Reader Request: Flattering Winter Coats


That’s right, friends, it’s the middle of December and that means wintry-themed posts are the order of the day! I got a whole slew of requests for coat advice and although you may think it’s a bit late in the season to be coat shopping, I firmly believe that now – post-Thanksgiving and post Black Friday – is the IDEAL time to pony up for a new coat. Everything is on sale and the bitterest part of winter hasn’t even hit yet. I’m not tardy, I’m timely!

Instead of breaking it down by body type, I’m going to keep it short and sweet by selecting three of my favorite coat styles that work for nearly every figure and height. Shall we get started?

SHAPED DOWN COATS

When I was growing up, down coats were GIGANTIC. And CROPPED. So you put one on and immediately looked like someone had stuck a helium hose in your ear and inflated your top half. But a few years ago, coat designers finally realized that down could work its warming magic in more flattering shapes and now the market is flooded with shaped down coats that actually appear feminine. And keep your butt from freezing.

Some shaped-down buying advice:

  • Buy real down. Those geese know what they’re doing and you won’t be nearly as warm in something puffy but feather-free. (Apologies to the allergic, but it’s true.)

  • Buy knee- or thigh-level or what’s the point? Plus better proportions are created.
  • Make sure the coat fits fairly snugly. Down works because it traps your body heat, and if the wind is sailing up your coat via the bottom hem, it defeats the purpose.

I have the North Face Metropolis parka pictured above and have worn it for five years straight. It’s machine washable, my version is a lovely merlot red, and it was unbearably expensive. If I were going to buy a new one, I’d snap up one of these Land’s End lovelies for pennies on the dollar:

Morgan Down Coat
Land’s End
$89.70

Sidney Down Coat
Land’s End
$143.60

BELTED WOOL COATS
If you live in a climate that’s too warm for down, really just race from your car to your office building, or need something that’s a little more formal, belted wool is the way to go. Even with 15 sweaters and a scarf, this style of coat will give you the appearance of a waistline.

I know I said no body type stuff, but I’m going to renege: Apple-shaped women, experiment with this style. It might emphasize your midsection more than you like, but if the belt falls at the right spot on your torso it could look amazing.

Some belted-wool buying advice:

  • Bring a scarf. Many of these coats have open necklines and you’re gonna want to see how they read when there’s a giant muffler peeking out.

  • Again, knee-length is best. Warm and flattering. If you opt for something longer it will look pretty formal, which is fine … just be aware.
  • Consider the pocket situation: Will you be wearing gloves? Probably. Do you look like you’ve got 10-week-old kittens stowing away in your pockets when there are gloves shoved in them? Do you care? I have several coats that have Stowaway Kitten-itis, and I just pop my gloves into my handbag. But this drives some women BATSO.

Here are some darling belted coats from Macy’s. I’ll take one of each, please!

Calvin Klein Wing Collar Belted Wool Coat
Macy’s
$153.99

A-LINE COATS

This style will ONLY work for those living in warmer climes, since a flared hem means automatic butt-breeze. But just as A-line skirts are universally flattering, coats with an A-line silhouette work for many, many figure types. And they look adorable short and elegant long!

Some A-line buying advice:

  • A wider lapel will balance the hem flare, so if you’re looking to create an hourglass, pick a coat with a nice, broad collar.

  • Make sure the fabric has at least a little bit of drape. An A-line that sticks out like a paperdoll garment will just look cheap and awkward.
  • Single-breasted is best. Paired with a mondo collar and mondo hem, a single vertical line will create flattering balance.

Here are some adorable picks from Nordstrom. Since this cut is for milder winters, you could opt for leather or faux fur … but I’ve stuck to classic wool for my picks. I feel it’s more versatile.

If you’re curious about how to tell when a coat fits correctly, check out Angie’s fantastic post from back in November. She really covers it all right there.

Did you buy a new winter coat this year? What style was it? Any further tips for coat flattery, or nigh-universal flattering styles to suggest? What are your coat-buying criteria?

  • englund

    I bought a coat this year: it's a shaped down number, very similar to your North Face one. After much shopping (and ordering and returning two much more expensive coats), I found a NWT Eddie Bauer coat on ebay–last season's model, I think. I paid about $60, including shipping.

    It is very cold where we live, and I need a longer coat that is warm enough for putting our kid on the bus and walking around downtown. I definitely wanted a warm hood, flattering seaming, and plenty of down filling.

