Each year, sensationalist headlines doth appear: “the coldest WINTER in 30 YEARS” and “HIGH ALERT as ARCTIC WEATHER threatens UK”. And, for once, there’s some truth to it: extreme cold is yet another symptom of an increasingly smashed-up planet. That means one should wrap-up. That also means one needs a nice and new big winter coat. Even if we will be stuck indoors for most of it...
It’s one of the more enjoyable purchases. A winter coat – the sound, versatile, punchy sort – can lift even the simplest outfits. It makes a big impression. And, while winter coats may be costly, they’re also among the most functional pieces in your wardrobe.
"A good coat is the one thing that defines your whole winter look,” says Carin Nakanishi, head of cult menswear brand and retailer, The Garbstore. “It's the piece that people see you in the most. Your seasonal statement, so you’ve got to make it count.”
Of course, you might think that there’s less of a reason to buy a cold weather coat this year. Maybe you’re working from home, and the frosty traipse from the train station to the office is but a thing of the pre-pandemic past. To that we say: poppycock. Thanks to lockdown measures, people are spending more time than ever exploring their local areas; going for leaf-crunching walks in the park and breathing in the fresh air. Don’t let the harsh winds trap you inside for months – invest in something sturdy and warm that you can throw on at a moment’s notice.
What’s more, finding the ultimate winter coat is a year-round pursuit. You needn’t just settle on one, either. The season can be a whole host of weather combinations that you need to be prepared for. When it comes to winter coats, you get what you pay for. Consider spending a little extra this season as certain materials work better than others. Look to Gore-tex for wet conditions and high quality down for warmth. Because the headlines are true. Winters will get colder. And, with our comprehensive, expert-approved guide, they’ll also be much better-dressed.
How Many Winter Coats Do I Need?
Nobody wants to go up a few shoe sizes on their carbon footprint. But a core selection of coats should cover all bases, allow for rotation, and prove suitable for different occasions.
"Coats are total weakness of mine and therefore it’s tricky to rate any one style above another,” says Damien Paul, head of menswear at Matches Fashion and self-confessed coataholic. “However, I do think the first thing you need to consider is your lifestyle and what part of that lifestyle the coat is for.”
Naturally, what’s right for one person isn’t right for all. But, generally speaking, Paul finds that the magic number is four.
“Firstly, a buttoned overcoat, either semi-structured or louche in wool or cashmere, is an elegant everyday option and works well both over suits and with a more relaxed day/evening look,” says Paul. “Another similarly versatile option is the peacoat; a double-breasted coat which was originally designed to be worn by naval officers. A design classic, it works for all ages and never really goes out of fashion.
“Third, I think a chic yet masculine option is a leather or suede shearling. If you get this one right it can last a lifetime, and will look better and more loved each winter.
“And finally, and probably the most practical of them all, is a quality down coat in either a boxy, to-the-waist silhouette or an oversized parka shape.”
These four classic coats lay a solid foundation, but they’re by no means the only choices on the table. Here, we take a more detailed look at the winter warmers worthy of a spot in your wardrobe.
As perhaps the singular meeting point of maraca-wielding Mancunians and weather-beaten polar explorers, the technical parka holds mass appeal.
Originally created by the Inuit people, the classic parka has been updated and teched out with features like high-fill-power down insulation and windproof fabric. The result is a functional coat that’s actually built for the travails of winter, and is best-paired with other similar workwear pieces: heavy denim, sturdy boots, big thick scarves and so on.
We’ve stolen much menswear from the armed forces. But none are quite as ubiquitous as the peacoat.
Designed for sailors in the 1800s, this sharp double-breasted style is anchored in naval history but is equally suited to land-based activities these days. The name itself is taken from Dutch or West Frisian word pijjekker or pijjakker – a reference to the type of twilled blue woollen cloth that was traditionally used. Its short shape enabled sailors a proper range of movement, which they needed when it came to maintaining safe conditions on their ships.
A perfect everyday urban option, keep things traditional with navy wool and layer with other nautical favourites such as a heavy-gauge fisherman's knit, or a Breton top for an added touch of Gallic glow.
Puffer jackets: the closest thing you’ll get to staying in bed (without looking like you’ve stayed in bed, obviously, because that would be depraved).
