Ask Allie: Stylish yet Warm Winter Coats

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Dear Allie:
It’s a lot colder where I live (Minnesota) than where you are in DC and a simple wool peacoat isn’t going to cut it. How can I stay warm in winter without looking like the abominable snowman?

I need a new winter coat, and I want one that will keep me dry during wet slush and freezing rain as well as cold. I want it to have a hood and cover my butt because I walk several blocks to work. And since it’s a work coat, I don’t want it to look like a ski jacket, but be something I can wear to a business lunch without embarrassment. Does such a coat exist?

Why is it that all winter coats make women either freeze or look like The Michelin Man? Any suggestions where I can find one that will keep me warm when it’s below freezing but not make me look [ridiculous]?

My fellow women, I feel your pain. It’s not easy to find a coat that actually keeps you warm and doesn’t wreak havoc on your silhouette or personal style. Not easy… but definitely doable. Here’s a few tips to keep you looking stylish, professional, and frostbite-free:

eddie bauer essential down duffle
Eddie Bauer's Essential Down Duffle Coat is a winter classic – featuring StormRepel™ DWR finish, 550 fill Premium European Goose Down insulation, and a knee length, it will keep you warm even on the most blustery of winter days.  Available in regular, petite, tall, and women's sizes and two classic colors.

Choose a solid color. Yesterday I was on the elevator with a woman I recognized from a different company in our building. Based on her usual attire, I assume she is a high-ranking person within her corporation. While this woman usually looks very polished and put together, this day she looked as though she was heading for the slopes. Over her taupe pantsuit and black snakeskin pumps, she was wearing a plum and beige graphic-print shiny quilted anorak.

Same coat in black, gray, or olive would have been quite appropriate for her personal style and position with the company. The print made the jacket resemble something a toddler wears in the snow and took away from the polish of the rest of her ensemble.

Flatter the figure. Not every warm coat has to make you look like the Michelin Man. In the past couple of years companies have realized that women like to have a figure even when it’s below freezing. Coats that taper at the waist, have belts, or strategically placed quilting will flatter your figure while keeping you toasty. Last year Lands’ End sent me their Luxe Down Parka, a coat that is super warm (rated -40° to -5° Fahrenheit), but has a belt to cinch the waist. I am wearing this coat today – it was below 40 degrees when I left this morning yet I felt no chill as I walked to the Metro and stood for 15 minutes waiting for a train.

lands end luxe down parka
The Lands End Luxe Down Parka rates -40 to -5 degrees Fahrenheit, covers the bum, yet flatters the figure.  Available in six colors, as well as petite and plus sizes.

Another way to flatter the figure and stay warm is to choose a longer coat. While I don’t encourage you to purchase one of those full-length parkas that make one look as though she is walking down the street in a sleeping bag, a coat that hits between your mid-hip to your knee will better flatter your figure than one that ends at the waist. Such length of coat will also keep the entirety of your torso warm, and insulate your bum if you have to sit on a cold bench.

Reduce shine. Many parkas these days have a metallic or ultra-shiny finish which is very modern and trendy. The thing is this finish really screams “cold weather sports.” By choosing a quilted winter coat in a matte finish, the coat looks more expensive and professional.

athleta chalet coat
The Chalet Coat from Athleta stands out from the crowd with its oversized shawl  hoodie collar.  Filled with 800-count InsulEight™ down and featuring storm cuffs to keep you warm and cozy on the coldest days.  Available in three colors, regular as well as women's sizes.

Look for a stylish detail. A faux fur-trimmed hood, a contrast belt, military details – these are all additions that can take a winter coat from being appropriate for bobsledding to being appropriate for boardrooms. Just be sure to not go overboard – one specific detail is plenty, keep the rest of the details in your accessories.

Know your fabrics. A wool coat can be extremely warm if it’s 100% wool and has an insulated lining. Wool blends usually incorporate polyester which doesn’t insulate. Many companies provide details on their site or the coat’s hang tag on what temperatures are appropriate for the coat – wool blends are usually best for temperatures over 40 degrees if without an insulated lining.

llbean classic lambswool polo coat
 The L.L. Bean Classic Lambswool Polo Coat is 100% wool and lined in Thinsulate so it keeps you warm in temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit.  Available in regular, plus, and women's sizes and you can choose from five classic colors.

Even quilted coats vary in warmth. Down is usually warmer than any synthetic material, however some synthetics like Lands’ End’s PolarThin insulation are quite warm. A coat with a windproof exterior and fleece interior will be warmer than one without. Don’t assume that the puffier a coat, the warmer it will be.

