The Art of Buying a Winter Coat

Left: Striped Coat at Maje | Buffalo Plaid Rachel Comey Coat at Bird

When I first moved to New York in 2009, I had never seen snow. A born-and-raised Floridian, I owned exactly one winter coat: A Ralph by Ralph Lauren military number I picked up at Burlington Coat Factory in 2000. My first few years in NYC were lean. It got so cold in my Brooklyn apartment, I slept in that coat almost every night — and wore it every day.

It was practically a national holiday when I had enough money to buy a new coat in 2012. And since then, I’ve strategically acquired a well-rounded coat collection — including a consignment puffer, a second-hand trench, a consignment plaid peacoat and a basic black coat. All were affordable and warm.

They’re also all business — no frills.

Coats should be ready for anything.
Coats must be ready for anything. Photo taken December 2013.

A reliable coat is as important to New Yorkers as a functioning car for Los Angelenos. And because a coat is often all that protects us from snow, subway seat germs and errant bus splashes, most of us choose function over design. But just like a car, a coat CAN come with some luxurious bells and whistles — call it the convertible effect.

And this year, I decided I wanted the convertible — something special I didn’t snag secondhand.

My goal was simple: find a luxury, non-boring coat that didn’t break the bank. I started by pinning Internet images, pining for a $795 Milly coat, but I just couldn’t justify a coat that sheds. Then I moved over to magazines, poring over this coat-centric feature in T Magazine — but was dismayed with Ferrari-esque prices.

This Milly coat is terrific. But at $795, I needed more function.
This Milly coat is terrific. But with my luck, that feather trim would be molting within 5 minutes.

So, I hit some of my favorite Brooklyn boutiques, hoping my old neighborhood might have some affordable options. I ran into two problems:

1. Quality coats, even non-designer, are expensive. Because I had bought all my coats second-hand or on super-duper sale, I was unprepared for the sticker shock. For a pretty coat with serious warmth, prices start at $500.

2. Unusual coats come at a particular premium and are the trickiest to purchase. I was particularly interested in a slouchy coat — but there’s a thin line between “oversized” and “sleeping bag.”

There’s only one thing to do in these situations: Try everything.

Here were some of the options I took for a test drive:

Left: Acne Coat at Bird | Right: Rachel Comey Coat at Bird
Left: Denise Boiled Wool Coat By Acne Studios at Bird ($690) | Right: King Brushed Alpaca Coat by Rachel Comey Coat at Bird ($605)

My verdict: I liked the slouchy shapes, but coats without buttons are not really “coats.” I also wanted something more colorful.

Left: Emerald Emily Coat (Vegan) at VauteCouture | Varsity Jacket Coat at Maje
Left: Emerald Emily Coat (Vegan) at VauteCouture ($385) | Long Wool Varsity Coat at Maje ($815)

My take? The green coat was gorgeous, but I have no experience with vegan coats and am unfamiliar with the warmth quotient. The varsity coat is adorable — but pure novelty.

Left: Striped Coat at Maje | Buffalo Plaid Rachel Comey Coat at Bird
Left: Striped Wool Coat at Maje ($835) | Karloff Melton Wool Plaid Coat by Rachel Comey at Bird ($720)

My favorites: The black and white version is a surefire classic and the red slouch coat reminds me of Fargo. (That’s a big compliment.)

I THINK I’ve found my dream coat, but you tell me: Do you have any favorites from this post? And are you trying out the new slouchy shapes in stores? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook.

  • Andrea Billups

    My best coat purchase ever started in mid-July. I was living in Washington, D.C. and weekend shopping with my gal pal Shana. i ran upon a princess-cut raspberry and grey herringbone Michael Kors number. The color was totally me, but at $1,200, it seemed way high. This was 2001, mind you. But Shana urged me to try to it on and it fit like a glove. It was classic, colorful and practical in the Washington work world. I walked away from it. And about an hour later, after Shana telling me I’d never find anything i LOVED more, i turned back around and paid full price. I still wear that coat today, 13 years later. It’s in excellent shape and I’d still choose it without hesitation. I love it that much. One of the top 10 things i ever bought. The price WAS worth it. 🙂

    • Diana @ The Style Pragmatist

      Thanks, Andrea! That’s a wonderful point — you really knocked the cost-per-wear quotient out of the park. I need to shop with you and Shana!

  • Rhiannon

    This is the post I was waiting for to brag about my greatest find EVER! A GORGEOUS $2300 coat that I scored for $100. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever owned, and it’s the only reason I’m excited for winter. However, there was no art only pure luck with that one. My thoughts on your selections is that none of them seem warm enough for those single digit days! I’m also partial to long coats with a vintage feel to them. Coats and jackets to me are shoes and purses to other women.

  • Rhiannon

    Of the choices, I would go with the gray alpaca or the striped wool. Not a fan of the red plaid. I like the green, but I’m with you on the vegan uncertainty. Although I do have a puffer-type jacket filled with some synthetic fiber, and I like it just fine. I like my fibers natural when possible, and I really want leather and wool (and…fur) to keep me warm. Sorry, animals.

    • Diana @ The Style Pragmatist

      Interesting thought — is there a general consensus that animal by products (wool, goose down, fur trim) are necessary for heavy duty winters? Curious what other readers think! And you made an interesting point about my choices — I went shopping on one of the hottest days this summer, which may have influenced me. Oh and I NEED to see your $2,300 for $100 coat! What a great find.