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The Great Coat

One of the great compensations for the frigid onslaught that the elements hurl at us each year is the ability to counter it with one of the great elements of male style, the great coats that serve to cover us from the cold. They may come to us via the manly pursuits, riding and hunting and war-waging, of our forefathers, but are still quite at home with a more urbane lifestyle.

Not only does an overcoat confer a sense of height with long lines, but it’s a medium for projecting swashbuckling panache. You can wear it open to great effect—witness how Noel Coward becomes the debonair tourist in his formidable camel’s hair, above. Softer and lighter, but just as warming, cashmere fabrics are perfect for loosely tying at the waist. Or you can simply drape it across the shoulders ala a 1950s Italian film director as though it’s a cape—which after all is the forerunner to all coats.

Length may be paramount in your decision. Technically an overcoat—as opposed to a shorter topcoat—drapes at least to the knee, a fair standard at which to start. However, fashions have varied over the years, from covering little more than the thighs to almost sweeping the floor. Ermenegildo Zegna is showing a shorter profile this year to impeccable effect. But remember that aside from its lack of coverage, the shortcoming of the shorter style—particularly fashionable in raincoats of the “Mad Men” era—becomes evident when the sport jacket or suit coat peaks out below its hem.

The duster-length coat, popular with cowboys, does a fair job of protecting you from windblown debris, but may trip you up when you’re not in the saddle and tends to pick up dirt as it skirts the ground—a tragedy when you’re wearing cashmere-caliber cloth. Better to stay just below the knee, as Brooks Brothers does with its split raglan overcoat, or just to it as in its single-breasted polo coat. The latter garment is meant for the sidelines, not horseback, and is sometimes half-belted in the back.
From the most modest of suppliers to such pinnacles as Loro Piana single-breasted is resoundly in this year, but no style of overcoat—double-breasted, cap-shouldered, even the velvet-collared Chesterfield—ever goes completely out of style. Another thing that makes them great.

Visit brooksbrothers.com, loropiana.com and zegna.com

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