    The Eddie Bauer coat is pretty good on all counts, although the zipper is a bit challenging. It has nice chevron seaming and is fitted enough to give me a bit of a waistline, despite all of the down!

    I considered all of the Lands' End coats you show and ended up ruling them out. For me, the first one is too thin; the second is a cute design, but too shiny and doesn't have a hood; and the third is not fitted enough through the waist, and I hate the patch pockets over the hips (but I bet it's warm!).

    Great post, Sal.

  • Oranges And Apples

    I mentioned this on my blog the other day – I WANT to buy a winter coat, and have set aside a sizeable chunk of cash for it but I CANNOT find a coat that is warm enough anywhere. Even in the more upmarket shops everhing is thin thin thin. I appreciate that I can layer, but I really just want something that I can put on on top of things and be warm. And we're not even into January yet, when it will get properly cold.

    But, to answer your question, I am hoping to find a belted style with a swishy bottom half. Though I may have to capitulate and get one of those padded puffa style ones that I'm not particularly keen on just to get some warmth.

  • Suz

    Thank you so much for this article. It's very timely – yesterday I found a fantastic navy blue wool coat for $3 at a thrift shop. I wasn't sure about the fit, but the shoulders fit, it's a good length, and has room for layers, so now I am confident about it. Thanks Sal!

  • s.Jane

    I'd love a real down coat, but budget wise it's not possible at the moment.

    I ride the bus to work downtown, so I needed something to keep me warm. I bought a coat from Old Navy when they had their half-off sale a month ago. It's called the Women's Frost Free Hooded Coat in white (link: http://oldnavy.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=5448&vid=1&pid=696761&scid=696761022)

    It's actually really warm and cozy. It's not too poofy and has a belt to define the waist.

  • Anna

    I bought a new A-line coat from Old Navy this year. Since I live in the South, we only have a couple months of cold temps, so it's silly to invest in a winter coat. I mean, it hardly ever gets below freezing; "cold" in the South means in the 40s! While I miss ice and snow, it is nice to not have to worry as much about staying warm in the winter as I did when I lived in the Midwest.

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    Love the portrait collar from Macy's Sal…must check it out! Happy friday!!
    xo

  • Rebekah

    Tough time to be a vegan. ;)

  • futurelint

    Somehow I wind up buying a new winter coat or two every year… I like to have a good selection to go with what I'm wearing (unneccesary, I know!) I've got an everyday wool and an everyday down that I wear a lot. Otherwise, it's a lot of vintage coats and capes that I wind up buying at thrift stores – they are just so cute!

  • Hannah

    I would love to get a new longer coat but Texas weather always seems to make anything but a short peacoat seem frivolous. This December has already been colder though, so maybe I'll start searching. Your post was very helpful!

  • AsianCajuns (Lauren)

    Genius post as usual, Sally! We live in balmy Georgia, but I start to whimper when it goes below 45ºF- I know I'm a weenie. So all of these options look more appropriate for northern weather but they also work perfectly for southerners whose blood has thinned after months and months of muggy hot summers ;)
    Hope you have a wonderful, wonderful weekend!

  • CompassRose

    "Again, knee-length is best. Warm and flattering. If you opt for something longer it will look pretty formal, which is fine … just be aware."

    Also be aware that if you opt for something longer, every time you get in your car you run the risk of forgetting to gather up the skirts and having the hem trail in the snow and salt gunk melting on the mats of your car. Or kicking up snow and salt gunk into the skirts as you walk. As a lover of huge, long, sweeping, skirted coats, this has been a perennial problem for me.

    Wool coats CAN be warm, but to get a warm one you're either going to need to shell out the bucks, or look for good vintage. The secret of a warm wool coat is something that gets put into better-tailored pieces, but not into your average $69.99 fast-fashion number: a chamois interliner in the body of the coat. This keeps the wind from howling through the weave, and makes all the difference.

  • Mrs.M in MI

    Since I moved to Michigan a few years ago I receive one new coat for Christmas each year. This year I will be getting a Land's End peacoat that my husband picked out because I was lacking a nice casual winter coat (my shapeless fleeces were not cutting it, according to him).

    Last year I got a new ski jacket and pants, and the year before that I got a new knee-length wool coat. Perhaps next year I'll go whole hog and get a downer.

    The vast majority of my coats are from Lands End. I find the quality and warmth to be exceptional for the price. And I always buy coats in bright, bold colors to make me happy.

