I was raised in a temperate climate — New Zealand, to be precise — but it didn't take me long to grasp the absolute, primal importance of coats in much of North America. (Moving to Minnesota in January will teach you the value of a proper winter coat in, oh, about 15 seconds. Which is about the time it took the parts of my wet hair not covered by my hat to freeze one morning, oh happy Midwestern memories!) The problem is, as any card-carrying member of what Garrison Keillor called God's frozen people knows, is that the most stylish coats tend to be the least warm. Bunchy ski-wear made with Gore-Tex and studded with elastic drawstrings isn't really cute — and fuck me are those things expensive — but it does a much better job of keeping you warm than your average lined wool-blend shell from Old Navy. But if you're nonetheless drawn, for reasons of aesthetic preference or the necessity of maintaining a "professional" appearance, to non-sporty coats, there are some ways to trick them out. With basic sewing skills you can take any plain old coat and turn it into a piece of performance sportswear — on the inside.
Some other winter coat warmifying tips?
- Double-breasted coats are warmer than single-breasted.
- If you really want to keep warm, consider adding an interlining to your coat. A thin wool flannel or — the ultimate wind-stopper — a leather like chamois works wonders. You don't have to interline the whole coat: cutting a piece of flannel or chamois to cover the back, from neck to hips, will suffice. Slide that piece between the lining and the fashion fabric, and hand-stitch it to the fashion fabric's seam allowances at the shoulder and down the sides to secure. You often see interlinings on vintage coats, so if you're thrift shopping, slip your hand up the back to check. I have a double-breasted black wool coat from the '70s with a flannel and a chamois interlining, to which I added hidden ribbed cuffs, and I spend about six weeks of every year rejoicing in its very existence. Because it is the warmest coat ever. It cost me $66.50 plus a whopping $20 shipping and handling on eBay — a fortune, given I was a student — but I've never regretted it.
- Sleeves are a primary vector for freezing wind to gain purchase on your person, and you can prevent that by adding cuffs as explained above. But what about wind that blows up your coat? Style permitting, you can take inspiration from ski jackets and add a hidden drawstring to your coat lining at your waist. Otherwise, you can add belt loops (thread chains in heavy-duty buttonhole thread will suffice, or a grosgrain ribbon) to the outside of your coat at the waist, and use a sash belt. The belt doesn't have to match the coat. Once your coat is cinched in at the waist, your back's vulnerability to icy wind will be markedly lessened.
- This isn't technically a warming tip, but it is a great general coat tune-up tip. Machine-sewn buttons on coats are bad news, and they tend to pop off at the most inopportune times. There's nothing like being unable to button your coat all the way in a snowstorm — and it's almost as annoying to have to go to a notions store and buy all new buttons for your coat because one came off and got lost. If you have a coat you love but it has machine-sewn buttons, take them all off and re-sew them by hand. You'll feel more secure (and your coat will look more expensive and last longer).
Do you have any other coat hacks? Share them in the comments.
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