Overcoats Buyers Guide

At Alexandra Wood, we love good overcoats. They feel luxurious, keep you warm, and polish up your winter look in a way that no other item of clothing can.

They’ve had a reputation as being a formal item of outwear – the coat you reserve for business wear or a nice night out, when in fact, they are a truly versatile piece of clothing that can elevate your casual, business and formal style very effectively.

Your overcoat is a timeless, wardrobe staple you’ll rely on for years to come, so it’s well worth making an informed choice and investing in the right one for you. From smart to casual, this guide will walk you through what an overcoat is, it’s purpose, the various styles you can choose from and how to wear yours.

What is an overcoat?

The short answer: it’s a warm coat worn over indoor clothing.

To elaborate, an overcoat was created as a long coat in a thick fabric worn as the outermost piece of clothing. Staying toasty warm in the peak of Britain’s harsh winters was the main priority, so the overcoat usually fell to slightly below the knee.
In contrast, a topcoat is shorter length, and made in a lighter weight fabric.  

Overcoats were (and often still are) designed with a larger fit so it could be worn over a full suit.  Today, you’ll find slimmer fitting options, in single and double-breasted designs, and classic and fashion-forward styles.

When and where would you wear an overcoat?

If it’s cold enough to see your breath in the morning air, it’s time to wear an overcoat.  Overcoats are an item for the depths of winter, and due to their warmth aren’t comfortable when the seasons are in transition.

Typically, overcoats – particularly the smarter Chesterfield or Covert Coat – are worn when commuting around the city over a suit or business-casual attire.  They’re also the only acceptable coat to be worn over a formal suit for Christmas or New Year balls and cocktail parties.

But don’t let their formal reputation fool you – a body coat, car coat or covert coat are perfect for casual work meetings, Sunday lunches, evenings out with friends, or strolling around town. These casual versions are also more suited to weekend visits to country towns.

What is the best colour for a classic overcoat?

Typically, the classic options are black, navy, charcoal and camel, mainly because they pair so beautifully with suits. However, with the smart-casual movement firmly setting in as the everyday dress code, and men being a little more daring wardrobes, the world is now your oyster in terms of colour.

How do you wear an overcoat?

As mentioned earlier, an overcoat was always typically worn with a suit. But times have changed, and an overcoat can be worn a multitude of ways.

Why not try:

  • Pairing a body coat with dark denim jeans, a textured merino knit and scarf.
  • Pairing a looser Chesterfield with dark denim jeans, shirt, a fine knit and a sports jacket.
  • Pairing a Covert coat with a t-shirt, knit, scarf and dark denim.

What does it mean to pop your collar and how do I do it?

“Popping your collar” is the term used when you lift the collar of your overcoat upwards to protect your neck from a brisk, chilly day. It looks pretty cool, too.

To do this, you’ll want a collar that can pack a punch, ideally one that has a contrasting felt underneath so that it quite literally ‘pops’. 

What are the different styles of overcoat?

There are many styles available, so it depends on where and when you’ll be wearing it (business, weekend, outdoors, commuting), and what you’ll be wearing them with on which you choose.

The Covert (or Crombie) Coat

The Crombie coat is trademarked by the company Crombie, so you’ll usually find this style referred to as a covert coat.

The covert coat is lighter than the classic overcoat. It’s made from a textured wool in a navy, brown, green and grey as it was typically worn when riding horses, so the rider blended in with nature – hence ‘covert’.

This style of coat has been worn by the likes of Cary Grant and The Beatles giving it wide appeal in the mid-20thcentury. Like most trends, the covert coat has come and go but has recently, thankfully, been revived. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but we love this British classic.

The covert coat is distinguished by a closer cut, concealed buttons (or fly), the contrasting velvet collar, a back vent, and the four or five lines of stitching that can be seen around the bottom hem of the coat and around the cuffs.

The Ulster Coat

The Ulster coat was designed in Victorian times as a daytime overcoat and features a cape and sleeves. Think Sherlock Holmes for the perfect visual of an Ulster coat.

After the Edwardian era, the coat lost its cape and continued to be used as a heavy-duty overcoat with a double-breasted front, peak lapels and a longer length that sat around the knee. The Ulster coat was mainly made with hard wearing cloth such as heavy tweeds, herringbones and checked fabrics.

Today, you’ll see the original caped-design created in a light-weight wool due to our warmer winters (thanks, climate change) and the fact that most people are in and out of heated transport and offices. The lack of warmth means that this style is more of a fashion statement than a practical item of clothing (that and it makes you look like a Victorian Detective).

A more modern version with a half-belt is perfect for extremely harsh winters.

The Chesterfield Overcoat

The Chesterfield overcoat was introduced in the 1840’s. This dark, knee length overcoat with a contrasting velvet collar was named after George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield, who was something of a leader of fashion at the time.

