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 – from parkas to heritage shearling jackets – 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.”
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. Menswear labels are increasingly taking lessons from outdoor brands that specialise in technical fabrics, so this season’s parkas are as big on functionality as they are on style. “A high level of water resistance is good,” says Kemp. “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.”
Another style to benefit from the outdoors trend is the one favoured by ramblers and ravers from the nineties. Down jackets offer near unbeatable warmth, especially for the weight of the coat itself, and if the weather is changeable, they’re ideal for taking on and off quickly. The most common styles are cropped to the waist, cut slimmer than the Michelin Man and styled in block colours that pair as easily with tailoring as they do waterproof trousers. The most modern examples, however, add some extras. Look out for parka-style hoods and longer hems for extra protection, while hiker-style details like big patch pockets or panels in a contrast colour or fabric update the look. The warmth, of course, comes from down feathers – nature’s best insulators, trapping your body heat inside. But this is a controversial point for animal rights activists, who argue it’s a cruel way to get through the winter. If you share those concerns, look to eco-minded outdoor brands like Patagonia and The North Face, which make their coats to last and offer some animal-free alternatives.
Can you touch your toes? Because your coat might this season. This year, designers are going long with trench coats that recall early military styles, puffers that look like sleeping bags, and wraparound wool coats like the one Richard Gere wore in American Gigolo. Now, unless you live beyond the Arctic Circle there’s a question over whether you need such a formidable layer, but practicality is only half the point here. It’s more about the flair. Such long coats create dramatic silhouettes and often feature epic lapels. It’s a coat to strut – not shiver – in. Even though they’ll obscure most of what you’re wearing with them, you’ll need to style with caution. Plainer styles of tops and trousers will let the coat do the talking, but don’t feel like you have to go formal. Try one with a simple tee and light-wash jeans for some less expected swagger.
It’s the coat worn by sailors and schoolchildren, generals and preppy students. It has a long history of military service while at the same time conjuring images of Enid Blyton characters. What to make of the duffle coat? Well, it’s very warm, waterproof (assuming you pay for boiled wool) and hits a cosy smart-casual note when you need to wrap up for a chilly date night. It’s also trending hard this season with designers high and low refastening the signature toggles and pulling up the giant hood. For styling, stick with a staple winter colour (black, grey, navy, camel) and pair with other winter wardrobe heroes like heavy denim, chunky knitwear and Hogwarts-appropriate scarfs.
As winters become increasingly mild in the UK and elsewhere, the overcoat has become more of a fashion piece than a functional one. 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. Anything that wouldn’t look out of place in the Peaky Blinders wardrobe department will work. And you can wear it in a number of ways. It pairs with with your wool trousers and grandad-collar shirt, without looking like a Shelby pastiche. But clashing with less formal styles will get even more wear out of such an investment piece. Wear a double-breasted or oversized coat open with a simple T-shirt and mid-wash denim. Even some drawstring trousers will work. “A good overcoat should be able to be dressed up as easily as it can be dressed down,” says Lee Goldup, senior menswear buyer at London boutique, Browns.
Winter Bomber Jacket
Bomber jackets have been in fashion for decades but they take on different personalities at different times. There’s a place for slimline Scandi versions and snazzy varsity jackets, but this season the one to be seen in looks more like an old-school flight jacket (an A1 or G2 for the menswear buffs). The calling cards are a zipped front, sheepskin trim and big patch pockets on the front. Add a heritage check and you’re golden. This is a blanket of a coat but because it’s cropped, it’s not as formal as some of the other styles on this list. You can wear it with jeans or use it to bring dressier trousers down a peg or two. Underneath, you can fit multiple layers but we’d recommend keeping them reasonably a light: shirts, thin-gauge knitwear and so on. For a modern way of wearing it, create a tonal outfit that picks out colours from the check on the jacket.
Is it a coat or a dressing gown? The line gets blurry with this autumn-winter trend, which sees luxurious overcoats envelope you with a belt to keep the sartorial hug in place. And we’re not talking about trench coats, which usually come with a belt, but big soft overcoats that wouldn’t look out of place in the bathroom of a luxury hotel. It’s a big look admittedly, one favoured by mobsters, rock stars and presidents at various points in history. Which means there’s plenty of inspiration out there – and when you dig into it, you’ll find it’s a surprisingly versatile coat. It can go very formal: wear one to the opera or over a tuxedo and it will look perfectly at home. But you can also subvert that by dressing it down in a sleazy way that Tyler Durden might approve of. Think V-neck sweaters with no shirt beneath. A safer middle ground would be a pair of smart trousers with a merino roll neck.
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.” This season, the trench is going large. Long and often oversized too, the switch-up leaves more than enough room for suiting or thick winter knitwear underneath. But the point is more about formality. Floating and flapping in the wind makes the style a lot more casual, reflecting wider trends in menswear and lends the style to high-low outfits that involve denim or even sportswear.
Few of the so-called wear-anywhere coats are fit for purpose when the weather forecast is one that would worry Noah. Materials like shearling play poorly with rain. So when the heavens open, you need something more robust. “A rain coat 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, but try a 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. This is one of the few outerwear styles that can carry bold block colours.
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. Shearling marries very well with several fabrics. 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. As with any good leather, though, it will age better with time, to the point where it can become a family heirloom. Bite the bullet and invest what you can. Flight and biker jackets are the obvious way to go, but if they’re a little too obvious, channel football managers of the late ’70s with a longer style that hits the mid-thigh.