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Archive for Monday, March 4, 2013

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Style for the Ages: The wool overcoat, a classic that has hardly changed

March 4, 2013

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Men’s wool overcoats are shown in this fashion plate from 1872.

Men’s wool overcoats are shown in this fashion plate from 1872.

The men's wool winter coat hasn't changed much over the last 300 years.

The men's wool winter coat hasn't changed much over the last 300 years.

I had a few ideas for this month’s column, but with “Snowmaggedon” recently upon us, I figured a closer look at such a ubiquitous (but as our recent weather has made quite apparent, important) clothing item — the winter wool coat — was ripe with opportunity.

Often cut in a mid-to-long length in neutral hues, the wool coat is an article of men’s apparel that honestly hasn’t changed much over the past 300 years. A well-known painting depicts Beau Brummell, the famous English fashion icon of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, donning a knee-length, black wool coat in Paris.

Around 1853, the overcoat came into immense popularity in Europe and America. Men found themselves drawn to the overcoat’s defining details: It was double-breasted, back-vented, firmly buttoned and boasted large pockets. By the time World War I erupted throughout Europe, the wool overcoat’s inherent warmth and sturdiness made it the choice for soldiers.

The rest, as they say, is history. Whether you’re strolling down Mass. Street in Lawrence or Broadway in New York today, you’re sure to see men and women hunkering down in their wool coats.

But this ubiquity might be a bit of a sticking point for certain men. If you want to stand out from the crowd but still don a cozy wool coat, you have three main options.

First, you can spend hours scouring thrift stores to find that perfect coat that is a bit different and no longer in season. This, of course, requires a certain amount of luck and quite a bit of effort.

Secondly, you can hop over to your local Gap or Weaver’s and pick up a relatively well-made, basic wool coat.

Third, you can splurge on a designer coat. Designer coats usually offer a very high quality with small details to help you stand out from the crowd … but you’d better be ready to spend at least $1,000.

The thing is, you don’t have to spend $1,000 to make your coat look like a million bucks. Let’s suppose that you find a quality, basic wool coat like a pea coat or car coat at a mid-tier retailer such as Gap or Weaver’s.

There are small, relatively inexpensive changes you can make to your coat to not only make it unique, but also to put it on par with much more expensive designer coats.

First off, the buttons: Retailers usually go really cheap on these, but that doesn’t mean you have to. There are thousands of button options, ranging from horn to wood to metal to plastic. The sky is literally the limit here. You can visit thrift shops to find cool buttons, swap them out from another coat or scour the endless selection online.

I would recommend having your new buttons sewn on by a tailor, since he or she can offer the strongest, longest-lasting application. You can use this opportunity to pick a contrasting color of thread to give your coat more panache.

Finally, you should have your tailor alter your coat like you would a suit jacket. They can take the body and sleeves in a bit to give your coat that designer fit. They can also replace the liner of your coat to give you a warmer, more quality feel.

Wool coats haven’t changed much over time, but you can follow these easy — and relatively cheap — steps to make your basic wool coat a bit less typical.

— Vaughn Scribner can be reached at go@ljworld.com.

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