The Chesterfield is a hugely popular and easy to wear overcoats and is favoured by most men today. While you’ll usually find it in camel, navy, black or charcoal, this style can be created in any colour and wool you like, it’s really down to the degree of stylistic impact you want to make.

The Chesterfield is heavily waisted and has no horizontal side seams (like the old-style frock coats), so its shaped using vertical side seams and darts. This design is available in both single and double-breasted versions with a vent at the back.

The Covert coat is a more casual derivation of the Chesterfield as it is lighter and shorter.

The Body or Unstructured Coat

Slim-fitting, unstructured and made to mould to your body shape, the body coat is the perfect choice if you like clothing to feel snug but comfortable.

An unstructured coat means there is no lining and no chest canvassing. Therefore, the shape is created using only the cut and fabric.

It can be made in a light or heavy-weight fabric, depending on your body shape, how much you wish to conceal and how warm you like your coats.

The Loden coat

The Loden is named after the region in the Austrian Tyrol where its signature matted, waterproof pine-green fabric was created.

It was a style typical of students and intellectuals of the middle class in the 1970s. Today it’s a comfortable and suitable for all ages and makes for a very nice balance between a casual coat and a more formal Chesterfield coat.

Distinguishing features of the Loden include an armhole hidden by stitched flaps, a shirt collar and buttons at the end of the sleeves in braided leather or bone.

The Peacoat

The Peacoat was originally worn by naval seaman. It was designed and made to block out the brutal, harsh sea winds and was cut to sit on the hip to help the seamen around the deck with ease.

The Peacoat is a casual a double-breasted style that has a distinguishable three by two button configuration with an extra button to close the collar. It also features a wide collar, notch lapel and slash pockets high on the torso.

The Car Coat

The car coat was designed in the early days of automobiles to keep drivers warm as the rolled along in their open top cars. It sounds romantic but we’re sure it was freezing. 

The subtle A-line construction and wider cuffs allow for full motion while driving. It is typically thigh-length and has 2 welt pockets on the side. This is a no-nonsense, streamlined overcoat that will still deliver on style points while you stay warm.

How should an overcoat fit?

An overcoat is designed to be quite roomy, given that it was designed to be worn over a suit without any of the suit showing.

That said, fit is key to looking great in an overcoat. Where it doesn’t have to be tight Tobit well, it does need to have clever seam shaping, to give the illusion of slenderness whatever your size. The mistake some men make is that slim fitting, means tight. However, an item of clothing can be roomy but with shape, it makes the overall design comfortable and flattering.

However, the body coat offers a closer fit for those who prefer a slimmer fitting coat to wear with a sweater and jeans when the weather isn’t as harsh, or as fashion statement.

Should I choose a double-breasted or single-breasted overcoat?

Most of the classic overcoat styles we offer ready-to-wear are single-breasted. The single-breast design is more streamlined and less fussy and is much easier to accessorise.

A double breast is quite a statement, particularly in bold colours. That said, it can look great with jeans. It will keep you a little warmer as there are two layers of fabric in front of you, but it will make your chest look a little bulky if you are wearing it over a chunky knit or suit.

If you do choose a double-breasted style, opt for peak lapels. If a single-breasted design is more your style, opt for a notched lapel for a smart yet versatile look.

Certain styles, like the Peacoat, Ulster, Duffle and Trench Coat will always have a double breast.

At Alexandra Wood, we see no reason not to have both in your wardrobe so you can match your overcoat to your outfit and the occasion.

What is the best fabric for my overcoat?

The answer to this depends on the style of the coat, how often you want to wear it, and where you want to wear it.

Overall, the fabric of your overcoat should be durable, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be heavy which can be uncomfortable and hot. That said, there are fabrics that fare better with heavy usage and can survive the rigors of rough train seat fabric and getting in and out of your car.

Generally, any fabrics over 500g or 18oz in weight will give you a decent amount of warmth and durability. Anything under that and you’ll find life a bit chilly. If you aren’t sure, the staff at Alexandra Wood are more than happy to help.

Cashmere

If style is your goal and you’re a man who looks after his clothes well, then cashmere is a beautiful option that lends itself well to smart dressing. Cashmere works particularly well with suits and evening wear but does need more care. Because of its delicate nature, we don’t recommend it for everyday commuting or casual wear.

Pure wool

Wool is a classic choice whether you are looking for something smooth and simple, a fancy herringbone or a classic tweed. It comes in various weights, weaves, patterns, and colours and is super durable. All perfect qualities for an overcoat, we think.

Wool Mixes
Blending wool and another fleece, like a wool/cashmere mix, gives you added softness without affecting the warmth factor of your overcoat too much.

You’ll also find wool mixes with cashgora, alpaca, angora, camel and lama. At Alexandra Wood we use an alpaca-wool mix which is showerproof and durable.

Cansentino wool
This Italian fabric has been heavily brushed to give it a unique bobble effect. This technique also helps trap air and keep water away from the surface of the coat to keep you warm. 

