As Old Man Winter gets ready to shower us with ice and snow, we here at Ask Andy start thinking about the best winter coats for men. This is intended to be a quick reference guide for formal and casual coat styles. We cover how a coat should fit, some formal coats, casual coats, and some tips on where to find a good one.
How Should a Winter Coat Fit?
Over the years, we’ve spent a good deal of time talking about the importance of fit. A well-fitting suit, shirt, or pair of pants makes you look more approachable, presentable, and successful. The principles of fit also extend to your outerwear.
Much like your suiting, shoulder fit is paramount when it comes to outerwear. A tailor can alter many parts of a coat; but he most likely cannot alter the shoulder.
So, a proper-fitting coat should have a clean line from the shoulder seam down the arm. “Divots”, or wrinkles around the shoulder, should be kept to a minimum. Of course, wrinkles and rumples happen when you, you know, move– but do try to find a coat with as little divoting as possible.
A ‘half-inch of linen’ is a pretty standard rule for sleeve length on your suit jackets. However, pulling that on a coat will result in one that’s quite short!
This is especially the case if you’re wearing gloves. The coat sleeve will just get caught, which makes for a very annoying situation!
So, we’d recommend a sleeve length that sits between your wrist bone and your thumb knuckle connecting to your palm. That way, we have enough sleeve length to keep the cold out, but not so much you can’t shake an acquaintance’s hand.
Hem Length on Formal Coats
Much like styling the short and tall man, coat hems will vary like your suit jackets.
Proportion is, of course, key. The shorter you are, the shorter your jacket hem can reasonably be.
If you’re a shorter man (under 5’8″ or 173cm), look for a coat that completely covers your seat and hits mid-thigh between your crotch line and your knee.
Taller men (6’1″ and above) should avoid cropped or short coats and choose hems ending right at the knee line. That ‘drape’ creates a beautiful line, which plays up your height and slims you out.
Men of “regular” (5’9″-6’0″) height have some variance here. They can comfortably wear both longer and shorter coats and look balanced doing it!
The torso on winter coats for men can be a little more generous, as they’re likely going to be worn over other garments like suit jackets and sweaters.
So, we’d recommend a coat that leaves plenty of room to button comfortably. The coat should have some shape to it, but not so much excess fabric that it billows around your torso.
A Final Note on Fit: Sizing
Many department-store coats come in standard sizing: Small, Medium, Large, XL, etc. In this case, we’d consider sizing up– as many of these aren’t designed to worn with suiting.
More classic brands like London Fog and Burberry will often have specific sizing, e.g. 42R. In this case, take your normal size, as the garment already has that extra room built in.
Formal Winter Coat Style for Men
Formal coats are, of course, designed to be worn with suiting.
The Chesterfield is arguably the first-and most formal- of the true winter coats for gentlemen. Invention of the coat is widely credited to George, the 6th Earl of Chesterfield, in the mid-19th century.
Variations on this coat, too, have evolved over time. Originally, the coat was-in stark contrast to the prevailing Regency fashion of the day-cut rather loose, with specific intent to be worn over another coat. It was probably black, single-breasted, and designed with a velvet collar.
The velvet collar may be a little more rare these days, but the form of the Chesterfield is what many of us are really thinking of when we think of an overcoat.
A Paletot is a double-breasted overcoat. It’s got a 6×2 button configuration, peaked lapels, and is has a longer, knee-length hem.
They’re made from a thick, woolen cloth. At between 25 and 30 grams/yard, it’s quite heavy.
It can come in a range of fabrics and colors, from a plain navy to a tan tweed with burgundy and green houndstooth.
We find, though, a paletot in solid navy or charcoal is the most versatile application of this garment.
The topcoat is perhaps the most common formal winter garment today. Also most commonly found in wool or cashmere, it’s a bit lighter than the paletot at around 16-18 grams/yard.
In modern applications, the topcoat usually hits just above the knee.
It can be found in both single and double breasted applications and in solid and patterned colorways.
Solid in navy and charcoal are perfectly fine-but we’re quite keen on camel. Also, for patterns, we do like a black and white houndstooh
A pea coat (also known as a peacoat, pea jacket, pilot jacket, reefer jacket) is an outer coat made from heavy wool, generally navy in color. They are best know for being originally worn by sailors of European and later American navies.
A quality pea coat, made from high wool content provide a great amount of warmth — they can also be quite heavy. Paired with a warm cap, scarf and gloves, a Pea Coat will get you though some of the coldest winter weather.
A duffle coat is an especially interesting coat. It’s traditionally made from “duffel”, a doubleweave woolen cloth originating from Duffel, Belgium.
Its defining characteristics, though, are the wooden toggle fastenings used in place of buttons on the front and the large hood in the back.
Traditionally a naval garment, it’s most commonly found today in navy colorways. However, you’ll also find it in brown with flecks of green.
A throwback to the “Golden Age” of the late 1920’s and 1930’s a polo coat another full-cut formal coat. It’s got a 6×2 (or more) button configuration, usually wide, peaked lapels, and hits right at the knee.
That vintage vibe is made all the more interesting by the fabric it used to be made with: camel hair! Indeed, this is the original “camel topcoat.”
It’s especially difficult to find true camel hair coats today (and 100% camel hair tends to wear out very quickly), so most often you’ll find quality ones in virgin or recycled wool.
Curious about Polo Coats? Ask one of our experts a question in one of the many Polo Coat discussions in our forum!
The Trench Coat is a staple nearly any time of year. Classically cut in a gabardine cotton cloth, it (as the name implies) has a military heritage from the European trenches of the First World War. Officers and enlisted men kept their coats after the guns fell silent and they became quite fashionable.
