Winter is, on most counts, rubbish. But everything rubbish about it – the cold, the dark, the wet – presents one big bonus: you get to wear big coats again. The right coat is an outfit in itself, a piece that combines practicality and style like nothing else in your wardrobe. They’re also fairly impervious to trends. Which means even an infrequent shopper can stealthily build a high-quality collection over a few years. If, that is, you buy right.
“Look for something that’s good quality, stylish and versatile,” says Nick Eley, head of design at ASOS. “You want something that’s going to last as well as look good. Because you’re going to be wearing it a lot, you need it to work with the other clothes in your wardrobe.”
Style is, of course, a consideration. But not at the expense of comfort. No man ever looked good shivering. “The most important thing to look for in a winter coat is something that will keep you warm and dry,” says Freddie Kemp, stylist at Thread. “In an ideal world you’d have a collection of all the styles here, as each serves a different practical and style purpose.”
The Trench Coat
The trench’s origins are as murky as the weather it’s designed for. Initially claimed by Aquascutum in the 1850s, Burberry reinvented the style in 1901 as the army officer’s raincoat and its legend was forged in Belgium’s trenches. But it’s made its mark on civvy street too. From Dick Tracy’s canary yellow to Morgan Freeman’s outerwear as Detective Lt. William Somerset in Se7en, the trench coat is the tell-tale uniform of the private eye.
Perhaps because the trench is so easy to style. “It’s the most versatile of all outerwear options, as it can be dressed up or down seamlessly,” says Kemp. “Make sure it fits well at the shoulders and flows nicely with your build. Look for a lightweight, water-repellent material, and the length should finish at mid-thigh. You can easily wear it over your suit, or dress it down with a check shirt, black jeans and minimal white trainers.”
So long as you nail the fit. “It’s very easy to look like you’re wearing your granddad’s trench,” says David Gandy’s stylist, Joe Ottaway. “Consider how and when you will be wearing the trench: if you plan to wear it over your suit to work, take your suit jacket with you when shopping. As a rule of thumb, the trench coat shoulder line should extend half-to-one inch past your natural shoulder line, to accommodate a blazer jacket, and the sleeves should be a couple of inches longer than a suit jacket.”
Like the trench, the shearling coat also served its time in the forces. But as befits such a luxe and delicate material, it was far removed from the mud, worn by pilots to keep them warm in uncovered cockpits.
This season’s update is less flyboy, according to Damien Paul, head of menswear at MatchesFashion.com: “Valentino has lined a denim and felt coat, whilst Saint Laurent have lined a checked jacket.”
All of which makes it more versatile. “Shearling marries very well with several fabrics,” says Ben Andrew, menswear buyer at Liberty. “Leather is the obvious one, but denim and wool combinations are also great options at a more accessible price point.” Just make sure the rest of your outfit is toned down, to let the jacket do the talking.
Not least because, at the price you’ll pay for real shearling, you’ll want it to put in a shift. “It is an investment,” says Ottaway. “As with any good leather, it will age better with time, to the point where it can become a family heirloom. Bite the bullet and invest what you can. The market is flooded with pleather options, which – for me – don’t cut the mustard.
“Channel your inner Memphis Bell pilot and choose a dark tan or brown with a classic, shearling detailed collar. Pair the jacket with crew neck tee and corduroys for off-duty, effortless style.”
The Technical Rain Jacket
That wear everywhere advice does not extend to weather that would worry Noah. Shearling plays poorly with rain. So when the heaven’s open, you need something more robust. “A rain jacket should fit true to size,” says Kemp. “Don’t go too slim, as you’re likely to be wearing it over a couple of layers, or too big, as it will overwhelm your shape and, more importantly, let the rain in.”
Waterproof fabrics are a must, naturally. But don’t be fooled by ‘water repellent’, which will shrug off the odd shower, but not rain that’s like having a shower.
Going for a well-known and reputable outdoors brand will ensure your buy is foolproof. “The market is flooded with lots of high tech materials, so it can be overwhelming,” says Ottaway. “I recommend choosing a jacket with Gore-Tex Paclite, which seals out rain and snow, and is much more durable than any other material. The fit should be generous to allow for layering with lightweight wool and fleece clothing.”
Foul-weather jackets tend to sacrifice style for practicality, but you don’t have to forgo aesthetics in the quest to stay dry. Just stick to neutrals – neon’s handy for being found on a foggy moor. Less so in the city.
The Lightweight Raincoat
Like the previous style, the lightweight raincoat is an autumn wardrobe essential; the pack-away shell can be easily stored in your bag, ready to be withdrawn in showery weather.
As designers embrace the value of layering, they’ve begun to craft designs that won’t make you look like you’re on a school trip. “Lightweight raincoats shouldn’t be too close fitting as anything close to the body is liable to soak through,” says Eley. “Nylons are a great showerproof option, but for the heavier downpours go for a rubberised fabric.”
As you’re going to be pulling this jacket out at different times, it needs to be versatile. “Look for something that you can style with sweatpants as easily as you can trousers,” says Lee Goldup, senior menswear buyer at London boutique, Browns. “Buy a size up, as you may want to chuck this over the top of another coat or jacket.”
“This is a good opportunity to inject and play with some bold colour,” says Ottaway. “Don’t get too hung up on how to style this; you’re buying a raincoat for purely practical reasons and that practicality will allow it to style with anything. The beauty of a rain jacket is that it’s lightweight and convenient. Always take advantage of the practicality of what this piece can offer your wardrobe.”
This Inuit original became globally renowned in the 1950s as a US Army staple, adopting its famed green colour and fur lining. During the Korean War, the lighter fishtail parka evolved for tropical climates, then became a favourite for mods, who would sling one over their suits to stay protected on their scooters. As with anything military, it’s now become a modern wardrobe staple.
“It’s a classic style that should be in every man’s wardrobe,” says Goldup. “It’s best worn with jeans and sneakers – look out for a quality fabric that suits the season with a decent sized hood.”
To pull off the effortless effect of the parka, consider functionality as well as style. “A high level of water resistance is good,” says Kamp. “Don’t shy away from man-made technical fabrics as they tend to be better than natural fabrics for guarding against the elements. If you want added warmth, look for one that has a down filling.
“Go for a loose fit, though try to avoid going too oversized, as you don’t want it to look slouchy. For length, choose a style that hits mid-thigh to knee-length.”
“As winters become increasingly mild in the UK, the overcoat has become more of a fashion piece than a functional one,” says Andrews. “So designers have got more creative with the fabrics, colours and shapes. Rich tones, lightweight wools, tweeds and check are the common themes this winter and will provide the perfect anchor point for your winter wardrobe.”
But let the coat make the only statement. “With oversized versions – one of the key trends for AW16 – I’d advise wearing it with a slimmer silhouette outfit. A fine knit sweater and slim jeans, for instance. This way it accentuates the jacket’s proportions without the full outfit engulfing you.”
From oversized to classic frames, the overcoat is a new season highlight at brands like Alexander McQueen, Raey, A.P.C and Burberry, in a multitude of styles. “A good overcoat should be able to be dressed up as easily as it can be dressed down,” says Goldup. “It can be thrown over a sweatshirt and jeans or worn smart over a shirt and trousers.”
Details like bold linings, and graphic printing, will elevate the look, as they move with your stride.