Choose the right style, warmth factor for you

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – If you’re in the coat market, you’ll find the variety in styles and prices for the family mind-boggling. Your best bet may be a down-filled parka, a cashmere overcoat, a fitted short wool town coat and/or a high-tech fleece Marimac. You can spend $50 or $1,000.

The trick, of course, is to make a selection that will be flattering, modern, worth your investment and hang tough.

Where do you start?

Staying warm

If warmth is a major priority, down-filled styles could be your strongest contender (unless you opt for fur). For women, the down storm coat has emerged in fashion again.

The good news is down coats are no longer big, bulky and reminiscent of the Michelin Man. Like many women’s coats, it fits closer to the body and reflects a waistline. It will warm you on city streets, fit into your car and, unlike the old days, not take up extra room on a crowded elevator.

But in these casual times, the sports look has permeated all apparel arenas. Consider the popularity of the hooded sweat top and track pants. It’s understandable the active look in a high-tech material is a good possibility for just about everyone in the family.

Again, down filling is the warmest, although other high-tech possibilities cover a broad gamut. For guidance, Scott Whittingham, the outerwear merchant for Lands’ End, says the higher the down count, the more space is occupied by down, meaning the fiber is tighter, thus the coat is warmer.

With today’s current obsession with color, it’s no surprise to find all the sports jackets in an appealing range of hues. Tina Hodak, the fashion director of the May Co., parent company of several department stores, is high on the women’s microfiber polyester or down-filled jacket that’s long enough to cover the torso.

Also in the high-tech department, Lands’ End is marketing a material made with double layers of laminated fleece. Look for names such as Windcheck or Aircord.

Designer brands such as Kenneth Cole and Nautica are also offering jackets for men with high-tech fleece lining.

For the city

The smartest looks in women’s coats have some semblance of shape, whether it’s a puffy down or wool blend dress coat.

If you want a coat for business, church and dress, you’ll find fabrics as diverse as wools, wool blends, camel hair, cashmere, cashmere blends and, at the high end, alpaca. Shearling coats in both real and fake skins are not new, but they still rate high among fashion devotees. And faux skins start at less than $200.

Precious fibers such as cashmere and camel hair and fiber blends are especially abundant. Blends may use only a small percentage of precious fiber with nylon, but they are considerably less expensive, often with a soft feel.

Short knee-length or seven-eighth coats are high priorities in fashion magazines and look smart with shorter skirts, high boots or trousers. Remember they are easy to move in and slip comfortably into a car.

Long coats keep you warm, give you a long, lean Zhivago line and look great with boots. On the down side, they catch in car doors and trip you up on steps and escalators.

And finally, the most pervasive styling detail is the fur or faux fur trim. Fuzzy collars are everywhere.

For men

Dress overcoats with set-in sleeves are classic sellers in men’s stores. They sell especially well in black because they also may be worn to formal affairs. Depending on your budget, you can find them in cashmere, blends or wool blends.

But one of the new and practical choices is the short three-quarter length or town coat. It’s the most diverse look because you can wear it over a suit or with jeans.

What’s more, a short coat makes it easier to move in and out of an automobile.

Trent Slusher, owner of Pinstripes, a Kansas City specialty store, says some of the town coats come with built-in drawstrings. They generally give the coat a little more shape and, by making the coat closer to the body, added warmth.

The pea coat is another viable versatile choice that seems not to go out of style. It’s available in a wide range of prices. The Gap has one starting at $129.

Quality counts

To make the wisest decision about a garment, check the obvious signs for good construction. Look at the hardware, Weinberg says. Do the zippers line up? What do the snaps look like?

Examine details, says Marla Day, extension associate in clothing and textiles department at Kansas State University:

Are extra buttons provided?

Are they sewn securely?

Are the button holes sewn with solid stitches?

Are the stitches around the zipper smooth or is the area puffy?

Are the pockets even?

As for the fabric, check for the tightness of the weave. The thicker the fibers, the warmer the coat. Look for a soft, comforting feel.

Remember you’re going to be wearing this garment on the grayest, darkest days.

Take care

How do you get the most wear out of your coat over the longest period of time? The first rule is to follow the manufacturers’ recommendations on cleaning, Day says. If something happens to the garment in the first year, you are more likely to get some attention from the manufacturer if you have stayed with the care labels.

If it is not washable, have the coat cleaned and moth-proofed at the end of every season, Day says. And remember that spot cleaning doesn’t take the place of the dry cleaner.

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