Reader Leah e-mailed me this request:
I was hoping you’d consider writing a post on what kinds of outerwear work with various types of skirts. Much like you, I spend a LOT of time in full skirts, and this time of year always has me kind of baffled as to what kind of coat I can wear and not look really silly. Jackets that look great with jeans always seem to be an awkward length or shape when paired with a skirt.
As I told Leah, hers was probably the fifth coat-related question I’d received in as many weeks. More coat info to come, but this post should cover the basics of matching a coat to an outfit, with an eye toward accommodating various styles of skirts.
Make sure all of your coats flatter you
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to start with a set of outerwear options that work with your body shape and size in ways that look and feel good to you. The coats you purchase should work with your proportions, coloring, and wintry accessories.
Buy moderately dressy coats in several lengths
Casual coats and jackets are so much fun … but, in my experience, have very limited application for women who work in office environments.* There are so few outfits and occasions that call for an army-influenced anorak, weather-beaten moto, or scruffy faux-shearling corduroy bomber. So fun! So cute! So LIMITING! But classic, clean-lined, sophisticated coats – coats that aren’t technically formal, but are a cut above knockabout weekend wear – can be dressed up or down in a snap. Since your outerwear is often the only thing people see all winter long, versatility is key. Buy (or thrift!) at least two classy coats: A shorter length that hits anywhere from mid-hip to high-thigh, and a longer length that hits at your knee or slightly below. Lengths subject to your own preferences and proportions, of course.
Consider your underlayers
If you’re wearing a full skirt with a crinoline, stuffing it under a confining peacoat will look awkward. If you’re wearing a thick Irish wool sweater, wedging your arms into an unlined, snug leather moto will be uncomfortable. The coat you pick should accommodate your outfit comfortably. If your bottom half is clothed in something bulky that needs accommodation, pick a coat that flares. If your top half is carrying the bulk, pick a coat that is lined in slippery fabric or has a bit more room to it.
Consider what will peek out
If you’re wearing leggings and long boyfriend cardigan, most cropped jackets will seem off. They’ll cut your underlayer in half and mess with your proportions. But if you’re wearing a miniskirt, that cropped jacket may be perfect; Most longer jackets will obscure your skirt entirely, so if you worry about looking like a flasher, a cropped coat will prove to the world that you’re not letting it all hang out.
Consider hems and lengths
I don’t abide the “skirt hem must match coat hem” rule, but I do believe that hem discrepancies should look natural and considered.
- If your skirt is a few inches longer than your coat hem, that’s fine. If your skirt is more than about six inches longer than your coat hem, it’ll start to look wonky. Try to keep those lengths close, but don’t worry about matching them precisely.
- As I mentioned above, shorter skirts often work well with shorter jackets … but if your coat itself is relatively long, flasher-fears may be mitigated. A knee-length coat is ideal for this purpose, and covers most cold weather layers beautifully.
- For midis and maxis, you can certainly go with a floor-sweeping coat, but something short – like this moto – should work, too. Keeping the jacket to hip level or above will create pleasing proportions on many figures. (But not all! Use your judgment!)
- If you’re wearing pants, things are much simpler; Avoid the cropped-jacket-over-long-underlayer look, but otherwise, anything goes. Just pick a coat that works with the vibe and proportions of your outfit.
Of course, in order to make all of this work seamlessly, you need approximately 87 coats. Not practical for most women. So there will be times when you simply won’t have the right coat to work with your outfit, and you’ll have to punt. But when you’re considering buying outerwear, give careful thought to your typical mode of dress: If you live in skirts, wear a skirt to try on coats and make sure to buy something that will accommodate your preferred silhouette. If you are a jeans gal, select accordingly. Don’t buy a coat because it’s cute, buy a coat because it’ll work for you.
*Non-office workers, work-from-homers, full-time moms, and many others may find casual jackets to be essential, of course. But, in my opinion, it’s always a good idea to have one or two moderately dressy coats available, regardless of your occupation. Again, easier to dress down a fancy coat than dress up a casual one.