The most toxic relationship I’ve ever been in was with a quilted Ralph Lauren coat.
I’d hastily purchased the black, diamond-patterned number on sale at Macy’s after it became clear that layering sweaters underneath a leather jacket and hoping for the best just wasn’t going to cut it during a frigid New York City winter.
The sleek, waterproof coat seemed to project “I’m a dry, capable urbanite.” As soon as I purchased it, I ripped off the tag, excited to trot around town in my new coat.
The next day, I decided I hated it. The belt, which looked so good in the dressing room, kept slipping as I walked. The fitted sleeves didn't allow wiggle room for a bulky sweater I wanted to wear with it. I banished the piece to the back of my closet, on the rack of lost potential where all of my winter coats inevitably end up.
Why do I always buy the wrong winter coat? For this commitment-phobe, it's scary to pledge an entire season to just one garment I'm ostensibly supposed to wear every day. When I do decide to pick one, I face the hard decision of whether or not I want to opt for fashion or warmth.
There's also the expense: should I give up, and buy the go-to $800 Canada Goose Jacket I've seen on so many New York women (and also a couple of fancy dogs)?
Even if I could cough up that Canada Goose cash money, then I risk drawing the ire of animal rights activists who are more than ready to shame anyone for wearing a coat they allege is the product of bludgeoned coyotes.
It’s all enough to make me throw my uncovered arms in the air and move to Miami so I don’t have to waste the winter in some frumpy teddy coat.
But after a few deep breaths, I decided to be brave and try to find a suitable coat. This will be my year!
I already own three heavy winter coats, but no dependable, everyday option that's as warm as it is stylish.
The first coat in my closet is the Ralph Lauren quilted coat, which I only wear when it's raining. Another is a big-shouldered camel coat from the '80s that grazes my ankles, which means that I have to wear it with heels. The last is an old, shapeless down coat that's starting to unravel around the sleeves—it's reserved for states of emergency, only.
I quickly learned that coat shopping is the worst for everyone—it's not just a me problem. “Finding something that’s equally cute and warm is always a struggle,” an exasperated friend told me over drinks, as she burrowed deeper into her the cardigan she was wearing over another sweater. “I just give in and look like a cotton ball because I hate being cold.”
One plus-size friend told me that the oversized-everything coat trend does her no favors. “All my friends are into oversized, full-length puffy winter jackets, and I’m like, if I put that on, I would literally look like a marshmallow.” She lives in New Hampshire, where winter temperatures can frequently dip below zero, but resorts to “layering up” underneath a fleece North Face jacket.
According to Elizabeth Shobert, director of marketing for fashion analytics company StyleSage, most retailers are churning out the same types of coats. Puffers are the most produced, followed by wool overcoats, leather jackets, and parkas. Customers are also looking for similar styles—Shobert said puffers, wool coats, and teddy coats are some of the most-searched options out there.
Search “puffer coat” on Google, and you’ll find a barrage of poke-able coats worthy of Michelin Man sitting front row at fashion week.
Leave it to Planet Fashion to slide a style that's known for its simplicity into ostentatious territory: now, puffers come equipped with unnecessary accoutrements such as double breasted buttons, kitschy patterns, or gaudy fur collars.
Perhaps because of this, as a saleswoman at Assembly New York told me that, “Customers are looking for puffers that are unbranded and not fussy.”
The unisex boutique sells a $384 black puffer coat that’s as unadulterated as the store’s plain beige walls. While the simple style may not win you any personality points, this basic option does the job for those whose winter survival plan consists of fading into a sea of black-coated commuters as they rethink the whole I-guess-I-won't-move-to-Miami thing.
One Bergdorf Goodman shopper I met while cruising department stores had her eyes on a crimson Bogner Vera Quilted Puffer Coat. Though she immediately threw it off as soon as her male companion stage-whispered it cost a cool $1450, the shopper told me she was “really drawn” to the bold hue.
“I wear a lot of dark colors, so I like having a pop of color with my coat.” She then admitted she didn’t really need another piece of outerwear: “I have two coats at home that I alternate between, but I don’t love them,” she said.
I then asked a Bloomingdales stylist for her top picks of the season. "All of the it girls are getting Mackage coats in black or navy," she answered breathlessly. "That's it."
Mackage's $550 down coat looks a lot like my comforter. Wearing the coat immediately put me at ease, much like my designated No Human Contact Tuesday nights do, which I spend lying on my couch with a blanket slung over my body. The functional style will never draw double-takes—but it did feel very insulated.
As the stylist told me, “You can wear as much or as little underneath it as you want, and you’ll still feel warm.”
The utility-minded might fall for the Uniqlo Seamless Down Short Coat, a $149 option that’s warm enough to pair with the tiniest of going-out tops, according to a woman who sat next to me at dinner last weekend. She graciously invited me to “poke” her coat to test its softness, and I can confirm it is the fluffiest-feeling option that I tried.
None of these favorites really spoke to me. Where is the brocade topcoat of my dreams? Why, why, why is the cowhide jacket I so desperately want to live my life in not waterproof? I've always eschewed anonymous, get-lost-in-the-crowd styles, but while talking to saleswomen and shoppers, I noticed that the simple styles are what women continue to wear year after year.
Sure, there's a sartorial street cred that comes with dressing extremely inappropriately for the weather, and flying in the face of subzero temperatures in your suede fringe. But there's also a lot to be said for letting coats do their job, which is keeping you warm.
At the New York home of French designer Maje, a store manager gave me the coat-buying spiel she gives all customers. “Think about the coat that you don’t already have in your closet,” she told me as I peeped a row of quilted coats, much like the Ralph Lauren one I never wear. “Buy that thing.”
So what thing did I buy, then? Inspired by the store manager's words, I decided to go for the unadorned black Assembly New York puffer. Sure, it's boring, won't stop traffic, and makes me blend into the night like some kind of cursed wraith. But it will go with everything and keep me warm—plus once I get where I'm going, I can take it off and reveal a much louder outfit underneath.
In short, I will wear this winter coat. But it will not wear me.