How to Choose and Buy an Overcoat

mens overcoat street style

‘So I need a coat,’ you find yourself saying. Well, you have come to the right place for advice. You don’t need many coats in your wardrobe, but when the temperature begins to drop, the question ‘should I just wear a jacket or an overcoat?’ may spring to mind. If you want to be taken seriously in the workplace, the only acceptable outerwear for when winter rears its head is an overcoat. 

Read more Men’s Style Guides.

One of the main advantages of colder weather is being able to mix up your wardrobe and invest in a smart winter coat. Knowing how to chose a men’s overcoat, aka a topcoat, for your needs is vital for looking smart if you have an office job and for anyone who wants to be taken seriously or make a very good first impression. If you are looking to upgrade your look, then bag yourself a stylish new overcoat.

So if you want to step up your game and learn how to chose and wear an overcoat this season, check out Idle HQ’s simple guide so that next time you are shopping for a winter coat, you will be a step ahead of the rest.

outfit grid black overcoat

Overcoat vs Topcoat

You may think that an overcoat is just an umbrella term for describing a long, cold weather coat, but the overcoat has its own characteristics and is often confused with variants of the garment. Many people confuse the classic overcoat with the topcoat, which is very similar to the overcoat; the topcoat however, is made from lighter fabric and reaches the knee at its maximum length.

Adding to the trilogy, there is the greatcoat, which is basically just an overcoat that is made out of a thicker, heavier, more durable material and was historically worn by the military. These days, overcoats are available in a wide range of fits, fabrics, styles and colours, its plain cut is the overcoat’s most defining characteristic.

mens overcoat vs topcoat streetstyle

Some men do tend to reach for more casual and more comfortable jackets than an overcoat when the weather gets a bit nippy. Casual jackets and coats are great for someone looking to adopt a casual look, but they will make you look unprofessional when paired with a suit.

Puffy zip-up jackets are fine outside the office, but in the workplace, your choice in clothes mirrors your level of professionalism. Overcoats are quite simply a cut above the rest and will really step up your game and give you a flawless look. When the weather starts to bite, your go-to companion should be a well-fitting overcoat.

Tailored overcoats are making a real comeback in mainstream fashion. But in order to get a great look, you need to invest the same amount of time you would in hunting down a fine suit as you would in selecting a great overcoat. After all, what is the point of spending all that time and money in finding that perfect custom made suit if you are not going to give much thought into what you put over it? It’s important to give your suit and overcoat equal importance when perfecting a look that is both professional and sharp for the winter months.

Choosing Your Overcoat

Fit

Now let’s get on to the tricky business of actually choosing an overcoat. One of the things you have to nail when shopping for that perfect overcoat is the fit.

When I buy, I look for four things: where the shoulders sit, where the sleeves end, the length and whether there’s an inside pocket. The shoulder seam should sit on the edge of your shoulder and the sleeves should rest on the top part of your hand when you’re standing with your arms down at your sides.

– Max Hicks, Blogger and Former Model

If you like to take the time to meticulously get the right fit for your suit, make sure you put the same amount of effort into choosing a great overcoat. When trying one on in store, make sure to wear a button up shirt or better yet a suit jacket in order to examine the fit of the coat.

Of course, at the end of the day it is down to your own personal preference as to whether you would like an overcoat which is more structured and fits well to your body, or one which is looser and allows for more movement.

Length

One of the most important things to consider when choosing your overcoat is the length. Nowadays mainstream overcoats fall at or just above the knee, so consider this when shopping for a coat that fits your height.

Traditional coats tend to extend at its longest all the way down to the ankles. A coat of this length would be most flattering on an older gentlemen as a long overcoat can compliment a larger range of figures than a shorter coat, especially if you are a bit on the heavier side.

A longer overcoat that falls to or below your calf is a more traditional look, outdated for some, but could be a particular penchant for others looking to create a certain look. But be sure to keep in mind that a long overcoat could be a little trickier to find on the high street, especially on a budget.

