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Ask Belle: Affordable Winter Coats

Hi Belle, 

I moved to DC from California last October and was not prepared for a real winter- I had never even seen snow fall. Thankfully last winter was an anomaly, but I’m getting pretty worried for this winter and am on the lookout for a warm coat at a decent (under $250) price range. Entry level job + grad school = very little money for shopping. Do you have any recommendations for picking out a wool coat online? I figure I would have better luck at finding a bargain online as opposed to going to the mall. How do you determine if it’s a warm/durable coat if you can’t see it in person? Should I size up when buying a coat so that I can wear layers underneath, or will my usual top size be okay? That’s probably a dumb question, but the concept of having to wear a sweater, scarf, and coat is still pretty strange (and annoying) to me.  

Thanks! AB

Real winter? In D.C.? Hysterical. (Says the Montana native. Though getting to work during Snowmaggedon was no joke.)

While I may think of the Washington, D.C. winters are milder than what I’m used to, I know that many Washingtonians struggle to stay warm on their commute.  So here are some tips on buying a warm winter coat.

Go Natural.  A lot of inexpensive coats are made with synthetic fibers like acetate, rayon and polyester.  These materials do not a warm coat make.  When buying a coat look for an outer layer made of wool or mostly wool.  You want a coat made of 60-percent wool, if not more.  The more wool the better.

Line ‘Em Up.  A number of brands make coats lined with down, Thinsulate or fleece.  You want this.  J.CREW makes a great Thinsulate lined coat, but if you want something more affordable, Alloy makes wool blend coats with a Thinsulate liner that sell for less-than-$100.

Longer is Better.  Peacoats are great, but if you’re looking for cozy warmth, you want something that touches or nearly touches your knees.  So look for something longer to shelter your upper legs from the cold.

Size Up.  The mistake a lot of women make is buying a coat that fits them snugly when they’re wearing just one layer.  Not smart.  Instead, try on the coat while wearing a tank, a tee and a heavy sweater.  If you wear a suit coat regularly, try it on while wearing your blazer.  Because if the coat is so small that you can’t button it up, it can’t keep you warm.

Seen and Purchased.  I don’t recommend buying coats before you see or try them on in person.  To find a good winter coat, you need to be able to feel the weight, inspect the seams, check the fabric content on the tag (websites rarely list percentages) and gauge the fit.  So unless the coat can be returned to the store for free, don’t buy online.  Go to the store and try it on.

Now that we’ve discussed some buying tips, here are some under-$250 coats guaranteed to keep you warm and cozy through a Washington winter.

Duffle Coat ($178) // French Connection Wool Tie Coat ($167) // Mango Tabs Wool Coat ($229) // Via Spiga Stand Collar Coat ($248) // Factory Wool Coat ($152)

You might notice one thing that all of these coats have in common, a tall collar.  If you want to stay warm, you need to keep your head and neck warm.  The extra covering on the neck, especially if you add a sweater, can help you in that regard.

LEAVE A COMMENT

    17 comments

  1. gingerr says:

    More often than not DC winters are more wet than bitterly cold. A mid-weight coat with waterproof shoes/boots and several weights of hats/scarves/gloves can stretch a starting wardrobe. If you usually wear a jacket/sweater to work you don't need such a heavy coat.

    As a long-time Metro commuter I go for insulated coats that can be washed. Escalators and handrails are greasy, street water will find its way onto the hem and your coat will get dirty. It's easy to throw a coat in the washer/dryer over the weekend.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. SC says:

    As someone who is constantly cold if the temperature dips below about 76, I have to disagree with Belle on the wool coats with thinsulate. They look nice for work but they just don't get the job done. If you can only afford one coat I'd go with one she recommends, so you'll look nice for work, but plan to wear lots of layers and a warm hat and gloves. For true warmth though, you need a puffy coat filled with down or a ski coat with many layers. And you'll still be cold sometimes. The good news is it only gets really cold in DC at the end of January and in February. Boots will help too.

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  3. J says:

    If your parents are in a position to do so, this is one of the times you might ask for a present. When I left for college on the east coast, my mother bought me a good quality heavy winter coat that was probably in the $500 range. I didn't want it at the time- I was 18 and invincible!- but it made her feel like she could keep her baby warm and dry from a long distance, and boy was she right. The coat- grey wool past my knees with silk lining- has been worn nearly every day for 4 months out of the year for the past five years and still looks brand new. A great investment, but one that I certainly couldn't have afforded on my own (and still can't.)

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  4. Anna says:

    If your family is from California, it might be worth it to look for coats if you go home for the holidays. I've found some pretty good deals on coats when I've gone shopping back home in Florida. There are definitely less of them but since no one really buys coats or knows what to look for, the good quality coats don't get snatched up as quickly as they do here and they get marked down more significantly.

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  5. K... says:

    For classic wool-blend coats, I recommend Talbots. They usually offer the same coat both with and without a Thinsulate lining. Watch the prices; they will have killer sales later in the season.

    However, I suggest considering something more water-resistant than ordinary wool. I like the selections from Lands End and LL Bean.

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  6. Laura says:

    I can certainly attest to the quality of the Thinsulate coats at J.Crew. As a fellow grad student, I know financing a good jacket can be difficult, but keep in mind that you can get an extra 15% off of everything at both the J.Crew main and factory stores if you show them your student ID.

