Secret to Finding a Perfect Winter Coat: Make One


Last year, I wrote about the pain of finding a winter coat. The 2015 coat shipments are already trickling into department stores, and once again, I am shocked at the prices. (The Proenza Schouler camel version I’m eying is $1,600, which makes me physically ill.)

But here’s a different approach from my fabulous friend Andrea Billups, a People magazine writerhandbag designer and all-around modern-day princess. Andrea is a genius when it comes to wardrobe hacks — which came in handy when she co-designed this amazing travel bag.

Here’s the brilliant way she’s stocking her wardrobe with new coats this fall — take it away, Miss Andrea!

Miss Andrea Billups
Miss Andrea Billups

I’ve been on the search for the perfect coat for years now. Oh, it’s not that I don’t have plenty of serviceable outerwear pieces. I do. But the coat I’m dreaming of is elusive. I know just what I want — and it’s not in any designers’ collections this season, I feel certain.

Let me step back with a great (and bittersweet) coat story. In 2000, on a sweltering July Sunday in Washington, D.C., I went shopping with my late friend Shana. The coats were just put out and I saw a confection — a raspberry pink and gray herringbone princess-cut coat by Michael Kors. It was $1,200. (This was 15 years ago, so if you adjusted for inflation, it would be roughly $1,600 today.)

I looked at it. Marveled that it was perfect. Then walked away. Later that afternoon, Shana turned to me and said: “You should get that coat. Go back and try it on.”


Miss Andrea's pink Michael Kors coat. Purchased in 2000, she still wears it today.
Miss Andrea’s pink Michael Kors coat. Purchased in 2000, she still wears it today.

Her encouragement was all I needed. I went back, put on my size and — with the exception of sleeves, which were far too long — it WAS perfect. “You won’t regret this purchase,” Shana urged. I knew she was right.

So I laid down my charge card (it was probably smoking after that) and bought the Kors coat on the spot — full price. In July. (I pride myself on finding a bargain, so this is highly unusual.)

While I still wear the original Kors coat, I’ve spent years looking for other coats that are just as good. I’ve started buying some vintage Vogue patterns. I’m determined to have my dream coat made, and I know this for certain: doing that, even with the seamstress fees, it will still cost far less that what I paid for the Kors delight more than a decade ago.

A sketch of the Vogue pattern Miss Andrea will be employing.
One interpretation of the Vogue pattern Miss Andrea will be employing for her fall maxi-coat supply.

In fact, over the next couple of months, I plan to make two versions of the same coat. Why decide on one if you love them both. (I’m even pondering having a green one made for a friend). One of mine will be in hot pink wide-wale Liberty of London corduroy with a mod paisley contrast lining. My second coat will be made from black wide-wale corduroy with a different paisley inside.

The pattern is Vogue V8346 (available for $16.50), and I’m going for the maxi-length, although there are shorter versions included.

I’m thinking a very 70s Britain look and feel, inspired by my Emma Peel fetish.

Emma Peel rocked the pink outerwear.
Emma Peel rocked the pink outerwear.

The pink fabric I selected will turn heads because its wildly unexpected. Meanwhile, the black is sleek and chic — although I’ll be pairing its relative plainness with a stunning pair of hot pink leather gloves purchased during my last trip to Florence. With riding boots underneath, these coats are hardcore enough to carry me through much of winter, while still being light enough but warm enough for days when it’s not snowing.

Another variation of the Vogue coat pattern.
Another variation of the Vogue coat pattern.

Most rewarding? I’ll have unique pieces that I’ve been envisioning — yet never finding — for years, and at a discounted price. (Finding someone to sew for you might even be easier than you think — chances are, your friends or dry cleaner have several recommendations at the ready.)

One caveat: double-check pattern sizes. Americans have gotten bigger, and you may need to move up a size to compensate for the size differential, depending on how old the pattern. (Sad. But true. Me included.)