Looking at my backlog of posts, I’m starting to think I’m getting typecast as the “choosing versatile clothing X” guy. That’s okay, because generally speaking, versatility in menswear has been a key motivating factor for me. At a certain point versatility can breed boredom (a perspective shared by venerable menswear icon and Styleforum member Mark Cho), but it can be a necessity for many men, especially as they’re just beginning to build a wardrobe. Consider this in the coming months, when you start putting your fall and winter wardrobe together and building your purchase list.
Depending on where you live and what kind of daily routine you have, outerwear can either be a necessity for surviving the winter or just another delightful category you get to spend money on and take pleasure in. I’ve lived in both types of climates and lived both types of daily routines (as a student in northern Indiana I braved single-digit temperatures at a school that took pride in never closing due to weather conditions, and currently live in Tennessee where I work from home). Drawing on those experiences, I have developed a system of categorizing and choosing versatile outerwear that I thought might be helpful for others.
I call it the Coat Matrix [cue lightning and thunder].
A Two-Axis System
The name of my outerwear scheme comes from the fact that it is aligned along two axes that create a matrix of four quadrants. Brilliant! On the vertical axis is the temperature outside, and the horizontal axis of the grid is formality.
You’ll notice that, contrary to nearly all my WAYWT posts, I have chosen to separate jeans and sportcoats. This is a somewhat arbitrary choice on my part, but a helpful one, I think.
The two axes create four quadrants: above 40° in jeans-level formality (for shorthand, we’ll call this 40+jeans); below 30° in jeans-level formality (30-jeans); above 40° in tailoring-level formality (40+tailoring); and below 30° in tailoring-level formality (30-tailoring).
In 40+jeans a lot of really great, versatile and wide-ranging designs come into play. This is where you’ll find shirt-jackets, military-inspired jackets such as M65’s and the like, bombers, safari jackets, Barbour jackets, motorcycle jackets and chore coats. Generally speaking, outerwear in this quadrant are shorter in length and made of materials like waxed cotton, linen blends, canvas and lightweight wool.
In 30-jeans you can find many of the same styles, just with beefed-up fabrics. By switching out waxed cotton for heavy tweed, a safari jacket that buttons all the way up should be able to keep you warm. You’ll also find more heavy-duty coats developed specifically to stop cold weather, like pea coats and technical gear originally made for outdoor adventuring (such as down puffer coats made by companies like Patagonia or North Face).
In 40+tailoring, you actually don’t really need outerwear. This is where, if you’re wearing a tailored jacket, you can get away simply by layering. Scarves and knit cardigans or pullovers under a tailored jacket are a time-tested way to warm up when there’s just a hint of chill in the air. Of course if the weather is wet, you want to get a lightweight rain jacket.
In 30-tailoring is where you find topcoats and overcoats meant to be worn over a tailored jacket. Shorter car coats and covert coats have been popular for a while, but a classic topcoat will hit at the knee (or below in decades past). Chesterfield coats dress things up (historically made with a velvet collar), and duffle coats dress them somewhat down with large toggles that you can easily undo with gloves on. If you want more warmth, double-breasted styles like the Polo coat or the more military-inspired Officer coat give you a tall collar you can turn up against the wind and extra protection from the cold seeping into your coat.
There are, of course, a multitude of styles in each of these quadrants, and of course other ways to categorize outerwear. But this has helped me to determine where my dollars are best spent when I’m hunting for a new coat—and I hope it does for you, too.