’ll need to look at all of them, which will take some time and effort. A frantic or bored coat seeker is unlikely to produce the goods.

4. HAVE ENOUGH ROOM UNDERNEATH TO WEAR LAYERS

It should go without saying that you want to be able to layer your coat beneath it. I wanted to make a point about this because a lot of coats I’ve seen had plenty of room in the torso but excessively thin arms. Having insufficient room for layers under the arms of a coat is the most constricting and painful thing on the planet, since your layers will undoubtedly twist in different directions, leaving you feeling like your arms are sausage stuffing, forcefully smooshed in amongst the wreckage.

5. BE AWARE OF YOUR BODY

Knowing what works for you is beneficial. For example, at 5’1″, I’m aware that certain styles might be overwhelming and make me appear to be a walking pile of jackets rather than a person. Knowing exactly what you’re looking for in terms of what fits your body best (calf-length, knee-length, hooded, collared, double-breasted, tie-waist, button-up, etc.) will make the process go more smoothly by removing a large number of coats that don’t.

6. CHECK TO SEE IF THERE ARE ANY POCKETS

A coat without pockets is the equivalent of Happy Hour without the beer and shot combination. You may not hear me right now, but no coat, no matter how wonderful, without pockets will make you regret the day you got it when you’re fighting your way through blizzards with nowhere to tuck your hands.

7. WARMTH SHOULD BE PRIORITIZED OVER TRENDS.

You should be able to get through December in an on-trend, somewhat warm coat. If you can just get through January, you’ll probably convince yourself that it’s not that bad. But by February, when the temperature is still below zero, no amount of fashion will make up for how chilly you are every time you leave the house. The goal is to find something fashionable that is also quite warm, but when it comes down to it, never trade a little extra warmth for something that will be out of style in six months.

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