Julie Rath: How to Buy an Overcoat

Men's Image Consultant: Overcoat

If you’re still rocking that North Face parka over your suit jacket, it’s time for an upgrade.

Nothing ruins a great look faster than a not-so-great coat. For some reason outerwear often seems to be at the end of peoples’ priority lists, but I can’t stress enough how important it is for your coat or jacket to be up to par with the rest of your outfit. Think about it: you walk into a restaurant to meet a date. Before you take your coat off, she’s already formed an impression of you. The same goes for your office elevator. People tell me all the time that they sneak in to their office building in junk clothes/shoes and change once they’re there, but if you’re riding up in the elevator with people in your office, the damage is done. So, have I convinced you of the merits of a good overcoat yet? Good! Here are my suggestions on how to choose one.

Fit: I see too many people around in oversized, too long overcoats – such a disappointing look! It makes me think of a little kid playing dress-up. Ideally, your overcoat should fit comfortably over a suit but still be slim enough to look stylish with just a shirt and pants. The best, most versatile length for a modern but still classic look is around your knee. It should hit anywhere from mid/low-knee to just above it, depending on how modern you want the look to be (the shorter you go, the younger the look). A good-fitting overcoat should make you look taller, leaner and broader across the shoulders.

Sizing: An overcoat is meant to fit on top of your suit, so when buying off-the-rack, start by going up one size from your suit. Try it on with a suit jacket or blazer and be sure it can close. The sleeves should cover your suit and shirt sleeves.

Men's Personal Shopper: Overcoat

Buttons – Make sure it buttons to a location on your body that you’re comfortable with. I like this houndstooth check coat above from Balenciaga, but notice how low it buttons on the model’s body. If it’s too low, and you get cold easily, you might want to choose a coat that buttons a little higher. Remember that you’ll likely be wearing a scarf with it on very cold days which will give you additional coverage. What about the number of buttons? Most people will need 3 buttons for a classic single-breasted style, but if you’re very tall (over 6’ 3”), you should get 4.

Men's Personal Stylist: Overcoat

Style: A single-breasted notch lapel creates a more conservative/traditional look, whereas a double-breasted peak lapel is more dressy, and also warmer due to the fuller coverage and double layer of fabric over your chest. Overcoats also come with a wide choice of different pocket options for you to consider: straight/horizontal, flap/slit, ticket/no ticket, breast pocket/no breast pocket. And make sure to consider whether you want a center vent in back or no vent at all. Don’t get locked in to the first coat you see just because it’s convenient. Look around to find the one that resonates best with you. Perhaps you wouldn’t have considered one with a leather collar like the above from Burberry Prorsum until you saw it in person. There’s a world of options!

Men's Personal Shopper: Chesterfield CoatColor/Patterns – The most classic colors are navy, camel and grey (in that order), but you might also consider getting a pattern if you’re into that sort of thing. If you do go for a pattern, make sure to keep the rest of your outfit subtle. I’m anxiously awaiting this brown herrringbone which I ordered custom as a chesterfield (with a velvet collar) for a client.

Fabrics: There’s a huge range, from camel hair, to wool, to cashmere to blends. Do some research on the different weights that you’re choosing from and figure out how warm you need your overcoat to be before taking the plunge. I’ve seen people buy very heavy overcoats that they never wear because they’re just too warm. Know yourself and the climate you’re in (or that you travel to) and factor that in.

Investment: Remember when you purchase a high quality overcoat that it’s a classic piece which should last you at least 10-15 years. This is one place in your wardrobe where it makes sense to invest.

Where to buy: You can either go off-the-rack or custom. For the former, try department stores like Saks, Barney’s and Bloomingdale’s, along with specific brand boutiques like Hugo Boss or Prada. If you live somewhere without access to a lot of stores, you can look online. Websites like Mr. Porter and Suit Supply are good go-to’s. If you decide to go custom, check Yelp and local listings (like nymag.com here in NYC) for highly-rated clothiers or ask well-dressed friends/acquaintances where they go.

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Are you shopping for an overcoat this season? I’d love to know what you’re considering! Leave me a comment below.

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