If you are a younger guy, I suggest going for a coat with a shorter length. Chose an overcoat that is knee-length or one which falls just above the knee. This look will complement a trim figure and would be a practical piece of clothing for someone relying on public transport or for someone who spends their day in and out of their car. Remember to bear in mind that a longer coat will keep you warmer that a shorter one, which could be a dealbreaker for those of you more interested in practicality than style.

Sleeves and Shoulders

Another thing to consider is the length of the sleeves. The sleeves on your overcoat should come about an inch past your suit jacket. The sleeves of your overcoat should completely cover the suit sleeve as well as the shirt cuff. Doing this will help you avoid getting cold wrists when wearing gloves.

You should also make sure that the collar of your overcoat is large enough to cover the lapels of your suit jacket. If you have oversized or overbuilt shoulders you’re going to be wearing an overcoat that’s maybe a little bit big on you in order to fit and compliment your shoulders. Consider looking for an overcoat with a square cut. There are sleeveless overcoat options, but it’s a very daring choice. If you are after this style, it may be worth wearing a waistcoat vest casually underneath it, instead of a suit jacket.

mens overcoat shoulder and sleeve length
Men’s Overcoat Shoulder & Sleeve Length | PHOTO CREDIT: Primer Magazine

Chest and Torso

The next thing to consider with regards to the fit of your overcoat is how it fits across the chest. An overcoat should fit well to the body without hanging too loosely on the wearer. If the overcoat wrinkles or pulls in when buttoned, grab the next size up in order to really get the look spot on. Pay close attention to how an overcoat fits your hips and abdomen.  An overcoat is going to be more expensive to alter due to the thickness of the fabric.

Fabric

One of the key things to consider when shopping for an overcoat is the fabric. You should make sure to check out the fabric of your overcoat in store and shop according to your needs.

outfit collage wool overcoat
PICTURE CREDIT: ASOS

Wool

As I said earlier, traditionally overcoats are made from heavy fabrics such as wool. Wool is a great choice in fabric as it is a natural fibre, will insulate, and lasts a very long time. Go for an overcoat which is 100% wool with some weight to it as it will keep you toasty and will endure the harshness of winter and the hustle and bustle of your daily routine.

When shopping for a 100% wool overcoat, you will guarantee yourself a garment that will last for a good few years. Try and go for a wool coat that weighs about 4 pounds if you are an average sized man, as heavier coats will last longer as the fabric is more resistant. I personally have a coat from Edinburgh Woollen Mill which looks great, keeps me warm and has really stood the test of time.

mens wool overcoat street style
Men’s Wool Overcoat | PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

Tweed

Another great choice of fabric for an overcoat is tweed, which is made from wool. Tweed is another great option for winter as it is thick, insulating and regarded as a timeless fabric. However the fabric is a bit coarser than wool, but still remains a fashionable choice for someone looking to make an impact when wearing an overcoat. This would be a great choice for someone interested in both practicality and aesthetics.

mens tweed overcoat street style
Men’s Tweed Overcoat | PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

Cashmere

Emphasis on the cash. If you are willing to splash out a little when shopping for your overcoat, you may want to consider a cashmere overcoat. Cashmere overcoats look great; the expensive price tag however, does not guarantee a long lasting relationship between you and your precious coat, as cashmere isn’t the most durable of materials.

There will be some eventual wear on the cuffs and collar of your cashmere overcoat after a significant amount of use. Cashmere overcoats are a great choice for those of you looking for a nice, soft coat but they also make a great banquet for moths. So a luxury coat may end up showing up rather tatty rather fast with some wear and tear and moth holes.