Classic cloth choices vs unconventional When buying ready-to-wear, always choose 100% natural fibres. Your coat will be more expensive, but it will be far more comfortable and will last much longer.

Timeless styles vs modern styles of overcoats

Whether you choose a classic, timeless style, a modern style, or a classic with a twist depends on your personal style and your lifestyle.

More modern styles include the Body coat, Duffle coat and Loden coat. These can go in and out of fashion but don’t always lend themselves to smart dressing.

Timeless styles that will always be in fashion include the Chesterfield coat, Covert coat and the Car coat. You can always add a few twists to modernise them.

We don’t recommend jumping on board with trends like very oversized coats, garish fabrics or out of proportion collars. You’ll only find yourself with a very expensive coat that gets worn for one season and banished to the back of the closet.

How can I personalise my overcoat?

Having a made-to-measure suit will give you the greatest flexibility to play with style and fabric. Mixing up different weaves, colours and even textures (like our Cansentino) can help you create something different.

Using a wool and cashmere mix can elevate your coat into something more luxurious. You can pair an unusual fabric with a fun lining or contrasting inside collar to stand out even more. 

By having your overcoat made to measure, you can add a twist on classic styles in a variety of ways.

Overcoat pockets

There are three types of pockets you’ll see on overcoats:

  • Welt – where the pocket has a slight ‘cuff’ and you can put your hand straight inside.
  • Ticket – where the pocket has a flap that sits over the opening. These are a more formal pocket style found on Covert and Chesterfield overcoats.
  • Slash – A vertical pocket, usually on the sides of the coat that you can put your hands in. Generally found on more casual styles.

Mixing up the placement, angle and number of pockets you use, particularly when it comes to ticket pockets on a classic style like a Covert or Chesterfield, can add interest to the design.

Overcoat lining
You may only see flashing of your overcoat’s satin lining as you are walking, but this is the ideal place to really show some personality.

At Alexandra Wood we love using funky patterns for the lining of the overcoats we make. It’s like a little secret, but it can take a very muted design to new level.

Overcoat buttons

At Alexandra Wood, we only use natural buttons.

Colour and size offer you some stylistic wiggle room, but go too bold and you’ll just look like a row of buttons walking down the street.

If you don’t like the look of buttons, go for a concealed ‘fly’ which hides your buttons.

Overcoat fabric:

If you’re looking for something different perhaps have a car coat made with a Cansentino wool, or a Chesterfield in a herringbone weave?

Fabric colours and textures are the best way to add a twist on your favourite style.

We also recommend changing up the colour inside or outside the collar.

Top tips for choosing a men’s overcoat:

  • To look timeless and elegant, keep your outfit and choose a classic colour such as a camel or a navy. You can add a twist to your classic look by wearing a coat with a textured fabric or adding a funky lining to make it yours
  • For a casual look, choose an overcoat with visible buttons rather than one with a concealed fly. For some added style choose a contrasting top collar, or keep the contrast under the collar, if you prefer your stylish flair to stay under wraps.
  • Choose a roomier overcoat if you want to wear layers e.g., chunky knits. Then add a contrasting textured or multi coloured scarf to add style and personality to your look
  • When choosing the fabric for your coat, decide whether you need a practical coat to survive everyday wear that is easy to care for (i.e., a durable, heavier cloth), or a special occasions coat and are happy to opt for a more luxurious fabric that will need more care
  • When trying on your new overcoat, wear the clothes you plan on wearing underneath it – a suit or chunky knit, for example - to make sure it's comfortable. There’s nothing worse than getting your coat home to find it doesn’t fit over your favourite jumper!
  • The coat sleeves should reach down to the base of your thumb. You don’t want any of your shirt, suit or jumper sticking out – it’s not a good look.

When to choose a made to measure overcoat.

Having a coat made to measure is the best way to go if you struggle to find coats that fit you perfectly, you want an overcoat that matches your style and personality, or you simply can’t find what you want anywhere. We’ll work with you to design a coat that meets all of your needs, so you feel proud to wear it every day.

Made to measure overcoats will always be a wardrobe staple – invest once and you probably won’t ever need to upgrade (unless you want a new colour or two). An overcoat with classic styling, quality fabric and a perfect fit in a neutral colour will give years of wear and warmth.

But you needn’t try something conventional either – we can create a pea coat, bomber jacket, Harrington jacket or raincoat, the choice really is yours.

About Alexandra Wood’s overcoat designs

An overcoat is an investment that should last you many years. We take care to use only the highest-quality fabrics to create overcoats in timeless designs with a fun, modern twist so that you get many seasons of wear from your purchase.

We can help you choose several features to personalise your design including fabric, buttons, stitching, pockets and linings.

Best of all, our exclusive, seam-shaping design creates an illusion of slenderness to flatters all body shapes.

Discover our full range of ready to wear overcoats or step this way to find out more about working with us to create a beautifully designed made to measure overcoat.