Ask Allie: Warm Winter Commuter Coats

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I lived in Florida all my life, but am moving to DC for a new job and need to get a winter coat. I will be taking the bus for work and want a coat that looks professional but can survive public transportation and DC weather. Suggestions?

I need a new coat. I have the Squall from Lands’ End and have had a version of this coat for over a decade but want to get something more fashionable for work and stuff. I want it to be water repellant and I want it to have a hood and cover my [behind] when I sit on a bench. Where should I look?

I don’t wear wool but want a coat that looks nice, where can I find one that is stylish but also warm?

DC is a strange place, where it can be 70 degrees in November and 30 degrees in April. It is also quite wet in this area, many days that are cold are also with sleet, rain, or snow. In previous posts I have stated that a wool coat is more versatile and chic than one of a synthetic material, but I’ll admit it’s far more comfortable to deal with public transportation, walking, and commuting in general when you are both warm and dry and not worrying about your dry cleaning bill. Here’s some suggestions for winter coats that will keep your warm yet stylish all winter long.

lands end diamond down coat

I have a coat from Lands’ End that is very similar in style and made me a synthetic coat convert. The belt on this coat gives you a feminine shape and prevents the Michelin Man look, the faux fur trim on the hood adds a luxe feel, the longer length will keep your rear warm on cold metal benches at bus stops, and the large variety of colors and sizes means there’s a right one for each person. I like buying pieces like coats from Lands’ End because I feel confident that if a zipper breaks or there is some defect, I can easily return or replace it.

betsey johnson parka

Quilting doesn’t have to add bulk and destroy your figure; strategic quikting and padding can actually accentuate your curves and emphasize a feminine shape. This coat from Betsey Johnson gets rave reviews even from those in Alaska for it being warm, but the shape, stitching, and belt give it a modern, fashionable, and flattering fit.

DKNY double breasted wool coat

Wool doesn’t mean cold, on the contrary. If you live in a more mild climate like DC, you can get away with a wool coat for your winter. If the coat is long like this one from DKNY, you’re able to keep your legs cozy as you walk to the office or sit waiting for the train. While this coat doesn’t have a hood, it has a high collar to protect your neck and would look tres chic with anything from a cloche to a knit beanie.

patagonia down with it parka women

Again, strategic quilting to the rescue! The varied sizes of quilting give this coat shape without sacrificing warmth. While black is a safe choice, the Prussian Blue adds a level of fashion and fun to a traditional long parka.  This coat is not only warm, but also water resistant – perfect for the woman who walks or takes public transportation to work!

pendelton fox fur wool coat

Fit and flare with single breasted buttons makes this coat slimming, the traffic-stopping collar makes it stylish and extra warm. The cashmere blend will look equally at home with jeans and boots as with cocktail dresses and heels.

Tips for Purchasing a Stylish Warm Coat:

  • Look for a single statement-making detail. Fur-trimmed hood or collar, military-inspired metal buttons, belt, unique color or texture – such details will take a parka from play to professional. Keep such details to a minimum – only one statement needs to be made or it will go from chic to cheap.
  • Flatter the figure. Strategic quilting, a belt, single breasted, curved hem… such details can make the difference and have a coat be warm and chic.
  • Choose sophisticated colors. Some colors like yellow, orange, barn red, and baby blue scream ski slope or shoveling snow. Black, olive, navy, ivory, gray, dark plum, and teal give a more elegant feel to a parka.
  • Read the ingredients. Who cares what a coat looks like if it doesn’t keep you warm? Read the details – many outerwear retailers will state what temperature such a coat was made for. Wool, cashmere, down, Thinsulate – these are all materials that will keep you more warm than most synthetic blends. If you live in a wet climate be sure to find a coat that is also water-resistant or waterproof. If you choose the right textiles you can often achieve equal warmth to a bulkier coat of cheaper materials.

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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. Great post! Very good advice! Another good place to look for blazers is Target. I just got a great looking, good quality one from there for $35, and it looks just like one they have at JCrew right now!


  2. I live in Boston and I recommend the Patagonia Tres Parka. My husband bought if for me as a gift. It is pricey, but it is so versatile, durable, and waterproof. You can wear it with or without the lining, it has a detachable hood, and it covers your butt. It has a flattering A-line silhouette and I have received so many compliments on its shape. I have had mine for 3 years and I love it. I have the black one, but it comes in lots of colors. Just FYI, the fit is snug so you might need to size up.

  3. I look to see if the coat is washable. I be a magnet for greasy handrails and being able to toss the coat into the washer is nice.
    You can switch the weight of your hat/gloves/scarf around and stretch a coat across fall/winter/early spring.

  4. I have to second Mrs. M – a hat, scarf, gloves (and maybe even leggings under a skirt) can make a huge difference.

    But I also wanted to add that it’s necessary to spend some money on a good coat. A coat that retails for $40-$50 is not going to do the job all winter long.

  5. May I add a tip? When fitting a winter coat, consider whether you will be wearing it over a blazer. Many wool coats have narrow armholes and sleeves these days, so if you wear blazers to work you may want to size up. I wear a petite size 6/8/M in clothes, but I sometimes need a 10/12/L in coats. I look for wide sleeves that don’t have cuff detail (because it would be expensive to have fancy-cuffed sleeves shortened).

    1. Yup, just what I was going to say – a good fit is really important. A coat needs to fit over reasonably thick jumpers (sweaters) but not hang if worn over thinner underlayers. I bought a lovely bright plum wool and cashmere duffle coat then lost nearly 20 pounds – I’m still wearing it ‘cos I can’t afford to buy anything as nice, but I do swim in it!

  6. I’ve bought my last few winter coats from Land’s End and J.Crew. I prefer 100% wool coats (no blends) with a layer of Thinsulate. I also love that J. Crew offers their coats in Tall; finally, a coat that is long enough to fully cover my wrists! I buy classic shapes in bright colors because color makes me happy when the day is gray.

    I take the bus to work all winter and I’ve learned that what you wear with your coat is as important as the coat itself. A warm hat that covers my ears, a thick warm scarf, Thinsulate-lined gloves, and wool socks & leather or snow boots (with my pumps in my bag) are essential. If it’s really cold, I add a second scarf over the bottom half of my face, long underwear under pants, and a pair of glove liners. If it’s snowy or icy, I wear my Stabilicers.

  7. I live in Boston, and having a warm winter coat is key for me each year. I just bought a new one for this season at Eddie Bauer Outlet.

    Key details for me were that it has a down filling, is slimming (hidden belt that can be adjusted from the inside to cinch the coat at the waist), has a detachable hood, and is a dark purple color (no more black winter jackets =P).

    It looks similar to this one but it’s not the exact same one (since I bought it at the Outlet store):–JACKETS&pCategoryId=103&pCategoryName=OUTERWEAR-JACKETS–BLAZERS&gpCategoryId=3&gpCategoryName=WOMEN&ggpCategoryId=1&ggpCategoryName=EB&catPath=~~categoryId=161~~categoryName=DOWN-OUTERWEAR–JACKETS~~pCategoryId=103~~pCategoryName=OUTERWEAR-JACKETS–BLAZERS~~gpCategoryId=3~~gpCategoryName=WOMEN~~ggpCategoryId=1~~ggpCategoryName=EB&viewAll=y&pg=all&cmPathInfo=null

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