The Ultimate Guide to Cool Winter Coats

That layer of leather, down or wool on your back is not just a coat. It’s part of you. It’s the first thing people see when they meet you. And you’ll probably wear it every day between Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day, unless you currently reside in sunny Puerto Rico, and then, well, you can click off to another story. The rest of us: We need a coat.

The pages of magazines are filled with new styles for the season. But don’t expect many surprises. After all, menswear rarely changes radically. During a recession, it changes even less because guys are more careful with their cash -- and designers know it. So the best coats this year fit into classic categories, from the varsity jacket to the overcoat, with subtle improvements. The newest versions of these classic styles are slimmer and more streamlined to last for more than a year before going out of style.

To help you transition from the first cold snap through the last tenacious snowflake, here are the top five trends for fall and winter 2011 – 2012.

The Varsity Jacket

If you already have a letterman jacket, save yourself some money and get it out of the closet. The athletic style is in tons of designer collections this fall. You can dress it up or down. Pair it with casual pants, a blue shirt and a tie to look relaxed but on top of your game. Wear the two-tone classic with jeans and a sweater for everyday wear. Further proof of the trend: You can splurge on one from Thom Browne ($1,295), choose a leather-less version (the arms are knit) from Shipley & Halmos ($495) or head to Macy’s and pick up a letterman jacket from Cavi ($88).

The Vest

When it’s cold but not freezing, grab a vest. Seriously. If your torso is warm, your entire body feels warm. Personally, I never believed this … until I got a vest of my own. It’s beyond practical and a pleasantly masculine addition to your wardrobe. A vest makes city guys look like they could fend for themselves in the woods. Wear one over a cardigan and a tie for work, or with a turtleneck and cargo pants on weekends. The Gap sells a few different styles, but look for their Modern Puffer Vest with slim padding and diagonal stitching ($70). If you’re seeking a little shine, Diesel’s Werty Puffer Vest ($250) is deep black nylon and the quilting is square and workmanlike. You could wear it at night on a date and look sharp.

The Puffy

The new puffy coats are still filled with down, mostly, but they’re different. They’re toned down, sort of half-puffy. Goodbye to over-inflated Michelin Man jackets; slimmer styles are in. These new coats could be described as quilted because, without so much inflation, you can see the stitching and the pattern it makes. The Down Bomber Jacket from PS by Paul Smith is the quintessential new down jacket for 2011. It’s also $765. But notice how smooth the face is, how minimal the quilting … how the stuffing doesn’t make you look fat. Patagonia makes a sweet toned-down Down Jacket ($200). The 1-inch horizontal quilting and short collar give it a very modern feel. While old-school puffies were essentially ski-wear, these you can wear any time. Pair with cords and a casual shirt for a dinner date or throw over a long-sleeved Henley for a weekend outing.

The Double-breasted Overcoat

A double-breasted jacket makes a man look bigger and bossy. In contrast, the double-breasted overcoats appearing in stores this year look almost understated. They’re less boxy too. If you need a new coat for work, this is it. Double-breasted means you take yourself seriously, but, with the new styles, not too seriously. Vince combines two trends in one with their double-breasted Puffer Peacoat ($395). For a more relaxed approach, look at Kenneth Cole’s Double-Breasted Topcoat ($350). Banana Republic takes double-breasted to an even more casual level with their Heritage Cotton Military Jacket ($298).

The Toggle Coat
Show me a toggle coat and I think of young French boys jumping in puddles. But I’ve probably seen too many French movies. Designers obviously think toggles are for everyone, and the fact is today’s toggle coat is all grown up. They make their wearer look like the owner of a yacht, not a wee sailor. The Rugger Hooded Toggle Coat from Gant ($398) is a classic with big wooden toggles. Brooks Brothers’ deep navy Classic Duffle Coat is a little pricier ($598), but the toggles are covered with dark leather. The version from the Gap ($158) is sturdy wool and comes in navy or olive green. These coats are great for layering; there’s plenty of room underneath for a thick sweater, and if you’ve got a dress shirt underneath, it won’t get wrinkled. That’s important since you’re eventually going to take your coat off, and what’s underneath says a lot about you too.

by Aaron Krach