People get so dreary with their wool coats, like they’re just workhorses. Wearing the same boring coat over and over for months — months!!!!! — just for warmth is an expression of defeat. After all, it’s pretty much all anyone will see of you on the street for a while. Don’t let the cold weather or seasonal affective disorder win.
What if your winter coat wasn’t a workhorse but a show pony? What if the warmth it gave you was via super-luxurious fabric that swaddled you? What if it was a color other than black, navy or camel so the guy you see when you walk your dog refers to you as “that woman in the yellow coat”? What if a winter coat was about potential?
Vintage is a great move. Search Etsy or the RealReal (or the Gem app, which searches those places, along with sites like eBay, Grailed, Poshmark, Vestiaire Collective, even LiveAuctioneers), for one of the Phoebe Philo-era Céline llama wool coats (think 2015 to 2018 or so), buy it and worry about the price later. While you’re looking for llama, try other fabrics like cashmere or, even better, vicuña.
It’s probably a good idea to order coats that are returnable. Fit is certainly a consideration, but so is smell. Coats absorb odor, and even though dryer sheets and a fan can do a lot, it can’t do much for the most perfect cashmere Bonwit Teller coat that has been in the home of a chain smoker since the 1970s.
I talked a friend out of an overpriced but low-quality coat from a mid-tier French brand and told her to search for vintage MaxMara or Jil Sander or the Row coats and to text me the results because I love supervising a shopping quest and I love being bossy. It worked. She’s now the proud owner of an espresso brown cashmere coat that was about a quarter of what she was going to pay.
Here is what my dream coat wardrobe would be, each one a lesson in a winter well lived.
Can you even talk about fancy winter coats without talking about MaxMara? The brand has a few styles it does every year. The 101801 is the double-breasted coat, the Manuela is a wrap coat, but the one I have my eye on is the Ludmilla, which is the wrap coat with an A-line silhouette. The fullness at the bottom is reminiscent of the 1950s and feels a little optimistic. It comes in black and, even better, tobacco brown. But what if you got it in the bright cornflower blue cashmere? It would look good with pretty much anything (black, navy, brown, green, pink, yellow), I promise. ($6,590)
On Christmas Eve I ended up at the Hermès boutique in the meatpacking district, dropping off a repair. But while I was in store, I drank the free water I was given and went upstairs, where I zeroed in on this wrap coat in double-sided baby cashmere that’s a shade somewhere between oatmeal and ivory. I spent a solid five minutes petting and photographing it. There’s a small ring on one of the front pockets that you could attach your keys to. Would that be weird? I guess if you’re walking around town in an Hermès coat, get as weird as you want. ($8,050)
I have two different friends on the hunt for oversize, super-luxe peacoats. This Alaïa one has shape. In the front, it’s business: just below the knees, big collar, vinyl-covered buttons. But it’s a party in back with a low martingale (a sort of strap) that gives it a gathered look. It also comes in a two-button version that hits at the hips for a more classic peacoat shape. Why decide? I’ll take both. ($5,050)
I will not entertain queries about the practicality of white coats. If you live in a world where you buy five-figure coats, practicality should not be your concern, either. I think there’s a certain point in one’s fashion journey where you get really into legacy Italian brands. MaxMara may be the gateway drug, but the end point is a label like Brunello Cucinelli or Loro Piana. This coat is a silk and cashmere blend that looks almost like a tweed. If you put it on, you’ll look like a Hitchcock heroine, even if you’re wearing sweatpants underneath. ($10,125)
The scarf coat is a whole thing this year. I don’t mean that disparagingly, just that there are a lot of potentially good ones to sort through. Toteme has a version, Tove has a version, but my favorite is from the New York label Kallmeyer. It’s made in a cashmere-wool blend and — this is crucial — the attached scarf is detachable, giving you a lot of options. I would wear the scarf as a giant head wrap with a down jacket and leather pants in 18-degree weather, or wear the coats sans scarf and open with the vintage black Levi’s 501s I just got on Etsy and my black Lucchese cowboy boots in 50-degree weather. ($1,575)
Once, because of a canceled connecting flight, I had an unexpected afternoon in Rome. I decided I wanted to go to the Massimo Alba store. I went on foot, got totally lost, ate a mortadella sandwich and came upon the boutique only to find it closed. I think the lesson was something about the journey being the destination.
Tailored, men’s-wear-inspired coats are everywhere right now, but I like Massimo Alba’s Praga coat in navy the best. It has dropped shoulders that soften the look a bit. And while I’m talking about softness, coats are not costumes. I see women all over my Instagram feed wearing their tailored coats with trousers and silk tops as if they’re playacting at being career women from a 1990s movie. Don’t do that. Wear it with whatever you normally wear. Wear it over Julia Heuer pants! ($2,635, on sale for $1,581)