How To Choose the Perfect Winter Coat

J.Crew Mercantile Women's Classic Wool Cocoon Coat 12

It’s November, which means it’s almost time to break out those winter coats (or, maybe you already have!).  Either way, it’s no doubt that a winter coat is a wardrobe essential this time of year when it comes to both practically and style.

Honestly, this is the first year I ever put some serious thought into the style of my winter coats.  And I have Instagram to thank for that, along with all the style bloggers I follow that feature super chic, layered outfits.  Let’s just say, I’m digging the whole high-waisted ankle jeans + slouchy sweater + ankle boots + long winter coat look.  But I also haven’t lost my years-old love for casual-cozy puffer coats (I could live in them!).

No matter what style you prefer, if you’re on the market for a new coat this season, here are a few things to keep in mind before making a purchase to ensure that you pick up something you’ll actually wear – hopefully for years to come.  Because style doesn’t trump all when it comes in investment pieces…

J.Crew Mercantile Women's Classic Wool Cocoon Coat 12

J.Crew Mercantile Women's Classic Wool Cocoon Coat 12

Figure out what you actually need.  Coats tend to be some of the priciest items in our wardrobe, and they also take up the most space in our closets and storage.  So, unless you’re lifestyle calls for a ton of variety with very little repeats, you’ll probably be set with 2-4 to suit different outfits and occasions.  Start by sorting through storage, basement closets, and wherever else your coats from prior years may be hiding.  Then think about what you need to fill in the gaps.  Generally, I like to have at least these four coats in my wardrobe:

  1. An everyday coat that matches a majority of my daily outfits. This can be a dressy or casual coat, depending on your style personality.
  2. A dressier, more tailored coat to wear out for evenings or special occasions.  I find a slimming, solid black coat works best here.  However, if you wear mostly black or grey for special occasions, a jewel tone like emerald or sapphire/royal blue would look amazing too.
  3. A casual coat for the weekends.  This could be a parka or puffer coat – something that pairs well with a tee and jeans, or sweats.
  4. A classic trench coat for those slightly warmer days during the fall-to-winter and winter-to-spring transitions.

Have an idea what shape works best for you.  Just like with any other piece of clothing, it helps to know what works best for your unique body type before diving head first into the coat department.  Consider things like length, collars, waist-ties, and overall shape, and try to narrow it down based on what’s worked best for you in the past.  If you’re considering trying out a brand new style, bring someone else along to give you a second opinion, or snap a few photos of yourself outside the dressing room (you’ll be surprised how great something might look in the mirror, but when you actually see yourself IRL, you’re opinion completely changes!).

J.Crew Mercantile Women's Classic Wool Cocoon Coat 12

Check the fit. When you’re trying on a coat – something you’ll likely wearing day in and day out – fit is key.  Here are some things to check after you’ve done the necessary twirls in front of the mirror admiring the style and shape…

  • Lift your arms to make sure the shoulders allow for movement.
  • Fold in your elbow in to make sure the arms aren’t too skinny or stiff.
  • Check the sleeve length – coats with full arm lengths should cover the wrists.
  • Close the coat completely and make sure it doesn’t pull anywhere.
  • Make sure you can move around in your coat comfortably. Walk around a bit and sit down to ensure that the fit and weight suits you.
  • If you plan on wearing it with layers, bring a sweater or blazer along and make sure to test out all of the above.

Whether you’re shopping online or in the store, make it worth your while and try on 2-3 different sizes so you can compare and make sure you’re getting the best fit. (Because even if it’s a brand you frequently shop, sizes can sometimes range between pieces.)

J.Crew Mercantile Women's Classic Wool Cocoon Coat 12

How To Choose Your Perfect Winter Coat - J.Crew Mercantile Wool Cocoon Coat

Be practical.  You may have found the most gorgeous style coat that flatters your silhouette and fits perfectly, but don’t checkout just yet.  Consider how practical it is for your current wardrobe and lifestyle.  Does it matches the overall style of your current outfits?  Does it hit at the right spot on your dresses or skirts?  Then think about your lifestyle, including where you’re going to be wearing it (outside for long city walks or bike rides, or on heated trains or buses), and most importantly, how warm it needs to be to make you feel comfortable.

Experiment with different sizes.  Don’t be afraid to veer from your usual size. If you’re in love with the style of an oversized coat, but find your regular size is just too bulky for your frame, size down to get a more tailored look.  Same goes for slimmer coats – size up if you plan on layering it up and/or love a looser silhouette.  Just make sure to always check the fit in the arms and shoulders, as going up/down sizes often involves taking away/adding in an inch.  Long sleeves and bottoms are easy to get hemmed, but if they’re too short, skip it.

J.Crew Mercantile Women's Turtleneck Top Amazon

Try something different.  Once you’ve added a nice basic, neutral-colored coat to your closet – aka that one that ‘goes with everything’ – then have a little fun with something a bit different, if your budget allows.  Opt for a classy plaid or houndstooth, or check pattern coat (which are very trendy this season, but also have a sort of timelessness about them).  Alternatively, you could try out a not-so-basic solid, like a soft lavender (love this one) or a bright yellow if you’re really feeling adventurous.  The trick with solids is to find one that matches a good majority of your wardrobe so you’ll have plenty of chances to actually wear it out.  If your closet is mostly make up of neutrals, you’ll be fine, but if not, snap a photo of your closet before heading to the store (or shopping online) so you have a clear reference of your closet’s color palette to guide you.

My Top Picks




Outfit details: 

Coat: J.Crew Mercantile; size 2 (also available in black, grey, emerald, rose, & royal blue)

Sweater: J.Crew Mercantile; size XS (also available in ivory & dark grey)

Watch: MVMT

Earrings: MJLuLu


How do you choose a coat? Which coats do you (wish you) have in your wardrobe?

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