  • Jenniferocious

    I found a really fun vintage trench coat on ebay at the end of fall. I'm not sure what material it is, since it is vintage and the tags were removed. It has a sort of faux-wool feel to it, and its lined, but I'm terrible at telling what material something is by touching/looking at it. Its remarkably warm for how thin it is (and I live way up in northern Maine… less than half an hour from Canada). The sleeves are cute and gathered at the wrists, and its a mid-calf length, which is excellent for keeping my legs warm when tights just won't cut it. The skirt part of the trench is a nice A-line, so it has a "dress" feel to it. And it has a wide lapel (its from the 70s, of COURSE it does, lol) which balances the skirt well, like you said in your post. It probably won't be warm enough when it gets into the negatives, but right now its perfect. I am going to see about removing the shoulder pads, though. ;)

    Anyway, if any readers are looking for coats for cheap, I'd recommend browsing ebay. I've found lots of fun vintage (and current) pieces there for $20 & under. My coat cost me less than $30. :)

  • Toby Wollin

    I made a major job of looking for a really warm winter coat, but found that even the most expensive ones I could find either a) did not fit me correctly, or b) were made with just a cheap lining and were therefore not worth the money. So, I'm making (and almost finished with) Vogue 8626, which I've interlined with wool flannel that I shrank in the washing machine and that I'm lining with heavy duty flannelized coat lining.

  • Sonja

    OMG, it is FREEEEEEZING in San Francisco (although I'm sure it's even colder out your way). I could totally go for one of those down coats right about now.

    I love the one you have and those gorgeous belted wool coats. I have a gajillion coats, but I could totally go for a new, warmer one right now with this ridiculous cold snap. Thanks for all the great tips!

  • Annie

    My husband bought me a pea coat from an army surplus store about six years ago and it is my staple. I can dress it up with a pretty scarf and nice boots and the dense wool (boiled?) keeps me perfectly warm when I visit the Midwest in the middle of winter (as I did last year) or on especially cold nights in SoCal (we *do* have some of those, really). The pea coat is a classic, whether you get an authentic one (surprisingly inexpensive) or a designer version. I highly recommend it!

  • hope505

    ~ very ~ cold here in the 505 at the moment!

    I like the A-line or "swing" coats in wool. True, they aren't long, but they are great for wearing atop many layers!
    * : )
    Last spring I scored a Pendleton wool swing-coat in grass green at like 70% off! Score! So that's what I'm wearing this winter…

  • Elaine

    I just did a post on winter coats too! I found one I really like at Eddie Bauer. I need a puffer coat becasue Utah winters are unforgiving!

    clothedmuch.blogspot.com

  • WendyB

    There are so many nice options these days.

  • What Would a Nerd Wear

    i've been really lusting after a hooded down coat, long and belted. i get so so so cold in the winter and these look super cozy.
    whatwouldanerdwear.blogspot.com

  • rb

    Even though I live in Berkeley and work in San Francisco I wear the heck out of my wool coats. It gets cold here! The moisture in the air makes what seem like wimpy temperatures feel that much colder.

    I have several wool coats and like one poster above, I end up buying a new one for the collection pretty frequently. This year I bought the wool/alpaca purple one from Talbots, and I'm in love with it.

    I would also like to ask the animal rights activists to stop glaring at me when I wear my mom's fur collared coat from the 1950s. The animal has been dead for a very long time. Thank you.

  • Diane

    i am loving that belted blue one from macy's! SO PRETTY!

  • Diana

    I love that Tahari coat. Having lived in Florida my whole life, I've never actually owned a wool coat. I've been eyeing some of the ones at JCrew, but I'm waiting until I'm actually traveling somewhere cold before investing in one.

  • SR@MyStyle

    Hi there-a fab post, with some lovely different types. I also got a down puffa coat this year, last year I bought a black wool pea coat and I also have my faux fur vintage coat-its great to have a selection of different styles.

  • lisa

    Great advice post as always, Sal, and right up my alley considering how enamored I am with coats and jackets!

    Two points I'd like to add to the wonderful tips you've given already:

    1) This might sound kind of dumb, but check the fabrication tags on a wool coat! So many "wool coats" on the market these days (particularly those at lower price points) are actually a blend of different fibres, and if the wool percentage is too low it won't be warm enough. I've found that coats with a higher wool blend content are warmer and of better quality.

