Buying the Perfect Winter Coat: 5 Things to Remember This Year

Buying a winter coat seems like a simple task, but a quality coat is often a piece that you should spend some significant thought, as well as a good bit of money, on getting right. After all, a classic winter coat is a piece of clothing that you can wear everyday from late autumn to early spring. And if you take care of it properly, a good winter coat will be an item that you can return to year after year.

So, why do it now? Because you can likely score some really impressive deals now that stores are starting to put out their spring offerings. If you aren’t sure where to begin, read on to find out exactly what you need to know to choose the winter coat that you’ll love and wear for many cold winters to come.

1. Choose a classic silhouette

Timeless suit

Go timeless | Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images

You’re probably well aware of the benefits of selecting classic styles, but anytime you’re going to spend a sizable chunk of change on a piece of clothing, it’s wise to make sure that you’ll get a lot of mileage out of the piece. For a winter coat, that means choosing a timeless style, not a trendy piece that you’ll need to replace next year. So what are some of the classic styles you can choose among?

A Chesterfield coat is single-breasted and has a short, notched lapel, sometimes features a velvet collar, and has either a fly front or a single-breasted front. A polo coat is made of tan-colored camel hair (or a blend of camel hair and wool to improve durability) and features either peaked lapels or an Ulster collar. A duffel coat features wooden or horn toggles to fasten the front of the coat, plus a hood for extra warmth. A peacoat is often made of navy blue wool, and features a double-breasted construction (which can keep you warmer than other styles thanks to the two layers of fabric covering your chest).

2. Realize that a good coat is an investment piece

A group of models posing

Get prepared to spend a bit more than usual | Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

If you aren’t familiar with the concept, an investment piece is simply a classic, high-quality piece that will cost you upfront, but will last you years if you properly maintain it. When you need a winter coat, you should be prepared to spend some money to get the perfect piece, especially if you’ve educated yourself on which of the many classic overcoat styles is right for you and your style. When selecting a coat, don’t go too cheap, and don’t go for a synthetic fabric, since both the coat’s warmth an longevity will suffer.

Of all of the items in your wardrobe, your winter coat is one that you’ll get the most wear out of (particularly if you live in a state where the weather turns cold in October and doesn’t really warm up again until March or April). If you choose a classic style that pairs well with your other clothes, you’ll be able to wear it every winter day for years to come. With that in mind, prepare yourself to make an investment. Buying a good coat once will prevent you from having to spend more money to replace your coat every year or two.

3. Figure out what level of warmth you need

Model walking down the runway

Go longer if you need something particularly toasty | Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

How warm your coat needs to be will depend entirely on your location and your lifestyle, so it’s wise to take stock of both when deciding what you’re looking for. If you need a tailored coat for going to and from the office, consider a high-quality wool coat. While heavy wool is ideal, some retailers also make coats of thinner wool and add a layer of Thinsulate for warmth, which can be ideal if you need a trimmer fit or if you don’t want to be weighed down by a heavy coat. Cashmere coats are another option, though can show wear more easily than wool, so if you’re interested in cashmere, consider a cashmere-wool blend.

If you’re shopping primarily online, or if you’re unfamiliar with usual outerwear terms, bear in mind that you’re probably looking for an overcoat, which is meant to be worn on top of warm winter ensembles, rather than a topcoat, which is considerably lighter, or a greatcoat, which is generally very bulky and heavy. When trying on coats, consider the weight of the material to determine the limits of what’s practical for you. To that end, you’re looking for a coat that you can easily layer over your usual winter ensemble, but one that won’t suffocate you on the walk from the elevator to your desk.

If, on the other hand, you’ll wear your coat for walking numerous city blocks in the snow, you may be more willing to choose a heavier wool than a lighter one. On that note, make sure that the detailing on your coat is functional for you. Put your hands in the pockets to make sure that they fall at a comfortable level. Make sure that you can easily button the coat, or that an attached belt is a sufficient length. And make sure that the lining is comfortable and doesn’t seem prone to catching on your sweater or shirt cuffs.

4. Consider size and fit

Male model walking runway

Make sure your favorite pieces fit comfortably underneath | Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images

It’s common knowledge that layering isn’t always as easy as style magazines would have you believe. Considering how much you want to layer will help you choose the right coat, and determine which size to buy when you find it. If your coat needs to fit over a shirt and blazer, then you might need to size up (and pay your tailor to shorten the sleeves if they end up a little too long). On the other hand, if your layering doesn’t consist of much more than an undershirt and a light sweater, then you can probably stick with your regular size. If you can, wear a typical winter outfit when you go coat-shopping. If a size is too snug with a blazer or sweater on underneath, then try on the next size up.

There are some general sizing guidelines you should keep in mind, as well. The sleeves of the coat should cover your shirt cuff as well as the sleeve of your blazer, so as to let in minimal wind and cold when worn with gloves. A knee-length coat is flattering on most guys, and not only warmer than a hip-length version but more practical than a full-length style. In all cases, the coat should fit close to the body, but not so close that it wrinkles unattractively when you try to button it.

5. Don’t miss the window of opportunity

Audience applauding male models at the end of fashion show

Give yourself time to look if you want to score something great | Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Your favorite store’s schedule most likely won’t align with the weather you’re actually experiencing, so it’s a good idea to get your coat-shopping done soon. For many stores, spring collections start arriving in December, which means that the warmest winter coats can begin disappearing even earlier than that. If you’re looking for a good deal, and aren’t going to freeze to death in the meantime, watch for sales, which seem to become increasingly frequent as the holidays approach.

Another option that works particularly well for coats is shopping vintage. But because it’s so difficult to get the fit of a coat exactly right, it’s a good idea to check out the selection at local vintage shops, only relying on eBay or other online options if you’re sure of the size you need in a given brand. When buying vintage, avoids coats with moth holes, or with extensive wear at the cuffs or collar. If you can afford bespoke, having a coat custom-made is another good option. But if you can’t afford the hefty price tag of something made just for you, taking an off-the-rack coat to your tailor to have the fit fine-tuned is an excellent idea.