A cashmere coat tends to be double the price of its woollen cousin for the simple reason of appearance, with no real advantage in warmth or shelf life of the garment. Make sure to take this into consideration if you are shopping on a budget or are looking for an overcoat that will serve you a good few years.

mens cashmere overcoats street style
Men’s Cashmere Overcoats | PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

Blend

An interesting solution to this problem would be to go for a cashmere-wool blend for a great, durable look. As the quality of wool coats have greatly increased over the years, it is possible to find a high quality woollen overcoat that is just as soft and attractive as its cashmere counterpart.

An ideal blend would be 90% wool and 10% cashmere. Make sure to take note of the wool content when buying a blended coat, as a wool overcoat will definitely be able to weather the realities of a British winter.

Style

The next thing to consider when shopping for an overcoat is the style. Like all men’s fashion, coats are constantly being redesigned with new things in mind. The overcoat has undergone many different stylistic changes (from elbow pads to velvet collars) throughout the varying evolutions and 20th century appropriations of the classic silhouette. The most relevant style feature for us to consider now as modern wearers of the overcoat, is whether to chose a single-breasted or a double-breasted overcoat.

A double-breasted overcoat is traditional, pinned under the term military style and is inspired by the historical garments of soldiers during the Victorian era. Single-breasted overcoats are seen more today in mainstream fashion. They do not usually require to be buttoned up, making for a more practical and streamlined look.

mens single breasted vs double breasted overcoat street style
Men’s Single Breasted vs Double Breasted Overcoat | PHOTO CREDIT: Ali Express

A single-breasted overcoat with a notched lapel is a good go-to look and will be adaptable, whereas the double-breasted overcoat is more for formal occasions, as it echoes the formality of the men of the military. However, a benefit of a double-breasted overcoat is that it will keep you warmer as you will carry two layers of fabric over your chest. And there are other great advantages to wearing a double-breasted overcoat.

My favourite overcoat has to be a 100% Paletot, double-breasted with a 6×2 button arrangement, with peaked lapels. I tend to go for a double-breasted coat, even though they are a bit challenging to find in a suitable fit, because to the casual observer a double-breasted coat differs very little from a single-breasted one. But upon closer examination it yields an older, more elegant and refined look.

– Shani Varner, Model

Alternatives

A great alternative to an overcoat, is the classic peacoat. It’s stood the test of time and was used in the Navy to keep out the cold. Also best in wool, the peacoat can be worn over a suit. You may ask how to wear a peacoat, but it’s easily teamed with most outfits from a suit to casual jeans. Peacoat outfits can be created with ease. Keep the overcoat fit in mind when purchasing a peacoat, and you’ll master it no problem.

mens peacoat street style
Men’s Peacoats | PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

Colour

Another detail to consider when looking for the best overcoat is the colour. The colour is basically up to you; there are several important details to consider however, when shopping for the perfect look to fit in with your lifestyle.

outfit collage coloured overcoats
PICTURE CREDIT: ASOS

There are only three main colour categories when shopping for an overcoat: Black or navy, camel or fire engine red. The vast majority of overcoats can be placed into either one of those three distinct categories. A dark or navy overcoat would be a great choice as it hides stains, will appear less dirty and will go with more things. Keep this in mind if you have a variety of suits.

A classic men’s camel overcoat is an incredibly stylish option and would be a great choice for a sophisticated look. However, a red coat would be an incredibly bold move and would pay off, just remember that it wouldn’t be as functional as dear, old black. Choosing the perfect colour for your overcoat can be a tricky one.

Colour is tricky – navy is classic, but if you’re like me and you hate navy and black together you’ll struggle to pull it on any time you’re wearing black trousers. Camel or beige show rain spots in a big way and make you look like a sorry figure if you’re caught in even a modest shower. Black is bulletproof but can look a little overpowering or intimidating

– Max Hicks, Blogger and Former Model

A Bit of Background

The overcoat came into prominence during 18th century Britain and was considered to be one of the quintessential garments of a gentleman’s wardrobe. Normally made from a heavy fabric such as wool, the classic overcoat tends to include defining features such as long sleeves, a single vent at the back and can either be single or double-breasted.

