08 October 2011

Reader Questions

A question involving men's coats...even if it was 80 degrees in Boston today...
image: Gazette of Fashion, 1872, via Wikipedia

John writes:

I'm having trouble finding a good, classic winter jacket and am wondering if you could throw out some ideas. The only jacket I really have in mind right now is the barbour sylkoil bedale (with a liner). Just a couple things about myself that may be helpful: I'm 21, in college, average build.

For starters, I think a man could do worse in Winter than a Barbour Bedale with zip out lining. The trick here is not to fall too hard for fashion, and get one in your proper size. A Barbour jacket should fit a litle boxy and down to mid thigh. Besides being infinitely better suited to keeping the rain off than a jacket too short, the additional room provides ample space for the coat to be worn over a bulky sweater or even a down vest, a combo I'm quite fond of for snow shovelling. This coat, when fitted such, goes well over a tweed jacket...in a pinch even over a suit. The fashion of the times may be for a coat (or everything else) a size too small, but this will look dated and silly soon enough.  A Barbour may be relatively expensive for a man of 21, but it is an investment, something you'll own and use for a very long time if you purchase wisely. Ebay, outlets, and the Sierra Trading Post are good places to hunt for deals. Just be sure you get one made in England. Otherwise, it ain't really a Barbour.

There are other options, some better than others. A navy surplus pea coat will keep you warm and stylish in casual situations, but can be limiting for dressier affairs. The classic duffel, or toggle, coat looks great with jeans and a sweater, flannels and blazer, or a suit, especially in the "preppy" vein. Honestly, if you're stylish and confident enough, wear it with a tux...I dare you. They're warm as hell,  and the hood is handy in the wind. These days, they've enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, so the options are open wide. Of course, thirft stores are my preferred place to find these things, but you can get one in the mall at the Gap, in a place like Brooks Brothers, or online direct from England. Gloverall is the standard here, but a younger man with a little style can make do with one of the knock-offs until he graduates up to the good stuff. Avoid plaids or silly colors. A duffel coat is best expressed in tan, navy or loden (dark, hunter green).

Dressier still but also versatile is a coat in grey herringbone tweed. Single breasted, with a simple three button front and moderate lapels, this coat was made for suits and business clothes, but has no problem hanging over dark jeans and a sweater. A bit more dashing than the duffle coat, and maybe a bit more grown-up. Make sure it has enough room in the fit to accomodate bulky clothes underneath, and keep it just short of knee length. Again, there are a lot of reasonably good looking cheap options available to young men these days, but if you can, buy the good one. This is another piece you could potentially wear forever, so don't be afraid to invest.

Styles such as the polo, Chesterfield or Covert coat are real swell, but none of these can be the only coat. Save these styles for supplemental options later down the line. "Puffer" coats are great for sledding, skiing, snow ball fights with cute girls, and Sunday morning bacon and eggs trips. They're a disaster with dress clothes, so these too should be supplemental.

Whatever style you choose, and whatever you wear, only one real "rule" applies: keep warm.

That is what a coat is for, after all. Isn't it?


Scott Alexander said...

Wonderfully comprehensive post. Couldn't agree more on the options.

Anonymous said...

I would check out Peregrine Clothing. Their wax jackets have a better cut and fit than Barbour and all are made in England.

Anonymous said...

I would argue that you have missed the forest for the trees here, which is to say, thrifting an heirloom winter coat on the cheap is one of the easier scores out there. For whatever reason, Goodwills and Salvation Armies are lousy with high-quality topcoats, at least where I live: Anything that isn't a household word--and that includes Tripler, Hickey-Freeman and Aquascutum--is easy to get for south of ten bucks, which probably says a lot about where I live. But, seriously, top-quality winter coats are both affordable and addictive, sayeth the man with the stuff-eth closet.

Giuseppe said...

Point taken and duly noted.

As you may well have guessed, I own one of each of the coats I duscussed, and of them the Barbour was the only one purchased new...at deep discount in an outlet store.

I find that of all the things that a thrift shop might separate for a higher ticket, commonly it's the coats. Even still, well made wool coats by brands such as you've mentioned sell for $15-$30, while sweatshop crap with pro-sports logos scores the high coin.

Young Fogey said...

I once had an incredible topcoat in college. I got constant compliments on it. It was a black & white houndstooth, with raglan sleeves and a three-button front. Mid-thigh length and lightweight, it cost me one whole dollar.

I retired it when I got a heavier, longer one that was more suited to where I lived at the time. However, I regret getting rid of it, because where I live now, the heavy one is too much, and I need a nice lightweight one.

Be careful when you weed out your closet!

Stephen said...

I am hunting for a duffel coat. Are they supposed to be oversized? The ones I've seen that are marked as size 40 measure up to 50 inches in the chest. Out of curiosity, how often do you see a duffel coat at Goodwill?

How do lined trench coats fit into this mix?

Young Fogey said...


I think trench coats are another menswear classic. They should probably be in some shade of tan or taupe, and since they are most normally used as raincoats, waterproof would be best, wouldn't it?

Many have removable linings, making them do double duty as winter coats. Best with a tie, they can also be paired with more casual clothes, but it's probably best to keep them away from the jeans.

A trench coat could serve as a man's sole coat if need be.

There are also raincoats in much the same material as trench coats but with a single-breasted fly front and raglan sleeves. These coats are beltless, and may have a removable lining. While not to everyone's taste, they are usually available in a wider variety of colors than trench coats.

...ciao... alf..... said...

nell armadio di un uomo elegante,non puo mancare un barbour bedale