Use a top-rated tailor to get a top coat shipshape

Use a top-rated tailor to get a top coat shipshape

Q. I own a cashmere topcoat that was my Dad’s, and that I have never worn. It’s about 20 years old and in perfect condition. Is there a way to know if it is out-of-date?

A.  If your topcoat is more than 10 or 15 years old, you can pretty much know that it will be at least somewhat out-of-date. On the other hand, if you spend the time and money to have some skillful tailoring done, you likely will be able to bring it back.  

The most noticeable change that has occurred in menswear in the past few years is that everything has gotten shorter and trimmer. Manufacturers are cutting men’s suit jackets, blazers, and sport coats shorter by at least an inch. For modern topcoats and raincoats this is even more true; they are shorter by several inches. Your dad’s coat probably ends well below the knee. Coats that reach close to the ankle are old-fashioned and stodgy looking. Today’s topcoat (and raincoat) length is the much shorter “knee-length” (defined as two or three inches below the knee or shorter).

You will need an expert tailor, and finding one is not the easiest task. It is possible (perhaps at your dry-cleaners). And with the current cost of a quality topcoat often approaching, or exceeding, the thousand dollar mark, alterations would certainly be a worthwhile investment.

Still, if you don’t want your efforts to be a waste of money, you must be realistic. Changing the length of the coat is possible; so are trimming and tapering the silhouette ever so slightly. But these are not the only elements that might be off. Often, the problem is the rest of the fit. If the coat is too large in the shoulders, no amount of altering is going to make it look current. Experienced tailors know not to play around with coats that don’t fit in the shoulders. So, not only must your tailor be skilled, but he must be honest about what can be done effectively. In addition to being realistic about the shoulder, a good tailor will know whether shortening the length by four inches will end up with the pockets’ being too low.

The tailor should note that even if the shoulders fit, the rest of the coat may be too full. Usually, it can be taken in to look currently trim. When you are being fitted by the tailor, be sure to wear a shirt and sport coat or suit jacket; the coat must fit correctly over them.  This will allow you both to pay attention to sleeve length. Unlike suit jackets and sport coats, which are meant to expose a half-inch of shirt sleeve, topcoat sleeves should completely cover the suit and shirt sleeve cuff, but go no further on to your hand.

A man’s topcoat is a wonderful, adult garment to own. An American classic, it will keep you warm and looking like a grown-up for many years to come. You might add a simple accessory like a plaid or solid-color scarf for a timeless element of refinement. Note: All of this same information applies if you are lucky enough to find a great coat in a vintage or “gently-used” shop. 

Of course, at some time in the future, the style will swing back and coats will be long again. When that happens, you will not be able to tailor your coat to make it longer. For now, if your coat meets the criteria I have suggested, and if you can find a good tailor, I encourage you to make the investment. The knee-length coat won’t go out of style anytime soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy wearing your “new” coat.

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