Personal Style Calling Card: Your Winter Coat

In Southern California, unless you travel to colder climes, your winter wardrobe necessities are very much reduced. Especially with the continuing unseasonably hot weather we’re experiencing this year, winter coats are but a distant memory for this writer. I recall with pleasure, however, the process of choosing a new winter coat. Classic trench coats with detachable wool lining, lush cashmere or wool coats, down-filled varieties for sport, and real or faux fur –  all manner of outerwear beckons and fills the well-stocked winter closet.

In climes colder than So Cal, a basic wool or cashmere winter coat is a workhorse of every woman’s wardrobe. It should be long enough to cover the season’s popular length in skirts (unless the coat is noticeably and intentionally shorter) and, when worn with boots, should keep the wearer’s legs entirely covered and warm. This year, the choices are abundant.

1015 coats Oct Elle Dior green wool tweed coat REV

The October 2015 issue of Elle counsels:  “This fall, don’t get stuck in dullsville with outerwear that keeps you warm but leaves you cold on style. The first crisp days of October serve as a reminder–now’s the time to invest in a topper that reflects your personality.”

Elle features a “shamrock green tweed” coat from Dior, in a color mix that may well lift the spirits every time it’s worn. The model wears the coat with over-the-knee boots and what appears to be very little else, given the expanse of bare thigh showing, but it would adapt perfectly to more conservative styling.

1015 coats Nov InStyle Belstaff coat Valentino top handle bag REV

The November 2015 issue of InStyle encourages readers to combine a colorful coat with a top-handle bag for a chic look this winter season, noting: “During the winter months, your everyday outerwear becomes a personal-style calling card.  And while neutrals are a fail-safe choice, there’s something to be said about a coat that can instantly brighten the dreariest of days.” InStyle suggests trying a “pretty pastel or warm saturated hue like cinnamon” to team with a structured frame bag “and you’ll look refined and ladylike but not precious.”  (Pictured above is a wool blend coat from Belstaff and Valentino Garavani bag.) While the top-handle style bag is chic and stylish, keep in mind that one that has an attached shoulder or cross-body strap gives you options that are especially practical when traveling in inclement weather.

1015 coats Amazon grey REV

Speaking of fail-safe options, a current ad for Amazon Fashion features a luscious grey coat from Badgley Mischka. A peek of skirt falling below the hem of the coat mars the look, and the model’s legs are not flattered by the camel-hued booties styled with the coat. The same coat with tall boots and the skirt hem raised just an inch would make all the difference. There’s something about grey wool that always feels delightfully cozy. This is a coat to be enjoyed for years to come.

When choosing a coat, be certain that it is large enough to accommodate what you will be wearing underneath it. For many professional women, this means that the coat should be large enough to fit over a blazer or jacket.

I find it disheartening to read the opinion proffered by one of the editors of Harper’s Bazaar  in the magazine’s October 2015 issue. She notes:  “My boss, Glenda, swears by low-priced turtlenecks ‘because they lose their elastic and you have to throw them out anyway.’ Do what she says, dear reader, like I do,” continues the editor. “I buy trendy coats from chain stores–hot pink or a wacko plaid, one-season wonders that keep you warm and cool, but you won’t kill yourself if they start pilling.”

How very sad to be saddled with a cheap, pilling wacko plaid topper when there are coats of marvelous fabric and construction that will pay for themselves many times over when enjoyed over the years.  Classics in quality fabric are well worth the investment and are never out of style.

Great Style Has No Size But Some Jewelry Does

I salute InStyle magazine on its new monthly feature “Great Style Has No Size!” under the heading “Your Look: Full-Figure Flair” which debuted in November 2012. As the magazine explains in the initial feature: “We heard you! You asked to see the trends in silhouettes cut for your body, so take note: When it comes to outerwear, the fashion-savvy are selecting statement coats in bold hues or with eye-catching details.”

The outerwear featured is an attractive mix of styles, some of which will work better on some full-figured shapes than on others, nuances which necessarily go beyond the scope of a one-page magazine article.

InStyle adds style tips to the three looks at left. With the blue jacket from Catherine’s, InStyle comments: “A short style works best when it’s at least fingertip length. Skinny pants balance the looser shape on top.” A fingertip-length jacket also works just fine on women with less than slender legs for whom skinny pants are not an option. To my eye, skinny pants may make the figure look out of proportion for a well-proportioned full-figured woman. Straight-cut or slightly boot-cut pants provide a visually cohesive and well-proportioned look top to toe.

With the red coat from Marina Rinaldi, InStyle comments: “Draw attention up to your face by echoing the coat’s open neckline with a similarly revealing dress.” That’s all well and good when the point of the coat isn’t warmth but style. However, reality requires a more practical approach. Cover up the clavicle by adding a non-bulky woven wool scarf.

InStyle comments about the third coat in patterned wool from Talbots: “Two full-body prints equal visual overload. Instead, let the patterned piece take center stage by combining it with a solid.” The combination pictured is attractive (the dress is from Elie Tahari), but the rule is more limiting than it needs to be. A nuanced discussion of what designs would work with the coat would take more than a few lines of text.