    2) I've always had a weakness for double-breasted peacoats and consider them classic and figure-flattering. :-)

    • Katie

      Hear, hear!
      It bothers me how little wool seems to be making its way into “wool blend fabrics”. I saw a skirt that was advertized as a wool blend and actually only contained 10% wool! It’s interesting that the market is indicating that people are more interested in wearing this incredible natural fiber, but as always BUYER BEWARE! This is a bit off-topic, but the best place by far for 100% wool skirts is the thrift store.

  • Sal

    Just have to point out that our UK commenters call 'em "puffa" coats, while our US commenters (as far as I know) call 'em "puffer" coats. Which term is cuter? Hard to say for certain …

  • Anonymous

    I live in an area where winter = rain, and normal rain coats simply aren't warm enough, whereas wool gets too wet and down is too hot. I've found that my staple brand is London Fog. They are a master of the long, black trench but they also carry plenty of knee-length examples with waist shaping. My current coat (just purchased a couple of weeks ago, in time for a drencher) has a hood, zips and snaps, wool lining in the body, cinches to show off the waist and hits me right at the knee. If I wasn't already committed to my current husband, I'd marry it.

  • Julia

    The ones you posted look great!

    Anyone have any down-free "puffy" and stylish winter coats they like for cold weather (Chicago-style cold weather)? I know the down ones are best, but I'm one big sneezy allergic-mess in them.

    Any experience/suggestions are appreciated :-)

  • Eliza

    I completely wrecked my wool coat last fall (long story involing a full jar of ink) and couldn't really afford to replace it. I found a silk-lined, ankle length velvet coat in the thrift store. It was a life saver, since I had playground duty all winter and little kids do not feel the cold! There were some days when the only ones out there with the kids were a veteran teacher in 3+ layers and me in just that coat and normal clothing underneath.

    One other thing. Mom replaced her Land's End puff coat last year with a Manoush off ebay. It's not nearly as padded, but she swears it's just as warm, and it's MUCH more flattering. I don't know if Land's End has improved since then, but I wouldn't say that her old coat was a good buy.

  • Hannah

    Good timing! I just bought a white belted wool coat, mid-thigh, from Express. Compared to my previous cheapo peacoat from Sears this one is so warm! I'm a sucker for wool coats but I might have to get a puffer coat if it's as cold this year as last!
    I took a leap by buying white…hopefully I'll be able to keep it clean!

  • ebinbaby

    I am a North Face gal all the way. I had a Metropolis in black which lasted for years until it was STOLEN at a coat check (yes a great down coat is that much of a hot commodity here!). I replaced it with the same coat in brown and wear it almost every day. They last forever, wash well and keep me super warm. For dress wear I use a shearling coat (like a giant UGG boot made into a coat). It was -33C today (27 F) so I can't afford to choose style over function. Luckily my two coats give me both!

  • Sara

    You and I have identical puffy coats, even down to the color! We're puffy coat twins! It's a fantastic coat, isn't it?

    I think I ruined mine a bit by storing it during the off-seasons in one of those vacuum seal space-saver bag. It's puffed back up, not quite as full as it used to be (not that I mind that part of its change), but I got caught in a snow-to-rain storm last year and discovered that it quickly leaks around the seams. Not fun. It's still fine in the snow, so I've kept it as it still keeps me warm.

  • Alison

    I just have to chime in here… I have a great Mountain Hardware down coat. Not super stylish, but just as warm as Northface, and cheaper. I also thrifted 4 coats this year. One knee length lighter weight wool belted for $9, One longer thicker wool that has the A line bottom for $9, a burgundy leather long belted coat for $4 and a vintage unworn purple London Fog Trench with all the parts for $7. It was quite a haul and I'm so looking forward to wearing them all this winter. Great post it's really helpful to see a variety of coats in one place! Good luck to everyone in search of the perfect winter coat.

  • Hanako66

    you found some gems…it is so hard to not look frumpy in a really good coat!

  • legatoblue

    I just bought the Sidney Down Coat and have been using it since I got it. Plus, the coat looks cute on me. It keeps me nice and warm (it's 7 degrees F today and feels like -8 degrees F with the wind whipping around) but I know I'll need some under armour or snow pants if I want to stay outside longer. To date, we've had 27.8 inches of snow with 15 inches on the ground so I've been pretty happy having a warm coat when I have to shovel my way out to get to school. I really like the hood because it's fairly deep and blocks the wind. And at knee length is an absolute must!

  • Rosie Unknown

    Ohh, great post!