Traditionally, the length of an overcoat should always fall just below the knee, but with the evolution of fashion and the continued popularity of overcoats in our modern day society, mainstream overcoats are designed to be much shorter that their Victorian ancestors.

victorian mens overcoats
Victorian Men’s Overcoats | PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

Nowadays it is a little bit harder to find a longer overcoat as long outerwear can be less practical in our day-to-day lives, as most of us are dependent on public transport and find ourselves hustling through crowds.

The shortening of garments is an important feature of modern clothing and has helped fashion the modern subject. Longer garments tend to be seen as dated, out of touch or anachronistic to modern sensibilities. Though still an incredibly classic look, for some, an overcoat which stretches below the knee might be better kept for more formal occasions and might not brush shoulders very well with the other clothes in your wardrobe.

In this vein, the overcoat started off as a popular menswear item of Victorian Britain. The overcoat was worn to indicate the class divide between the upper and the lower class and went into a state of evolution during the 1950s when the overcoat heavily influenced the Teddy Boys.

The overcoat was appropriated along with high-waisted, stovepipe trousers, chunky brogues or creepers, as the Teddy Boys injected new life into the classic look and gave the overcoat a certain edginess and a glint of rebelliousness.

teddy boy overcoats
Teddy Boy Overcoats | PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

The overcoat took on another graphic change as it was adopted and adapted by the skinhead culture of the 1960s. This radically changed the idea of the garment as it was re-appropriated and radicalised by members of the British working class. Taking inspiration from the rebelliousness of the Teds’ revamping of the traditional clothing of the upper class, many skinheads combined overcoats with rolled-up jeans, ‘bovver’ boots and sharply-cut check shirts buttoned at the neck.

During the early 1970s, the suedeheads, a branch of the skinhead subculture fully embraced the more classic shape of the overcoat, teaming it with smart attire, such as Prince of Wales check suits and Teddy Boy brogues. It was also roughly around this time that the knee-length silhouettes began to regain the attention of the masses in a more versatile and practical form, and the overcoat stepped away from its original, full-length shape.

Patrick Bateman Overcoat
PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

By the 1980s, the overcoat had made a triumphant return into mainstream fashion and was considered an essential garment of the power dresser and business professional’s wardrobe. The overcoat was often cut to be slightly oversized on the wearer and was usually worn with a designer suit.

Think Patrick Bateman in American psycho making his way to Wall Street. The overcoat has maintained its popularity and has been transformed by many different subcultures and still holds a very prominent position in menswear today.

Overcoat Buyers Cheat Sheet

  • Overcoat vs Topcoat: A topcoat is very similar to the overcoat; but is made from lighter fabric and reaches the knee at its maximum length.
  • Fit: A long length is classic while a shorter length is more modern. An overcoat should fit well to the body without hanging too loosely on the wearer. The sleeves on your overcoat should come about an inch past your suit jacket and should completely cover the suit sleeve as well as the shirt cuff.
  • Fabric: Choosing the fabric is essential. Go for wool for cooler seasons and combination if you’re on a budget.
  • Colour: Overcoats come in four main colours: black, navy, camel and fire red. Choose depending on the occasion.

On That Note

So guys, if you are looking to get your look spot on when shopping  for your next winter coat, make sure to follow our advice when bagging yourself your perfect overcoat. Every man should have a good, solid coat to cover him during colder weather. Make sure to pay attention to the details and take the same amount of time in finding a great fitting overcoat as you would for a finely tailored suit.

But in the end, it’s all about your personal preferences and what looks best on you. Be sure to check whether your overcoat has interior/exterior pockets as it can be really frustrating to have a coat that is lacking in the pocket department. A perfectly fitted overcoat is a great investment for somebody looking to add a staple garment to their wardrobe and will guarantee that during the winter months you will always step out in style, even if you are dressed casually underneath.

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