The footwear pictured merits discussion. The suede skimmers from Pretty Ballerinas shown with the blue jacket ensemble are practical and cute. The black booties shown with the red coat and sexy dress from Lane Bryant are not flattering, as they make the model’s legs look shorter. The heavy straps of the high heeled sandals at right draw the eye first, negating the effort of coordinating dress and coat.

There’s another detail that requires comment about the ensembles pictured. With the red coat, the model wears a delicate necklace of rose gold vermeil from Jennifer Zeuner Jewelry. With the print coat, the model wears a short necklace of Swarovski crystal and hematite plate from Lionette Designs by Noa Sade.

I visited the Jennifer Zeuner Jewelry web site and learned that the designer’s necklaces are uniformly 16 inches long, but that a purchaser can specify in the special instructions the length of the chain desired, a helpful option.

The Dakota necklace pictured from Lionette Designs by Noa Sade is only 15 inches long. When I inquired as to whether the necklace could be ordered in a different length, I was told that the necklace is “a comfortable fitting collar as shown in [the] InStyle shot,” that it is not adjustable, and that it comes only in that one standard size.

A 15-inch necklace is a collar length that will work only for a woman with a fairly slender neck; even 16 inches is very short. Many women who wear misses’ sizes require a necklace of 16 to 17 inches. Working with full-figured women over the years as an image consultant, I have learned that a necklace of 18 to 20 inches is a more appropriate length for many full-figured women.

Designers run into practical considerations in producing jewelry. Clearly, it is less expensive to produce a necklace in a 15-inch length than it is to produce a necklace some 20 or 25 percent longer. However, the short necklace length will not work for most full-figured women and designers limiting their selections to that length will be losing a huge potential market for their designs.

If InStyle wants to serve the full-figured women’s market with the “Great Style Has No Size!” feature, the magazine needs to promote designs that accommodate realistic neck sizes. One-size-fits-all does not hold true in jewelry. Any article that purports to outfit full-figured women needs to take into consideration not only the size of the garments, but also the size of the jewelry being promoted.

Coats Not Going to Great Lengths

Beautiful outerwear is part of the pleasure of fall/winter fashion, and this season brings a fresh crop of covet-worthy warm delights. Structured shapes with oversized shoulders, military looks, car coats,  leather coats, parkas, shawls and ponchos are among the plethora of choices. What is not so warm is some of the advice being parceled out as to the proper length for a coat when it is teamed up with a dress or skirt.

A generic question published in the September 2012 issue of Lucky: “What length trench coat is the best/most appropriate?” resulted in a lengthy answer seeking a definitive answer to the question of the “ideal skirt-to-trench-coat ratio” and found none. One fashion editor polled contributed an “it depends” answer, but then went on to suggest that “a little skirt peeking out is almost always cute, and if the two lengths match exactly, it’s great, but something super-short with something super-long could either be awful or really cute.” The photo presented with the Q&A in Lucky pictures a trench coat over a slightly longer silk dress.

If you’re reading my blog, you’re past the stage of wanting any effect that would be labeled “cute.” A dress hanging out below the hemline of a coat can look sloppy and second-hand shop, as if you can’t afford a proper coat.

The October 2012 issue of Good Housekeeping took a similar tack in its advice to readers: “And yes, it’s fine to have a skirt extend past your coat’s hem–it’s a more modern look than wearing a down-to-the-ground topper.” The skirt is from WD.NY.; the coat and pumps are from Nine West.

That advice begs the issue, however. There are all manner of great options that don’t require a down-to-the-ground topper. The same issue of Good Housekeeping highlights a cut-away wrap style coat that would be terrific with a longer skirt, avoiding the issue of hem length. The coat is from RD Style, styled with a turtleneck from Brooks Brothers and pants from Nicole by Nicole Miller. The coat to the right is from Guess, seen with a hot pink skirt from Darling peeking out.

The October 2012 issue of InStyle contains an extended feature on the season’s outerwear. Among the choices presented is this “ladylike” ensemble from the same issue of InStyle. A  pleated skirt from Agnes B. extends down below a Tracy Reese coat with faux fur collar. The level of refinement of the coat does not coordinate with the skirt; the colors are off (especially with the very attractive but mismatched chain bag from Mulberry); indeed, the coat doesn’t meet in the middle and appears to be too small. The styling misses in every way.

Contrast that look with the red topcoat from Maison Scotch pictured with a sweater from Suno and  skirt from Twenty 8 Twelve in the same issue of InStyle. This look works because there is enough of a length difference between the coat and skirt to make the effect look proportionately pleasing.

Be especially cautious about the interaction of coat and skirt hems if you are blessed with bountiful booty and if there is ANY resultant unevenness in your skirt hemline as a result. My first bit of advice is take the garment to a tailor to even out the hemline. If the skirt hemlines rises up in back, wearing a slightly shorter coat will give you a very peculiar effect.

If an uneven hem is not your issue, be aware that a coat shorter than a skirt creates a double set of horizontal lines across your body, which may cause you to look wider.

The ad from Boden from the October 2012 issue of Marie Claire, seen above, presents a perfect match of dress and coat. Getting the match that perfect isn’t practical if your wardrobe consists of skirts and dresses in a range of  lengths. However, it is always possible to choose a coat slightly longer than the skirt or dress with which it is to be worn, or to opt for a wrap that avoids the length issue.