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  7. Mel says:

    On super cold days I will layer my northface pullover under my jacket (no one can see it). Also, silk long johns. They are freaking amazing.

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  8. Anonymous says:

    For AB:

    For someone who finds winter coats, scarves and hats a shock to the system b/c you're lucky enough to have spent a lot of time where you almost never need winter apparel, I would suggest going with something pretty classic and medium-priced range because you want it to be good quality enough without breaking the bank. Besides, DC's winters are pretty moderate for winter season (with the odd exception from year-to-year). Try a classic, go-with everything color (black, maybe grey, camel, navy). Camel is a nice color but it will show dirt faster than darker colors. I threw it in there in case you like to wear colors that would go well with camel or it suits you better. I think pea coats are a bit casual so if' you're looking to spend on only 1 coat, I think a mid-length coat (as opposed to near floor length) would be a great compromise. Long enough for cold days and it's a good length to wear on slightly casual days or more dressy occasions. I also think down coats look casual. If you are susceptible to the cold, though, down might be something to consider, since they are making them less bulky these days. I also think the duffle coat looks a little casual. As I said I think if you're only looking to buy 1 coat, it should work in a number of occasions so a classic color/shape might work best for you. I think you can find coats in the 200-300 range, even at places like J. Crew. J Crew seems to be pretty expensive but I've seen things like nice classic coats in the 200-300 range. No, I don't work for J Crew. Good luck!

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  9. J says:

    I just bought a similar Via Spiga coat for this upcoming winter. I went to Macy's first and tried a bunch of coats on to get a feel for sizes and styles. The one I wanted was only in Navy blue in the store. So after I tried it on, I googled in and found the color I wanted on Amazon for 40% off. I'd definitely recommend trying some things on first because every brand runs differently and then seeing if the one you like can be found online for less.

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  10. Whitney says:

    @ J: Yes to getting help from parents for important clothing items if they are able to do so. My heavy winter down coat (J.Crew Wintress Puffer) was a Christmas gift from my mom, and I wore it every day through the DC Snowmageddon. I called home to thank her for it about once a week.

    @ AB: My regular winter coat that is perfect for the average January/February in DC is a knee-length black wool/cashmere blend with Thinsulate lining, also from J.Crew, and I bought it for under $250 with one of their 25%-off promos. Also, you can find great deals on coats at Macy's when they have their post-holiday sales in January, which is when you REALLY start to need a heavy coat.

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  11. MM says:

    Oh my gosh, I had not looked at the Alloy website in oh, 10 years, but I used to come home from school and spend an hour pouring over their catalogue when I was in middle school…what an odd memory jog!

    October 16, 2012/Reply
  12. Marilla says:

    I am weighing in from Canada, so you could say I know a thing or two about winter coats! I think that some of the comments here are right on the money — camel coats look great but get terribly dirty. You will spend a fortune on dry-cleaning. Wool is warm, but not great in really wet and damp weather. Down coats have become my new best friend. The newer ones don't make you look like the Michelin Man. They are thinner, lightweight, dry quickly and can be cleaned more easily than wool. The downside is that they are not as dressy as a long, wool dress coat. But if you want a full length, warm wool dress coat be prepared to shell out good money for it. You get what you pay for. A cheap wool coat will feel like cardboard and not last very long. And I think the advice given by Belle is extremely important – you MUST try it on. You simply cannot buy a winter coat online as you won't be able to feel it and decide how much room you have for layering under it.

    October 17, 2012/Reply
  13. Moosita says:

    I moved to DC five winters ago from sunny Texas and had the same rude awakening!

    I have always had good luck finding good winter coats without paying an absurd $200 or $300 at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack and the like. My first “DC coat” was a long black Calvin Klein from the Marshalls in Columbia Heights that I got for like $70. Last year at the Pentagon City Marshalls, I found a beautiful Adrienne Vittadini tan wool trench for FORTY DOLLARS!

    October 17, 2012/Reply
  14. m says:

    My non-Thinsulate JCrew coats have gotten me through several New England winters, and I've never been cold in them. Maybe I'm just weird, but I'd rather do without the extra bulk and $ for Thinsulate.

    Scarves and gloves are essential winter accessories for keeping warm!

    October 17, 2012/Reply
  15. NB says:

    Costco!!!
    The clothing section at Costco is pretty sparse but when they have coats, they are a great deal. I have at least 4 Costco coats. My favorite is a beautiful cranberry red Michael Kors wool coat that cost about $50.

    October 17, 2012/Reply
  16. Beyond Hope says:

    I do a lot of my shopping online because the deals are fantastic on beautiful clothes. I don’t think you have to try the coat on, as long as there is an option to return it. I recently purchased a $750+ Kate Spade 100% wool coat on eBay, brand new, for just over $200.

    April 25, 2013/Reply
  17. Erika says:

    Belle,
    Can you please update this list? As fall is firmly upon us in the Northeast, I would love to update my coat wardrobe. Casual and dressier options would be awesome as sometimes things call for more than Patagonia (which I love). Thank you!!!
    As always love the blog.
    Erika

    October 25, 2016/Reply