The blizzards are coming, the blizzards are coming

By Mir
September 11, 2006

Well, okay. The blizzards aren’t coming to everyone. But for those of us who live in the cold, there are few purchases we consider so carefully as the selection of our winter coats. After all, with the cost of heating oil what it is… we may be wearing the things 24 hours a day.

So Jean’s question was not entirely unexpected:


You give such great advice and you are so pretty! I need some help. I need to buy a new winter coat (I know should have bought it at the end of last season, but it seemed ok then). Where can I get a long winter coat that won’t cost me a fortune?

Of course, now I’m feeling the pressure. I don’t want to make a suggestion and then have Jean sending me nasty email in February saying that she’s too cold. You just never know.

Here’s the thing: “a long winter coat” is about as descriptive as “a car.” That is to say, I still don’t really know what you like or want. So let’s do a quick crash-course in winter coats.

Your basic options:

  • Parkas: This includes anything puffy, down, thinsulate, etc.
  • Leather or suede: Self-explanatory.
  • Wool: This includes dress coats, pea coats, and duffel coats.
  • Traditional trench: There’s lots of options here, although if we’re talking a winter coat for a snowy climate, assume a model that has a thick (and probably removable liner).

What do you like? I won’t presume to tell you which of these option is the right choice for you, other than to point out that leather and suede are going to cost more and not wear as well. I wouldn’t recommend either of those for an “everyday” coat, for sure. (Yes, yes—I’m sure someone out there has a beloved leather car coat they’ve worn since Carter was president and it’s held up just fine and how dare I. Fine. I believe you. It’s still not something I would recommend, but congratulations.)

So. First step? Decide what kind of coat you want, or if you intend to have more than one. Living in the Land Of Perpetual Winter, I myself have both a puffy ski parka type thingie and a longer coat. In fact, my longer coat is one of these, and I like it very much.

There’s my first recommendation: Check the Overstocks at Lands’ End and the Sale section at LL Bean. You’ll notice, though, that pickings are slim. (In fact, I started this post last night, and there are about five fewer choices at Bean this morning than there were then.) As you’ve already surmised, this is the wrong time of year to get a bargain on a coat.

So, after you browse the deals at those two stores, if you don’t find anything, check out their full selection. See something you like, at a price you don’t want to pay? Now go check eBay. My stadium squall came from a seller who buys stuff at the Lands’ End Inlet and then turns a profit on eBay. It was brand new, tags on when I received it. It was also less than half of what it would’ve cost me to buy it directly from Lands’ End. I decided it was the model I wanted, I surfed eBay, I found it. Perfect. There tends to be a ton of brand new LL Bean and Lands’ End winter gear on eBay, because both companies run stores where items can be picked up at tremendous discount.

Another good place to look, depending on what you want, is Sierra Trading Post. I love this company. It looks to me like they’re heavy on the dress coats moreso than on things like parkas, but have a look. The prices are superb, and I’ve always been pleased with their customer service.

The other option I’ll suggest is not for everyone. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Buying secondhand can save you big bucks. Now, for something like a coat, that you’re going to wear every day for months on end, you really do require it to be both warm enough and something you don’t dread putting on. So I’m not going to tell you save every possible penny if it means you have something you hate. You have to buy something that works for you. If the very concept of buying someone else’s coat squicks you out, that’s fine. Choose your purchase wisely, but don’t feel guilty for buying new. Chances are you’ll get your money out of it.

If buying used doesn’t bother you, see if you have any high-end thrift stores in your area. Surf eBay. Visit your local Goodwill or Salvation Army shop. If you live in a rich enough area, you may even find something brand new at one of these locales. If you decide to buy used, check out your local dry cleaners, first, and build the cost of having a coat cleaned into your purchase price. (While I advocate buying used, I also advocate being certain that you’re not getting anyone else’s cooties with your purchase. Heh.)

Good luck buying the coat of your dreams, and if you see a coat you like on clearance, this Spring? Buy it. Just don’t forget where you put it!


  1. I bought a used wool dress coat from a local thrift store last year and I LOVE IT. ADORE IT. Swoon.

    I think I paid $15 to get it cleaned, and it cost me probaby $10 at the thrift store.

    It’s just gorgeous and simple and elegant and I feel so damn proud that I got a coat I love for $25.

    I do like that Squall jacket you have. Is it as elegant in person as it looks on the model on the website, or is that just evil marketing?

  2. Kathryn: I don’t know if I would call it “elegant.” It’s nicer than a ski parka, for sure. Not as nice as a wool coat, but I can (and have) worn it over a suit and not felt like I’d violated too many fashion rules. 😉

  3. Lands End Inlet — one of my favorite places! And the consignment stores? You bet. I’ve found great bargains on good quality brand name winter coats at both places. My dressy wool long coat was all of $25 second hand. Fantastic advice.

  4. I have the squall parka also. It is very warm.

  5. I found a beautiful wool coat last year this time at TJ Maxx. They had a giant display of winter coats.

  6. This depends on where you live, but LL Bean often donates new clothing to the Good Will. As with many bargains, it’s hit or miss, but I’ve seen racks of new items at more than one Good Will location in the Northeast. Also, if you live near real outlets (as opposed to the tourist-trap kind), I got a $375 wool car coat at an LL Bean outlet in August for $48. There are also salvage companies like Mardens (Maine) and Building 19 (Massachusetts) that sometimes get huge shipments of undamaged clothing (and so much more…)

  7. If you’ve got one handy, you can also check with your local Army-Navy Surplus. I’m STILL wearing my step-dad’s Vietnam era Navy peacoat as my winter coat when I go home (to NORTH DAKOTA — don’t tell ME about winters!). I do have a dressy long wool coat for professional things, but I have lived in that peacoat for over 20 years now.

  8. Oh! I hit the wrong button… sorry! Also, a lot of people swear by Air Force parkas — very warm and they have a hood.

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