Most common colors include tan, olive, and black- although the former is what most of us think of. Especially when it’s Bogart in Casablanca!
Additional defining characteristics include a removable interior lining, raglan sleeves, gun flaps, and (most notably) a D-ring belt. Although myths persist the D-ring was to attach hand grenades, more likely residents were maps, swords, and other standard issue military equipment.
The length has also varied across the decades. Originally, the coat extended almost to the ankle- thus ensuring no water would get in! However, more modern hems of the coat can finish even above the knee.
As the exterior shell and interior lining come in a variety of weights, the trench coat is an excellent choice for a three-season coat.
It’s also quite versatile, equally at home paired with cotton trousers and a sweatshirt as it is with a three piece suit.
Casual Winter Coats for Men
The best winter coats for men aren’t limited to the formal options. A casual combination can be relaxed, but also versatile and stylish. Below, we cover a few of our favorites.
Parka Jacket / Ski Jacket
A ski jacket, also known as a parka, is what most of us think of for winter casual wear.
It got its start in the 1950s and 60s and the rise of synthetic, polyester-based textiles like Gore-Tex. It’s since expanded to become fairly common winter wear for many men. This includes pairing with suits!
Despite the lack of style, a puffy parka jacket with hood and (possibly) fur ruff is called for when it’s very cold. Although, they can be too warm to wear when going from the bitter cold outdoors to a more protected environment like a car, train, or subway.
Their voluminous bulk makes any confined seating worse, so parkas are generally best worn when you’re planning outdoor activities exclusively.
While these jackets may be warm and highly water-resistant, we’d recommend you reserve them for the ski slopes or shoveling snow. Instead, consider our next option- the waxed cotton jacket.
Waxed Cotton Jacket
The waxed cotton jacket is a classic, casual piece of menswear and, in our opinion, one of the best winter coats for men.
Originally designed for hunting and shooting in British country clothing, the “waxed” cotton is thick, woven fiber impregnated with paraffin or beeswax woven right into the cloth.
These creates a doubly strong fiber with natural water resistance.
These jackets are commonly lined with tartan or other prints from the British Isles.
A few other notes on the jacket, though. While they are exceptionally water-resistant, they are not very breathable and tend to overheat the wearer.
How To Wear A Barbour Waxed Cotton Jacket
- This type of jacket is a purely casual garment, derived from sporting and field applications of yesteryear. Do not ever pair this coat with a suit
- Remember your Barbour jacket is impregnated with wax. Heat melts wax. Don’t ever hang your coat to dry near a heat source. And keep the seat heaters off in your car if you’re not looking to add a shiny coat of wax
- Layering looks best and can extend the functional use of the coat through three seasons. In addition to shedding rain with ease, these coats are exceptionally good at keeping a biting wind at bay
- Layering with wool and cashmere can result in a very comfy cold-weather ensemble
Barbour or Belstaff are classic makers. They are quite expensive when new; but many good vintage options can be found on eBay. Or, you can take the approach that friend-of-the-site Carl Murawski did and just make your own!
Shearling coats are considered to be beautiful luxuries by some. They’re warm, obviously durable, though paradoxically also delicate if you want them to retain their appearance. Shearling needs to be attended to just as any suede garment requires.
They can show wear and stain easily, so keep that in mind if you prefer this style of coat. Consider using a protectant on the suede, and sponge the shearling itself with Woolite if and when needed.
Shearling coats can also be somewhat heavy for the amount of warmth they offer, and can bind when moving unless they fit very well.
You can find them in both dress or casual styles, as shown below.
Puffer Down Jacket or Vest
The down-filled “puffer” jacket has been a fashion statement for the last 30 years.
Goose down or synthetic down are wrapped tightly in a polyester shell. Stitching creates ridges, giving a “puff”-like effect. In theory, this traps heat and keeps you warmer. In practice, that claim may be a little overblown.
What is real, though, is that these jackets can command astronomical prices and become status systems. Brands like Patagonia, The North Face, and (most notoriously) Canada Goose routinely fetch $500 or more for a single coat.
Here at Ask Andy, we’d encourage you to consider the overall value of a coat like this.
In the same vein as the puffer jacket, quarter and half-zip jackets also make appearances in mens casual wear. They’re often made from a synthetic material (like PolarTec) and do retain heat fairly well.
They can also be had for a reasonable price. Brands like REI, LL Bean, or Land’s End do make a good product that’s more than adequate for raking leaves, hiking, or other outdoor activities.
However, we’d resist the urge to wear this garment with business clothing-especially suits! The clash of formalities makes for a very awkward and inharmonious look.
So, Where to Look?
You have no shortage of options when looking for a good winter coat. Investing in a new garment is certainly an option. However, quality of materials, especially in overcoats, has greatly decreased in recent times.
So, if looking for an overcoat, we’d recommend vintage shopping or searching on websites like eBay, Poshmark, or Etsy. It may take a little more time, but your chances of getting a quality garment that will stand the test of time are much better.
Casual coats, though, are likely going to be better either new or gently used. Performance fabrics continue to get stronger, lighter, and more effective. So, something you buy made recently will be much better than a vintage ski jacket.
Final Thoughts: Quality Matters
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little about the best winter coats for men. Of course, this guide only scratches the surface of what’s out there!
If just starting out, we’d certainly recommend a more formal coat than a casual one. It’s easier to dress down a topcoat than dress up a parka!
Whichever you go for, though, quality should be first and foremost. A good piece of outerwear will not only be more effective at combating the elements, but will last you a decade or more-even with regular wear.
Looking to learn more about how to dress for cold weather? Be sure to check out our comprehensive Winter Style for Men Guide article.
Thanks for reading, and stay warm!