Any halfway decent coat should keep you from turning into a human icicle, but staying warm, dry, and stylish simultaneously is a little more complicated. Fads, by definition, come and go. Instead of focusing on the trends of the day, we’ve focused our attention on six coat styles that have stood the test of time. Use the information here to educate yourself on the history and anatomy of these classic coats. Once you’re familiar with the basics, you will have the tools you need to invest in a coat so great that your children will be fighting over it after you’re long gone.
The Pea Coat
The pea coat is a thigh length double-breasted coat popularized by the navy, designed to shield seamen against the biting chill of the open sea. To this day, its nautical origins have stuck and many modern pea coats have anchors engraved on the buttons. A pea coat features a double-breasted button closure with a wide notched collar and lapel. Traditionally these coats are made of heavy, scratchy melton wool in either navy or black. As the years have gone by the wool used in making pea coats has softened and the colors available have broadened.
The pea coat allows the wearer to transition from formal to casual with ease. Shrug it on over a T-shirt and jeans and it instantly adds a component of laid-back sophistication. Wear it with a button-up shirt and a pair of slacks and it fits in seamlessly. If you’re just beginning your coat collection, a black pea coat is the perfect place to start; it’s timeless, versatile, and warm.
The Trench Coat
Trench coats trace their roots back to World War I, where they were named after the very trenches they were worn in. Thomas Burberry designed trench coats for the British military and later implemented his own special water-repellent fabric known as gabardine. This new fabric was sturdy, lightweight, weatherproof, and could easily be worn over everyday wear. Because of gabardine’s numerous positive attributes, the trench coat transitioned easily from military attire and into mainstream fashion.
The trench coat is traditionally a long coat that extends to the shins, is double-breasted with wide lapels, and is belted at the waist. A key characteristic of the trench is the numerous details in its construction. A wide vent extends across the back of the coat to allow for more movement and the shoulders are often graced with decorative epaulets. Belting on the cuffs is also common as well as a turndown collar, usually worn flipped upwards. Although a double-breasted closure is traditional, single-breasted versions are also available.
Trench coats pair well with both casual and formal attire and make a great all-weather all-occasion coat. Whether you’re an aspiring heartthrob, à la Humphrey Bogart, or a mysterious sophisticate, à la Inspector Clouseau, the trench coat is an iconic and a solid coat choice. A word of warning: wearing a trench coat when the weather doesn’t warrant it may have you looking like you’ve got something to hide. Anyone want to buy a watch?
Due to the fact that an overcoat is intended to be worn over a standard suit, it tends to feature a wider cut. Generally, an overcoat is constructed of high-quality wool fabrics that are designed to withstand harsh weather. Its original construction includes a single-breasted closure, notched collar, flap pockets, and a welt pocket at the chest. When an overcoat is lighter in weight and intended for less extreme weather conditions, it is often called a topcoat. When it is heavier in weight it is sometimes called a greatcoat.
The overcoat is simple in style with little ornamentation. This simplicity means that it should pair well with most suits. Because this coat is intended for more formal affairs, a dark or neutral color may prove to be a more versatile investment. Though subtle in its styling, this classic coat has graced the shoulders of some of history’s most intriguing characters. Al Capone, for one, was known to don this number over his classic pinstripe suits during his devious dealings in Chicago.
The Car Coat
The car coat was initially designed to keep drivers warm from the wind while driving old fashioned open cars. Its slight A-line cut and wide cuffs were intended to allow a full range of motion while driving. The car coat is customarily made of heavy wool and features a flat front placket over its closure to shield from wind and rain. A typical car coat is thigh-length with a straight collar and two welt pockets. The type of closure varies between a zipper and buttons, though buttons are most common.
The car coat is a utilitarian coat that isn’t heavy on the details but gives stylish minimalism to any outfit. It can easily be dressed up or down and is a great basic for your everyday adventures.
The Duffle Coat
The duffle coat adopted its name from the rough and tough wool fabric it was originally made of: duffel. Like many coats, the duffle coat owes its popularity in modern day fashion to its military origins. Duffle coats were a garment of the British Royal Navy during World War I and II and its iconic toggle closure was designed to be able to be fastened and unfastened while wearing gloves out at sea. This coat usually has three to four toggles known as “walrus teeth” that are fastened with leather or rope loops. Its oversized hood was originally designed to allow room for a naval cap to remain on underneath. This coat also features a buttonable strap at the neck and two patch pockets. Besides the toggles, a defining characteristic of the duffle coat is its fuzzy tartan lining. Modern versions of this coat usually end at about hip-length, although more original versions extend to the knee.
This coat is usually worn casually because its bright characteristics would drastically dress down a formal outfit. The duffle coat is perfect for running errands or grabbing drinks with a friend.
When it comes to weathering the elements, the parka is king. It was initially conceived by the Caribou Inuit to cope with extreme Arctic climates during hunting expeditions. Back then, parkas were constructed of caribou or seal skin. The parkas of today are made from lightweight synthetic materials and lined with down. These updated materials have added bulk to the original design and contribute to the modern parka’s puffy look. It is not uncommon to hear a parka referred to as a “puffer” coat. A parka ranges in length from waist-length to knee-length and generally features a large and fur-lined hood and a zipper closure.
Though some use the words “parka” and “anorak” interchangeably, this is inaccurate. An anorak is technically a pull-over jacket as opposed to the parka’s open-front coat structure.
The parka creates a sporty look best suited for casual attire and makes for a fantastic outer shell to your other cold-weather layers. You won’t want to find yourself caught in a blustery snowstorm without one.
That’s a Wrap
After a tailored suit and a polished pair of dress shoes, a great coat should be the next item to check off your list of wardrobe staples. Staying warm and stylish is not an easy feat but a well selected classic coat can satisfy both. Which style will you be adding to your closet next?