How to choose an overcoat

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Welcome to my overcoat buying guide. A proper overcoat should be a staple of a gentlemen's wardrobe. Not seen so much these days but really the only coat to wear over a suit. It is the only thing to wear for a formal work place or for a winter wedding, funerals and the like. They have fallen from grace a little with the advent of central heating in just about all public buildings and so much use of cars. In the old days public transport was the norm so waiting for and sitting on draughty buses, trains, trams etc meant braving the elements for a longer period of time - and hats were also prevalent for the same reason. These days a similar cold weather environment is a racecourse and it is no coincidence that a traditional overcoat accompanied by a hat or cap is de rigeur for most of the professional trainers, horse owners, press etc.

There are a number of styles to choose from, but I tend to stay with the Chesterfield type or smart double breasted. With or without velvet collar. These never go out of fashion and the style has remained more or less the same for almost a century. The Chesterfield is the proper name for a Crombie type with notched lapels and three button fastening down the front. Pockets are either flapped, or the handwarmer type which are the diagonal slit pockets that your hands can slip into. It will have a plain back with a vent. If the coat is going to be worn frequently it might be an idea to wear gloves if you have flapped pockets because if you keep your hand in your pockets eventually the material will stretch and 'bag'. Some people prefer the look of a double breasted coat, and some prefer the extra warmth from the material being overlapped at the front.

The crème de la crème is a Pure Cashmere coat. Warmth for weight there is nothing to touch it. It has the insulation properties of approximately three times that of sheeps wool. Cashmere is a fibre obtained from specially bred goats. It is fine in texture, strong, light and soft. It is from the undercoat of these goats and has to be separated from the hair by a combing process. This process is laborious and expensive, and that coupled with how much is produced annually makes it much more costly than ordinary sheeps wool. A brand new cashmere coat will easily cost £1000 and up. The downside is that a pure cashmere coat is not as durable as a wool coat, if worn too often, eventually there will be a loss of nap around the wear areas and can start to look shabby. Talking of nap, if you carry a laptop or shoulder bag, be aware that constant rubbing will wear the nap off double quick on the shoulders and wherever else the strap rubs.

Most coats are made from a mixture of a wool & cashmere blend with a dash of man made fibres. Modern coats that you find in the shops now are lighter in weight than a vintage coat. For the reasons I said at the start, it seem the older the coat, the heavier the material. Maybe there have been advances in material warmth or maybe it is just plain cost cutting. I particularly like some of the vintage coats when they were Made in England by the likes of Burtons, Dunn & Co, and even Marks & Spencer among others. My brother inherited a black coat made by Alexandre from my Dad, it is at the very least 40 years old and still looks like new.

A decent overcoat will last a long time, so push the boat out and buy something of quality. A pre owned cashmere coat will cost from around £100 - £250. A nice wool mix coat from £50 to £100. To make room for a suit jacket, a coat is made bigger, a size 40" would usually measure 22.5" to 23" armpit to armpit when measured laid flat. Typical sleeve length for someone around 5'8" would be around 25", the sleeves should be long enough to cover the cuff of a suit jacket. A taller chap should be looking at a sleeve of 26" minimum, and obviously a shorter man 23" to 24" ish. The length should be 40" plus, most are between 42" and 46" and will be to the knee at least.Consider your age, I bought a genuine Crombie when I was younger, wore it once to a funeral, five years later put it on to go to a wedding and couldn't do the buttons up so if it is a tad loose now, it won't be, mark my words.

The usual colours are navy blue, grey, black, camel, grey herringbone or tweed. I have had no luck with dark brown it seems to be not liked unless it is tweed. These colours will always be in vogue. Also consider your lifestyle, for instance do you have pets? colours like a grey or herringbone are more forgiving if have stray hairs on them.

Look after your coat. Let it dry if it has been raining before putting away. Keep out of sunlight, it will fade. Hang it up as soon as possible after wearing, use a proper shaped hanger rather than a thin plastic 4 for a £1. Maybe splash out for a cedar wood hanger, moths hate the smell of cedar. Get a cover for it, I store mine inside a polythene dress cover, 2 for a couple of quid from Wilkinsons, keeps it clean, helps not getting it creased, and keeps moths off. That's about it, so thanks for reading and hope it helps.
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