Choosing a dressier coat for form and fashion

Choosing a dressier coat for form and fashion

Q. It’s late in the season to buy a winter coat, but mine isn’t cutting it. I just came back from a trip to Paris, where it was freezing, and arrived to single-digit weather in Fayetteville. I noticed that no one in France had puffer jackets, and most had fabric coats that were shorter than my old one. Is that the latest style?

A. Time was, when every man owned a winter wool dress coat. These days, with the new shift to a much more relaxed way of dressing, a dress coat may not be as crucial to a man’s well-rounded wardrobe. That does not mean I’m recommending you ignore the usefulness of a warm coat that works when you are going to an important business event or a social evening on the dressy side. So let’s look at the coat options as opposed to parka or puffer jackets.

Trench Raincoat: The truth is that of all the possible dress coats you might have in your wardrobe, you can survive if need be – even flourish – with only one. And that one is a perfect raincoat, especially one with a removable lining. The lining should be warm enough for all but those extreme outlier winter days in Arkansas. When you think about raincoats, skip the dark-colored ones, such as navy or black, that supposedly “don’t show soil marks too quickly.” Confine your selection to khaki or tan. Start the selection process in an absolutely topflight store, one that carries the Burberry line of coats.

You may not decide to buy this Rolls-Royce of coats. But once you try one on, you will know what the best looks and feels like, and have a reference point for judging other brands and models. An all-cotton, top-of-the-line Burberry trench coat – complete with its collar, epaulettes, belt, an impressive brass loop or two, and a recognizable plaid liner – will cost a hefty $3150 (for the newer, more fashion-forward model) or $2590 (for the more traditional Heritage style). Other models move more comfortably downward in cost: A single-breasted version, still with the distinctive Burberry plaid lining, is less expensive, and a lightweight travel raincoat is priced at the low (but still high!) end of the scale. You can find some used versions of these in excellent condition online and off at tremendous savings.   

For added style in a trench coat, current fashion suggests that you knot the belt, rather than slip it through the buckle. If you are short or somewhat heavy, a double-breasted cut may accentuate width at the expense of height. For that reason, you may do better choosing a single-breasted coat, which will elongate your torso.   

Topcoat. On the other hand, since you asked about a true cold-weather coat, a wool or wool-and-cashmere blend topcoat is certainly a fine choice. Slightly on the formal side, it should be dark blue, dark gray, or black in a solid color (or perhaps a muted herringbone tweed). Select single- or double-breasted styling, depending on your preference. 

Unless you live in Minneapolis or a similarly subarctic climate, today’s business demands do not require a heavier coat, known as an overcoat. You are in and out of buildings, and there are few hours in an average year when you will need the weight and stifling warmth of an old-fashioned overcoat. 

As you discovered when you were traveling in Europe, their dress climate is more formal/dressier than ours. European men are widely known to be knowledgeable, sophisticated  dressers. They never underdress, and would not be caught dead wearing a casual puffer jacket over a suit or a blazer.

You are right that coats these days are shorter than they used to be. I have written on more than one occasion that men’s clothing differs from women’s by remaining the same for years. The cycle of change is much slower. Even so, some elements do change on occasion, and the length of coats is one of them. For many years, coats extended well below the knee. That look has disappeared; dress coats are now a lot shorter, anywhere from knee-length to three-quarter length. Fortunately, other elements of a coat’s design have not changed; so, if the rest of your coat is still in good shape, and if you still like it, you can make it more up-to-date by taking it to a quality tailor and having him shorten it several inches.      

On the other hand, if you would enjoy owning a totally new wool dress coat, now is a perfect time to buy one. When shopping for a new coat, keep in mind that a full try-on is essential. Be sure to wear a suit jacket under the coat to assure yourself of free movement and an uncramped fit. And, as for it’s being late in the season, that just means you can take a advantage of the huge sale-priced savings you will discover at this time of year. You will get a great deal more for your money. Happy hunting!

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