    This isn't too practical, but I keep multiple kind of coat: Long down, for really cold days. (black for versatility); waist length snowboarding coat for skiing, fairly cold days, days when I want to look my age (black and white, with billabong written all over it); and a leather coat for not too cold days or more formal events. It takes up a lot of space and is more expensive to collect them all, but you always have the right coat.

  • myedit

    I just scored a jacket from a friend, goose down with a fur collar and so pretty too. Which is amazing because sometimes I forget to buy important things like coats because I bought foolish things, like sparkly shirts…
    Oh ya and Winners? It's the Canadian T.J. Maxx but I personally think they are cleaner and better stocked. The people around here wouldn't know good quality and design if it hit them in the head so I definately score huge a lot at Winners… Yes, it's worth crossing the border for…:)

  • Emily Kennedy

    I recently purchased the Morgan Down Coat from Lands End (pictured above in brown, but mine's a pretty blue). Here's my review: IT IS WARM. I wore it out in 0 degree F weather and it was excellent. I was not the slightest bit cold on the parts it covers. By the time it hit 38 deg F today, it was too warm! Crazy.

    Here's the unfortunate bit: it's not so very shapely as the pic looks. I have the XS (I'm 5'7", 120) and it looks basically like I'm wearing a tube that could hold Pillsbury crescent rolls.

    Oh well. Did you catch that I said ZERO DEGREES?! I'm keeping this coat!

  • Audi

    I always look for coats that have shaping in the back, since I feel like a broad expanse of solid color combined with the extra bulk makes me look like a linebacker. Even just a couple of small pleats and one of those short faux belts does wonders.

  • nifer

    I disagree about breezy A-lines. I have an A-line, knee-length wool coat from J.Crew, and I find it very warm. It cinches just about my natural waist and is extremely flattering.

    And, no, I don't live in S. Carolina, but frigid New England. = )

    ~ Jen

  • candi

    Hello, I adore your blog!

    It is summer here in Australia so it's strange to read your post about warm winter coats!

  • Alli

    Ooh, I want all of these!

    The last time I even looked at a down coat was in the late 90s, when "bigger is better" and cropped was the way to go. In my 8th grade bravery I convinced my mom to buy me one in bright-ass yellow, which, while very cheery, got me dubbed The Bumblebee for the rest of the school year. I haven't touched down since.

    But these coats are so cute, and must be so warm, that I think it's time I reconsidered the goose…

  • Anonymous

    I bought a wool/cashmere coat from JCrew a few years ago with the thinsulate lining and I still swear by it. I'd suggest it to anyone. They're not insanely expensive and it's definitely a long-term peice. I think my jacket is called the plaza coat, and its great shape and muli-use wear is perfect for me. I can wear it to go shopping or with a suit and I always look put together while staying warm. I'd suggest it to anyone!

  • The Raisin Girl

    It took me literally FOREVER to find the perfect coat, mostly because I wanted my coat to meet a lot of very specific qualifications.

    It had to be long enough to cover my butt. It had to be some color other than navy blue, black, or brown. It had to be very warm (even in Georgia it gets pretty cold in winter, and it seems worse because we're used to such hot summers). And lastly, it had to be different, in some crucial way, from every other coat I kept seeing copies of in different stores. There had to be a special reason for me to buy this special coat.

    I finally found mine LAST winter, believe it or not, at Target. It falls to the middle of my thigh, is russet-red corduroy with pale cream stitching details, is very, very warm, looks great with scarves, has roomy pockets…and has an autumn-leaves patterned lining (the crucial detail). I love it, and last season's coat though it may be, I'll b wearing it all this winter and the next as well, because I feel beautiful, fun, warm, and sophisticated in it, and it never fails to garner a couple of compliments. Plus, since it's last season, now I'm the only one wearing it!

  • Unplanned Cooking

    Thanks! I want a long down coat and think I may invest in one this winter. Otherwise how do you survive a Minnesota winter? Plus, they're so flattering.

  • The Budget Babe

    this is very comprehensive! i've been eying that morgan down coat at land's end but i already have a heavy winter coat. sigh. i was going to feature that dkny coat in a recent post but had to find another since you beat me to it! love it :)

  • Anonymous

    Maybe no one is reading about winter coats anymore, but I love my long Lands' End down coat because it is as warm as wearing a sleeping bag. Unfortunately it looks like I'm wearing a sleeping bag, but that's okay because everyone is walking too fast through the snow to check out my look.
    Sadly, the little feathers started slipping through the fabric while the coat was new, and in it's second year of wear my coat kind of looks like it's moulting. I don't know if more expensive down coats do that also.

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