Interesting that you should say that warmth and protection from water are “obvious”, Marla, because the vast majority of coat manufacturers – and even coat buyers – do not seem to be of that opinion. When my fellow graduates of Fashion Writing School pen articles predicated on the idea that most people have more than one winter coat, I must admit that my gob is smacked. More than 20 pairs of shoes? Totally reasonable. More than one winter coat? Marie Antoinette-ish insanity! Nonetheless, despite my coat asceticism, I have built up over the years a collection of coats so great it will probably soon need to be housed in the Wallace Collection. This is not because I have altered in my opinion that one should be monogamous to a coat, at least for one winter. Rather it is because I – for too long – proved utterly unable to buy a winter coat that was halfway warm, and for that I blame both myself and the coats.
Oh sure, these coats had covered buttons, nifty cuts, pretty collars, elegant belts – but what they never seemed to have was warmth. To be honest, it was a bit like dating. You go out there thinking, “Yes, yes, I know what I want: I want someone kind, smart, thoughtful, funny and not addicted to anything”, and you come home with a sociopathic monster with a cocaine problem, just because he has pretty eyes. But at least you can shake off the sociopathic cokehead – with the coat, you’re stuck shivering until March.
I used to think that my coat problem stemmed from my coat cheapness: I only buy coats on the high street. I was disabused of this theory when my mother one year very sweetly bought me a posh coat for my birthday, which was lovely (thanks, Mum!) but utterly useless in temperatures below 15C (sorry, Mum!)
And I get it, of course I do. Coat manufacturers spend more time making their coats look pretty because prettiness tempts consumers more quickly than practicality, which is why I own about 12 coats I can’t wear and have met more sociopathic weirdos than a person should know in five lifetimes.
But there comes a point when covered buttons and sociopathy just don’t do it for you any more, no matter how pretty the buttons or eyes. You want something (or someone) that makes you feel, I don’t know, content. But does that mean sacrificing prettiness? Settling for spinach and forsaking chocolate cake?
No, Marla, it does not. For example, last winter I was living in New York and it became so cold I bought, in an afternoon of frostbitten despair, a floorlength padded coat that made me more look more Glo-Worm than human. I was now warm (and a worm), yes, but the feeling it brought of having been essentially dehumanised somewhat mitigated the sense of pleasure. And then I came back to London, headed straight to Topshop and bought the most amazing duffle coat for a mere £90 that has now seen me snugly through two winters and will last at least two more.
So, warmth and attractiveness can go together. But there are some things you need to look out for in order for this to work. First, make sure the coat is of a length that will work with the rest of your wardrobe: ie, don’t buy a mid-thigh coat if most of your clothes go down to your knee. Only get a coat with big pockets, otherwise you will lose your gloves and hat within a month, guaranteed. Ensure the coat properly does up all the way (not a given with a duffle coat – you need a zip or snaps as well as the toggles). And, most of all, get a coat with a hood.
Why don’t all coats have hoods? Why does the tide go in and out? Why are we all here on this planet? Why? Why? But most of all, why don’t all coats have hoods?
Hoods are my non-negotiable essential on winter coats from hereon, ever since my beloved Topshop duffle taught me what I’d been missing all this time. It’s like the first time you go out with someone who’s not a total creep and you realise: “Oh wait! I’m supposed to be happy in a relationship! Who knew?” I feel the same about coats with hoods: “Oh, my head can be warm in the winter? Amazing!” Hoods protect the blowdry and protect the head in a way a hat can rarely manage.
So you see, it really isn’t easy. Just stop wasting your time on hoodless sociopathic coats with a cocaine problem.