Sometimes you just don’t get things right first time; you might make a mistake or it might not quite work out in the way you thought it would. You miss stuff, you forget to include important information or you’re just ploughing through things as quick as possible because there’s a deadline to meet.

This is one of those times. Or rather, this is the rectification for one of those times. About a year ago I penned my first article on overcoats – it was a short affair, with a series of outfits for inspiration, but it lacked any real depth. I still stand by the information contained within it, but I felt that it needed something extra.

Not one to shy away from my mistakes, I have decided to develop a more in-depth and (hopefully) informative piece that details why you should consider the overcoat as your go-to outerwear style this season.

The Overcoat

At this moment in time, the weather outside has taken a dramatic turn – the wind has picked up, the rain has started falling and the temperature is definitely dropping.

Yet whilst I have personally prepared well in advance for the transitional season and even got my winter coat sorted, many other unfortunate souls have not and it’s only fair that we do our best to rectify the situation before the climate begins to resemble arctic conditions.

General Guidelines

Before we start, there are a couple of things to remember when it comes to purchasing the perfect winter coat:

  • Many men seem to feel that they need to size up when it comes to buying a coat. WRONG. You should be able to fit yourself and your winter layers under your chosen coat in your normal size – if you can’t then the coat isn’t fit for purpose, or you might even find that it’s actually a jacket.
  • Overcoats will naturally be sized bigger through the shoulders because they are designed to fit a suit underneath. With this in mind, expect more padding, focus on finding the correct size for your shoulders and make sure the body is cut slim. Get it tailored if you need to – it might well cost more than a standard alteration but it’s worth having done, especially if you opt for a timeless style that you will get continued wear out of for years to come.
  • Don’t be afraid to spend a bit more money on your coat than you would other purchases. This is a piece you’ll be wearing pretty much every day for three plus months and it will become the focal point of any ensemble when outside, so you want to buy something you are completely happy with. Good quality coats will last you years and are a worthwhile investment.
The Neutral Overcoat

When it comes to formal wear, the neutral overcoat is king. Whether you opt for grey, charcoal or navy you’ve got yourself an extremely versatile piece that will slot seamlessly into your existing wardrobe. Due to its tailored shape and minimal detailing, it’s perfect for layering over your suit on the morning commute, ensuring protection from the elements, but it can also transition from work to play, taking any casual look up a notch instantly.

For example, throw it on over a grey sweater, blue Oxford shirt and slim-leg jeans combination and finish with a pair of brogue boots for a well put together winter look. Alternatively, smarten things up with a tailored shirt and blazer and you’re still looking better than pretty much every other man on the high street. In short, just use it in much the same way as you would your other outerwear – there is no need to over-think things.

As we’re discussing neutral colours here, it is definitely worth taking the time to consider the details that will set your coat apart. When you wear it, pop the collar to show off that fantastic contrast coloured felt under the collar. Look for interesting stitching details, buttons, patch pockets or inner linings. If you will predominantly be using yours for work (especially in the business/corporate world), you need to find something a bit more unique to you, in order to make your coat stand out.

One simple, cost-effective way of ensuring your coat is truly one of a kind is by making some simple DIY alterations. Cheap plastic buttons can be changed to real horn or mother of pearl, badges or decorative pins can add a unique touch to lapels and you could even potentially add your very own felt under collar with a bit of practise. There are plenty of videos and guides out there (try YouTube) to help you along your way.

Whether you opt for single- or double-breasted is determined by both your preference and body shape. As a general rule: tall and inverted triangle body types would benefit from double-breasted (although they can wear both) whilst short men and the larger of our kind should stick to single-breasted.

A single-breasted coat will also be easier to wear both formally and casually, whilst double-breasted examples make more of a statement due to their powerful and imposing silhouette. However, a double-breasted version works much better with formal wear than it does casually because it needs to be done up most of the time to retain its shape.

Personally, I would avoid black unless you are going to a formal evening event, as you risk looking too much like a doorman. Charcoal would make for a softer, more versatile alternative.

Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Neutral Overcoats Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

m&s collezione aw13he by mango aw13he by mango winter 2013suitsupply aw13suitsupply aw13sisley aw13reiss aw13house of fraser aw13he by mango november 2012Strellson aw13Boglioli aw12next aw12
Current Styles
  • Uniqlo Men Chesterfield Coat+eUniqlo Men Chesterfield Coat+e
  • Zara Coat With ZipsZara Coat With Zips
  • French Connection Formal Melton Tailored CoatFrench Connection Formal Melton Tailored Coat
  • Sandro Slim-fit Wool-blend OvercoatSandro Slim-fit Wool-blend Overcoat
  • Reiss Chaplin Long Epsom Coat GreyReiss Chaplin Long Epsom Coat Grey
  • Patrizia Pepe Classic Coat – GreyPatrizia Pepe Classic Coat - Grey
  • He By Mango Double-breasted Wool-blend CoatHe By Mango Double-breasted Wool-blend Coat
  • Indigo & Maine Wool CoatIndigo & Maine Wool Coat
  • Ted Baker Long Wool CoatTed Baker Long Wool Coat
The Check/Pattern Overcoat

Checks are a major trend for AW13, especially within suiting and outerwear. Whether you opt for large or small checks, you are most certainly making a statement – a check wool overcoat would look great juxtaposed against your classic block-coloured suiting, or used as a stand out piece within your casual wardrobe.

If you choose to wear this type of overcoat with your formal wear, avoid pattern clashing – window pane, Glen plaid or Prince of Wales suits won’t sit well with checked outerwear, so it might be worth having a neutral overcoat as an alternative. As a general rule: the darker the palette, the larger your checks can be; the bolder the palette, the smaller they should be – it’s all about striking a balance between statement and vulgarity.

As the checked overcoat is slightly more difficult to wear and their versatility is restricted by other patterns, they could be considered a bit of an extravagance. There is also the risk of large checks (especially coloured versions) becoming something of a passing trend, so think carefully before you part with your hard-earned cash.

On the flip-side, if you can guarantee that you will get a lot of use out of it AND you opt for a timeless style – such as those beautiful muted grey or brown versions from Suitsupply in the lookbook below – it will certainly see you right through this season and many more to come.

When it comes to choosing single- or double-breasted, I would recommend single – the check is enough of a statement already. Keep the rest of your outfit neutral and restrained so that your coat does all the talking, but don’t be afraid to pick out one of the base tones within the pattern to help tie your look together and show that you pay attention to the details.

Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Neutral Overcoats Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

Luigi Bianchi Mantova aw13suitsupply aw13charles tyrwhitt aw13ami aw13Duchamp aw12suitsupply aw13saint laurent for sense magazine 2013Boglioli aw12h&m modern classics
Current Styles
  • Reiss Miles Window Pane Check Coat ChocolateReiss Miles Window Pane Check Coat Chocolate
  • Allsaints Alberta CoatAllsaints Alberta Coat
  • Charcoal Plaid Double-breasted TopcoatCharcoal Plaid Double-breasted Topcoat
  • Harris Tweed Clothing Murdo – Classic Coat – BlueHarris Tweed Clothing Murdo - Classic Coat - Blue
  • Joe Casely-hayford For John Lewis Tamworth Overcoat NavyJoe Casely-hayford For John Lewis Tamworth Overcoat Navy
  • Sand Mens Sand Sultan OvercoatSand Mens Sand Sultan Overcoat
  • Check Velvet Collar OvercoatCheck Velvet Collar Overcoat
  • Jigsaw Harris Tweed OvercoatJigsaw Harris Tweed Overcoat
  • Hentsch Man Slim-fit Houndstooth Wool OvercoatHentsch Man Slim-fit Houndstooth Wool Overcoat
  • Zara Checked Overcoat With Faux Leather DetailZara Checked Overcoat With Faux Leather Detail
  • Olive Tweed British Wool OvercoatOlive Tweed British Wool Overcoat
  • Ami Slim-fit Prince Of Wales Check Wool CoatAmi Slim-fit Prince Of Wales Check Wool Coat
The Camel Overcoat

Matt featured the camel/khaki/beige/tan overcoat in his recent AW13 Capsule Wardrobe Additions piece, so you already know that it’s a sure-fire choice for winter. A daring option by any stretch of the imagination (perhaps even more so than the check overcoat), because the colour is so beautifully rich and strong, the camel overcoat will be your statement of the season.