First pioneered when American outerwear legend Eddie Bauer nearly died from exposure on a fishing trip in 1936, the puffer jacket has since found its way onto the shoulders of everyone from hip-hop royalty to alpine enthusiasts.
An icon of Nineties style, this pillowy winter coat is made to be worn short and boxy. Layer it over a hoodie, and top it off with a pair of punchy, hiker-ish trainers. Something to consider, not all puffer jackets are waterproof and getting caught in some serious downpour can cause the feathers inside to get soggy. This can be a pain to dry out. So do you best when planning your outfit to check BBC weather beforehand.
British weather is almost Dickensian in its depression. There are few upsides. But, it has afforded plenty of time to create sharp outwear, and few are sharper than the duffle coat.
The duffle is a classic piece of UK outerwear that, like many of the best coats, has its roots in the forces (thank you, lads). Its lengthy silhouette and thick fabrication made for standard issue in the British Navy of the late 19th century, but these days, they’ve enjoyed shore leave beyond a type-45 destroyer.
As much at home in the city as on the bridge of a frigate, the duffle coat's biggest strength is versatility: a smart-casual styling means you’ve a happy first mate to tailoring, jeans and everything in-between.
The bomber jacket is yet another decorated military veteran, but this time from the skies.
Cropped, with a roomy body and knitted cuffs and hem, it was originally intended for use by pilots in the US Air Force, but it’s since been co-opted by streetwear, and high fashion, and normcore too, resulting in a brand new bona fide classic.
Its insulation and loose cut work well beyond the optics, too. It’s built for winter, and chilly breezes, and can prove to be a good layering slide-in. Opt for olive with mid-wash denim and white leather trainers for a failsafe casual look, or black with dark jeans and black boots for something a little smarter.
On the smarter end of the spectrum: the wool overcoat. Timeless, stylish and infinitely versatile, this longer-lined top protection is a natural at layering, and has an innate ability to smarten thanks to clean lines and a classic shape.
This is the sort of coat you can throw on without a second's thought, safe in the knowledge that it's going to bring the day's outfit together. Whether that's a three-piece suit or a hoodie and joggers is entirely up to you.
The classic menswear staple came to prominence in the late 18th century, worn by members of high society and military men alike and it only gained more popularity in the Regency era, especially amongst dandies. Fast forward a century, it became a favourite of the Teddy Boys and then the skinheads, and then, well... everyone.
Overcoats can also been worn slightly oversized (as long as the coat isn't dragging in puddles), which will allow for more layering in your fit beneath. Just don't overheat.
Waterproof Shell Jacket
You can’t be warm unless you’re dry. And you can’t be dry unless you’ve a technical waterproof jacket. Granted, it’s not the sort of go-to, front-of-mind winter protection. But it is seeing something of a return on the echoes of normcore.
Gore-Tex is the way to go in terms of fabric. As well as being widely regarded as the top-performing waterproof material, it's also having a bit of a moment with brands like Arc'teryx, Acronym and Nanamica going all geography teacher sensible. Wear it with cargos, trail runners and seasonally-appropriate headwear for the full look.
You may feel the shell jacket isn't warm enough for the chilly winters to come. Correct, the jacket's role is to keep you dry, not warm. Layer up underneath with a down-filled gilet and hoodie for warmth and the shell jacket will do the rest. Some outwear brands, like The Workers Club, have crafted a three-piece coat, gilet and bomber system for you to interchange depending on the weather outside.
Shearling coats were once as likely to be lined with gold watches as they were sheepskin. No longer. As a fabric that is costly (and luxurious), it’s an easy mould for designer brands to fill, and the template is also best-worn in winter.
It should come as no surprise that the shearling, too, has a strong military background – specifically in its association with American and British pilots during World War II. But the jacket is also synonymous with film icons like Alain Delon, Robert Redford and, of course, Steve McQueen –particularly the very, very nice piece in his 1962 film The War Lover.
Surprisingly, a shearling coat is pretty straightforward to style. You’ve enough texture and bulk on the top-half to go classic elsewhere, so think classic knitwear, trousers and some nice Seventies brogues to finish.
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