Where to Buy Coats
Which stores are best for warm coats? Almost anywhere has nice enough people and ambience and decent prices and service, but none of that keeps you warm afterwards. What matters the most is this: Who has the best quality products you can count on to keep you warm?
Specialists in outdoor winter sports and camping tend to have better choices than do fashion retailers, even high-end expensive well-known luxury fashion retailers.
Flip through catalogues and websites. Look for specific written claims about at what outside temperatures a coat will keep you warm. Comparative charts across all clothing brands can be especially reliable. If it’s in writing, either they like being sued by the families of dead people or they make sure their coat will almost certainly keep you alive down to the stated temperature.
Add wind chill effects when you select a coat for frigid temperatures.
Comparative claims are the best. For comparisons to be valid, measurements and tests have to be done the same way for all brands and models. Marketing people are very capable at turning meaningless mush into a good sound bite, but don’t buy it. Get the vital statistics.
L. L. Bean has the most specific claims that I’ve noticed on a website. I’ve done well by buying at Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) and Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), although that was mostly long ago. Decades ago, I was severely disappointed by Saks Fifth Avenue, a high-fashion store that offered a down coat for about double the price for the quality available at EMS at the time. Recent visits to Patagonia’s and Hudson Bay Company’s websites did not find comparative temperature data, which bothers me, given Patagonia’s history with mountain activity and Hudson Bay’s Canadian heritage.
The main trade-off is fashion. Color choices at camping stores are few. It’s like with the old Model T Ford. Henry Ford said, “[a]ny customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” For the coat I wanted, EMS had only three colors: solid red, blue, or green. But it was amply warm. I walked miles in freezing rain and it didn’t matter.
Small independent stores vary, of course, and may not have the capital to provide comparative data.
Sales representatives nearly everywhere are supposed to push whatever they carry. A solution is to research brands and models before you go and to ignore any for which you can’t find reliable specific written claims.
If you want to know whether to trust a sales representative, ask what product categories that individual sales rep knows well. If they say “everything”, leave.
Shop in person, try them on for fit, and buy your choice where you tried it. I'm not a fan of buying clothes online or by mail order. I buy other things over the Web, but clothing varies enough that fitting in person and buying what fits are necessary and probably the price is not much more.
(Shh, but my secret is that I know what kind of coat I have confidence in. I’ve found them discarded and I’ve bought one for $20 at a small store, and each one lasted for years, partly because I don’t wear a coat very often.)
Should you research a coat? Yes. Staying warm is nice. It keeps you alive. You get to think about other things. You get to chat without clattering your teeth. You can eat an ice cream cone in December at a beach, if they’ll let you.
L.L.Bean offers specific temperature ratings for coats. EMS is more rudimentary, offering four levels of warmth. Many other retailers don’t offer even that much comparison.