As Matt pointed out in his article, every major fashion publication has been raving about the camel overcoat for the past couple of autumn/winter seasons. Now we’ve all had time to adjust and the idea has had a chance to mature, this could well be the year that it really takes off.

However, if you are going to make a statement like this, you need to make sure you get it right. Bearing in mind our general guidelines above, pick a coat that is cut close to the body whilst still leaving enough room for your suit or casual layers. Also be aware that lighter shades of cream or beige emphasise shadows and folds in materials naturally, which, although great for bulking out tall frames, means you need to get the fit perfect in order to stop the coat from overpowering your entire look and ruining your slim, tailored lines.

This is particularly true of double-breasted jackets that rely on being done up to keep their shape – if you don’t want to wear it done up all the time, you will need to find a slim-fit version.

Belted overcoats were a big trend in the 1990s and although the era is trending, I think we can all agree that it’s not a look we need to ressurect. Just one more reason for finding a coat that is naturally slim fitting.

Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Neutral Overcoats Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

m&s aw13reiss true to form 2013j lindeberg aw13Armand Basi aw13reiss aw13Gieves & Hawkes aw13brunello cucinelli aw13Boglioli aw12barneys new york aw12
Current Styles
  • Topman Stone Crombie CoatTopman Stone Crombie Coat
  • Collezione Luxury Italian Wool Rich Coat With CashmereCollezione Luxury Italian Wool Rich Coat With Cashmere
  • French Connection Three Quarter OvercoatFrench Connection Three Quarter Overcoat
  • Reiss Kanye Double Breasted Coat Lapel CamelReiss Kanye Double Breasted Coat Lapel Camel
  • Austin Reed 110 Tobacco OvercoatAustin Reed 110 Tobacco Overcoat
  • Austin Reed Bugatti Long Oatmeal Car CoatAustin Reed Bugatti Long Oatmeal Car Coat
  • Camel Wool Belted TrenchCamel Wool Belted Trench
  • Acne Garret Wool OvercoatAcne Garret Wool Overcoat
  • Band Of Outsiders Double-breasted Wool-blend Corduroy CoatBand Of Outsiders Double-breasted Wool-blend Corduroy Coat

In terms of accessories, there are only three you really need to worry about: gloves, scarves and pocket squares.

Stick to leather or streamlined, plain wool gloves – you don’t want to cheapen the appearance of your expensive coat with anything too casual. It is a tailored item after all.

A medium weight wool scarf, tied so that the bulk of material sits in the neck opening of coat, will work perfectly here. If you are accessorising for fashion purposes rather than practicality, you could also think about using a lightweight silk version. These will be even less intrusive on the way the coat lies and can add a nice pop of colour or an on trend print to an ensemble, especially when set against a neutral overcoat.

Pocket squares are a bit of a tricky issue. Adding a pocket square to the breast pocket of a coat seems a little too try hard to my mind. You could certainly store your sunglasses or gloves in there for a touch of sprezzatura, but a pocket square just seems too delicate to work with big, thick outerwear such as this.

However, if you do choose to work in a pocket square, try and adjust it to your context: classic and refined for work, textured and patterned for your days off.

Final Word

The overcoat is a classic, timeless piece of menswear that will never go out of fashion and deserves a place within any capsule wardrobe.

Able to be used both formally and casually, they’re just as versatile as all our other winter favourites, so why not give them a go?

Are you tempted? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below…