As I have advanced in my career, I’ve found myself in situations where I am wearing business casual plus my giant winter coat, which makes me feel completely frumpy (I call it my sleeping bag). I would really like a nice overcoat that will fit over a suit and provide warmth. Prior wool coats aren’t warm, or have had impractical closures. I hate the fast fashion cycle and am craving something that I can stick with for years to come. What do you advise? — Danielle, Queens
There is no question that the puffer has experienced a major renaissance in recent years, in part because fur has fallen widely out of favor, and in part because Moncler has been so effective at recasting the erstwhile shapeless down jacket as a genuine fashion item. But there’s also no question that, as you point out, there are occasions that demand a different kind of outerwear.
No matter how elegant, puffers still carry with them the smell of the slopes. And those whose happy places do not include outdoor winter sports may feel like impostors wearing a garment whose antecedents seem to lead directly to blustery snowscapes.
The solution, said Jeremy Scott, creative director of Moschino, is “a sleek ankle-length greatcoat” — most notably the sort once favored by the military, looking to keep the cold out during periods of long exposure. The key to trapping in heat, he added, is choosing a double-breasted style.
There’s a reason, after all, that the greatcoats favored by the British military in World War I were originally known as “British Warm.” With double rows of buttons and a high closure at the neck, the cut ensures maximum bodily protection, and conveys a certain no-nonsense strength that works particularly well for both men and women. It’s the fashion equivalent of power posing.
Greatcoats come at all levels of the price spectrum. But given that they have been the go-to outerwear for over a century — and the fact that, when it comes to fabrication, generally you get what you pay for — they should be considered an investment purchase, one you can amortize over time.
While the original British greatcoats came in Melton wool and with metal buttons, the style these days has become cross-pollinated with more generic overcoats, loosening up the definition to include a variety of materials, colors, buttons and details (or lack of them, for the more minimally inclined; epaulets now optional).
On the very high end are the classic British offerings from Belstaff and Harris Wharf, but also check out this multi button style from Karen Millen or this from Reformation. For those interested in hunting down a bargain, there are gems to be found on the sites of army/navy surplus stores, as well as on eBay, Etsy and such end-of-season platforms as Yoox, which has a great Barbour option currently on sale.
For the less purist among us, the designer Sergio Hudson also suggests looking at styles in faux shearling, such as this coat from Banana Republic. “It’s very durable, you can dress them up or down, and they add a nice fashion sensibility to outerwear,” he said. And Mr. Hudson would know, given that he designed the plum-colored coat Michelle Obama wore to President Biden’s inauguration. It wasn’t a greatcoat per se, but it was unquestionably a great one.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.