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The Overcoat: Essential And Stylish In The Winter

Originally Posted: January 27, 2010

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

The overcoat has morphed into a very utilitarian piece of apparel. (www.suitsmen.com)

Southampton - "This is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York." Shakespeare aside our New "York" summer is still months away, so let's address the winter of our discontent with the single best defense against it, the overcoat.

Like many of the iconic male clothing options, the overcoat finds its origins in military apparel. Once again we thank Napoleon, who wore a full length overcoat into battle during his Russian campaign, but forms of this kind of "outercoat" probably existed as far back as the era of "capes" which were used as the protective outer garment to save a gentleman from the weather and added a layer of warmth in winter.

Let us start in the 17th century when overcoats were actually a symbol of status. At the time they were very form fitted and stylized, worn exclusively by the aristocracy. They were coats like the "Great Coat," the "Frock," the "Inverness" and the "Ulster." Many of these coats or variations of them had tailoring that included fur or velvet lapels, cape tops, vented back pleats, dual button back belts and waist seams.

Although some of those touches can still occasionally be found in overcoats, for the most part it has morphed into a very utilitarian piece of apparel that is the best defense against the cold. When winter hits, the overcoat is the simplest and most stylish way to keep warm.

Overcoats remain usually constructed of wool. (www.jainsachin.com)

Historically, overcoats are made from a heavy gauge wool or wool blend. They are, or should be, essentially a blanket formed into a coat. Worn only seasonally and cared for properly, they should last a decade or more in close to the same condition from original purchase. I have a Hickey-Freeman, navy blue overcoat that has proven to be the most durable piece of apparel I have ever owned. It is 20 years old, weighs almost 10 pounds, thick as a brick in fabric density and still looks as good as the day I bought it. Believe me, if I had to cover a Sarah Palin winter outdoor press conference in Alaska, this is the coat I would bring on the press junket.

Today overcoats are loose fitting and tailored to be worn over a suit. I always buy an overcoat one size larger than my suit size. If you are of perfect, slim build anatomy that size upgrade may not be necessary, but for most of us I think it is a good size barometer.

Overcoats remain usually constructed of wool and are styled in single or double breasted versions. Pointed lapels are the norm, but vary in width based on the season's style. Frankly, if you can find a cowl collar version buy it, as nothing says more about distinctive style than that rare fashion accent.

Colors of overcoats are usually black, gray, navy or sable, a lovely pale brown. There are also tweed versions of overcoats and once again I suggest nothing short of a Harris Tweed version for the finest quality.

Whether donning a suit or sweater, sports coat or shirt, during the dread of winter the final layer should be an overcoat on the way out the door. Warm and wonderful, it is yet another essential of a true gentleman's wardrobe.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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