Every season has its small personal battles: In spring, it's deciding exactly when to switch from pants to skirts (because everyone knows that once you go bare legged, you can't go back); In summer, it's swamp ass; In fall, it's finding the balance between enjoying pumpkin spice and not revealing yourself to be overtly basic. And in winter, it's mastering the art of purchasing in the perfect coat. The beauty of the coat challenge is that once you've found it, you probably won't need to look again for a very long time. The catch being that it's nearly impossible to find it in the first place.
I've started my winter coat search early. It's my fourth winter in New York, and this time I'm going to nail it. For my first winter, I had no idea how cold a blizzardous city could be, and being completely broke, I ended up just wearing everything I owned at once, which including piling 3 lighter coats on top of one another. My second winter was barely a winter (my fellow New Yorkers remember the lovely, mild thing that was winter 2011-2012, right?) For my third winter, it got so cold that I gave up entirely and bought one of those delightfully warm head to ankle Uniqlo numbers that makes you look like you're rolled up in a sleeping bag with the face and feet cut out of it. It might have done the job, but it was ugly as all get out. And the perfect winter coat should keep you warm AND look good. Because I have to believe that we live in a world where we CAN have it all. I have to.
I've already purchased and returned one winter coat this season. It was a structured wool blazer-style coat from J. Crew. It was perfect in almost every way: warm and timelessly stylish and ON SALE, but it was about 3 inches too long for my body (even though it was from the petite range, massive sigh), and I couldn't deal with the prospect of looking like a little girl who raided her mother's closet December through (potentially) April. This is MY year, dammit. The perfect winter coat is out there, somewhere. I've seen it on the street, worn by those painful SoHo girls who flap about as though they don't feel seasons on their skin, in their perfectly fitting layers of cashmere, angora and mohair. If they can do it, we can too. We will find the perfect winter coats. Here's how:
1. LOOK FOR QUALITY
Read every label carefully. So much is made out of cheap acrylics, even if it's from a designer with high price points. Sometimes things that are advertised as "wool" are only some tiny percent wool, and then 80% nylon and spandex. Polyester wont keep you warm in a snow storm, and it also gives your sweat a really funky feet smell. Make sure you're buying something of quality, especially if you're getting spendy. Interestingly enough, I've found that H&M and Zara both offer affordable wool options among their cheaper fabrics, so make sure you leave no rock unturned (see again: BE PATIENT.)
2. BE PREPARED FOR DISAPPOINTMENT
Finding the perfect winter coat is akin to losing your virginity. The first time you try to make it happen it might not fit, and it will hurt because you really wanted this to be the one, but you just have to keep trying until you get it right. Try not to be discouraged by your failures; persistence and optimism are key.
3. BE PATIENT
Patience is not only important in biding your time, but in trawling through the avalanche of coats retailers are throwing at you like winter Gatsbys. If you're going to find the perfect coat you need to see ALL the coats, which is going to take time and resolve. A frazzled or bored coat hunter is never going to come up with the goods.
4. HAVE ENOUGH ROOM TO WEAR LAYERS UNDERNEATH
It should go without saying that you want to be able to fit layers underneath your coat. I wanted to make a point of this though because a lot of coats I've come across seem to have room in the torso, but the arms are ridiculously skinny. Having not enough room for layers under the arms of a coat is the most restricting, uncomfortable thing on earth, as your layers will inevitably all twist in different directions leaving you feeling like your arms are sausage stuffing, violently smooshed in amongst the carnage.
5. KNOW YOUR BODY
It helps to know what works for you. For instance, at 5'1", I know that a lot of styles can be overwhelming and make me look like a walking pile of coats rather than a human. Knowing exactly what you're looking for in terms of what suits your body best (calf-length, knee-length, hooded, collared, double-breasted, tie-waist, button-up etc.) will ease the process by eliminating a swath of coats that don't suit.
6. MAKE SURE THERE ARE POCKETS
A coat without pockets is like Happy Hour without a beer and shot combo. You might not hear me now, but no coat, no matter how perfect, without pockets isn't going to make you rue the day you bought it when you're fighting your way through flurries of snow and have no place to tuck your hands.
7. PRIORITIZE WARMTH OVER TRENDS
You can probably get through December in an on-trend coat that's only moderately warm. You can probably convince yourself that January is OK, if you can just get through it. But by the time February rolls around and it's still below zero, no fashion on earth is going to be worth how cold you are every time you leave the house. The idea is to find something stylish that's also insanely warm, but when push comes to shove, NEVER sacrifice the potential for a little extra warmth for something that's going to be out of fashion in another six months.
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