Don’t rely on just the coat. While recent studies have debunked the myth that half of your body’s heat escapes through your head, heat is still lost by a bare skull. Pair your warm coat with a hat to keep your entire body feeling warm. Along with that, insulated gloves (not those knit stretch gloves from the dollar store), and a scarf to wrap around the exposed part of your neck will do wonders for keeping you warm. This seems like such common sense, but I regularly see women huddled at bus enclosures and on Metro platforms rubbing their hands to stay warm, remaining hatless so not to muss their hair.

If you are a texting machine, companies currently carry “touch” gloves that have a special pad on the index and thumb tips to let you swipe and type with ease. As for the hat head, fedoras and cloches are styles of hats that rest on the head instead of smashing down on your ‘do – while they don’t keep your ears warm they are better than nothing. A slouchy beanie is also a way to wear a hat without reuining your hairstyle – hold it in place with a Bobby pin or two to cover the tip top of your head and leave your mane free.

Those of you who live in colder climates than I, do you have any suggestions on how to remain stylish yet stay warm this winter?

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A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I also live in colder climates (military so move a lot) and this advice is right on.  I have a coat that meets these guidelines and I use it when I need to look nicer (no longer work).  I save my ski parkas for other times when style isn’t so much of a concern (skiing, ice skating, sitting at a Christmas parade when it’s 5 degrees outside, etc).  The nicer coat keeps me warm as I go from building to car to building and such but doesn’t need to keep me warm for hours on end as my parkas do on the ski slopes.  

  2. Last year I moved to a city where it hits freezing weather in November and lasts until March. I bought my first down coat, and have finally found a use for gloves! My gloves are leather with wool lining – they look sleek, they don’t let wind in, and they are warm!

  3. I’m with you on the coat length.  Longer coats can hit the floor as you sit on a train or bus or drag on the escalator where they get wet and filthy.  Different hats/scarves/gloves can help a solid coat “go” with different pants or skirts that might peek out from a mid-thigh length coat.

    I’m also a fan of coat that can be washed.  Public transit gets your cuffs dirty and it’s much easier to throw a coat in the washer than to go to the cleaners.

  4. I’m in the windy, frozen plains of Omaha, Nebraska. Allie’s advice is great!  But I also agree with the Canadian who posted earlier. 🙂  When it gets ultra cold I always wear long underwear.  There are some really nice, thin undergarments that are phenomenal at keeping the wind and cold out and the toasty heat in.  I use Cuddl Duds ( or other similar brands.  No one knows you’re wearing them and you can be warm without adding bulk.

  5. I definitely give a thumbs up to accessories.  Doesn’t matter how warm your coat is if your hands feel like icicles and there’s a cold breeze blowing down your top!!  I swear by a number of alpaca scarves I brought back from South America last summer (but any warm sheeps wool would do!) and am in the market for some of those cashmere-lined leather gloves – mmmmmm.

  6. I agree – I live in Boston and definitely, warmth has to come first in New England.  I have to chime in with this faux shearling coat I got at Lord & Taylor a couple of years ago:  I don’t know if this is the exact version, but it is similar. It is very warm – the faux shearling outer is very wind repellent, while the inside is warm and soft. It is nice and long too. It washes beautifully (machine washable!) which is great in snow and sleet. I get a ton of compliments on it because it just looks luxurious even though it feels like a blanket. The hood is great to pull on for extra warmth or to block out snow.  Price is reasonable too.

  7. Canadian chiming in here – Allie’s spot on about going with down or 100% wool (in terms of wool, the heavier the better), length of coat and a finish that is windproof. I’m going to take her “Don’t rely on just the coat” advice and take it one step further: what you wear UNDER your coat is also very important.

    I’ve got a good friend who moved here from South Africa and kept complaining about the silky lining in the arms of her coats – why did such silly things exist since they were extremely cold against her skin? Turns out she was wearing t-shirts under her winter coat and hadn’t figured out yet that most Canadians go long-sleeved and layered in the wintertime and the silky fabric was so sweaters could slide in easily.

    In essence: layers are your friend. Use them.

  8. When it comes to keeping warm, I generally look like I’m wearing a down blanket. BUT, I refuse to give up comfort for the sake of fashion. When it’s really cold and I need to be warm, I really don’t care what I look like. I rely on a long black down parka (similar to the first one shown) that I paid $100 for and have had for about 17 years.

  9. J Crew has a great wool peacoat that you can pay extra to add a Thinsulate lining to.  I’ve been wearing this coat (with the lining) for three Chicago winters now and it definitely stands up to the cold temps and wind chill!

  10. i may have to look into some of these warmer, down coats. even though im with you in DC, i seem to run colder than most people around me. i had an A-HA moment last year when i finally bought a military-style wool coat that covered my bum. i pair it with a super-long scarf that i can literally wrap up to my eyeballs if i want to and a pair of cashmere-lined leather gloves (comfy AND warm!)
    and my suggestion for ladies who dont want to wear a hat: 180s! better than earmuffs, still keep you quite warm, and they dont mess the hair. i swear by mine.

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