Reader Question: Coat on a Budget

Question from a reader:

Kamau, 

I need to get a nice winter coat to wear everyday with my suits. I’d love a nice cashmere, but I know they’re over my budget. What do you suggest under $500?

Damien W.

Much like choosing a sport coat or a suit, navy and grey are the best options for overcoats. During the three-part series on coats, I touched on the paletot, the single breasted and the trench. For the go-to coat, I would recommend the double breasted paletot, especially for use with sport coats and trousers or suits. However, since we’re in December, the availability is limited in a decent price range, so the single breasted overcoat is the best option.

Either navy or grey will work will a multitude of suit options. That said, if your business wear is more formal (dark suits versus sport coats), then a charcoal topcoat will provide the best harmony, pairing well with suits and even formal-wear. The single breasted coat, provided it’s a heavier fabric, should take you through the winter with adequate layers under.

Now for a few choices under $500. Suit Supply and J.Crew have some good options in that price range. Scouring ebay is risky, especially as temperatures are quickly dropping. Risky, but still worth a try. Local consignments may carry used, but more luxurious, options at a substantial discount.  For the safest route, try some of these below companies.

This Suit Supply coat ($469) is understated and practical. It’s cut a bit shorter than a more traditional overcoat. The trade off is cold legs for a more trim silhouette. A similar option is available in grey.

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J.Crew offers a similar topcoat ($495) with a more formal peak lapel. Items typically go on sale regularly and thus, the price quoted does not take that into account.

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Bonobos offers a 100% wool topcoat for a just under the budget at $498. It’s a simple three button, single breasted style that’s innocuous and versatile at the same time.

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Ultimately, for the man looking for that one versatile topcoat, the single breast is best, since it works with tailored clothing as well as sportswear.

 

 

Rollneck Season

While quite short of groundbreaking, the equal parts style and function tandem of the rollneck sweater makes it one of fall’s most welcome choices in a man’s closet.

Jacket by Hardy Amies, rollneck by Brioni, trousers by Benneton, loafers by Alden

Jacket by Hardy Amies, rollneck by Brioni, trousers by Benneton, loafers by Alden

The rollneck, or turtleneck, sweater has maintained its standing over the decades for most men. That is, it’s a wonderful fall and winter asset for the man with a longer, thin neck. It serves as a shield against the wind in place of a scarf on mild days, and one more layer (under a scarf) on cooler days. Additionally, for the man with a longer neck, it can deemphasize this. Whereas a crewneck or v-neck sweater opens up, further elongating the face a neck, helpful for the man with a shorter neck and more, um, solid face and head.

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It’s best paired with odd jackets and trousers. Certainly a tweed jacket and a rollneck conjure up images of a college professor, which isn’t a bad look to have. The style is less formal than its v-neck cousin, due to the lack of available space for a shirt and tie. Which means, it doesn’t lend itself well to use with worsted suits but, certainly more fabrics with more substantial texture.

In cashmere, a blend or merino wool, the thinner the sweater, the dressier it is. Just as with a shirt and necktie, keep in mind harmony, since the focus will be on the sweater. Unless you’re going for a militant look, the dark on dark is less flattering than Dead Presidents makes it seem. Plus, if you opt for merino wool, robbery will be less necessary to afford one.

This is high season for the rollneck. Participate.

A Visit to Flame Keepers Hat Club

On the brief train ride from midtown Manhattan to Harlem’s west side, I took note of my fellow passengers; three knit hats and two baseball caps. Not shockingly, there was not a fedora topped head in the car.  However, as I strolled the five blocks from the station to my destination, I scrolled Tumblr, and took note of the contrary.  This generation has, in recent years, experienced a resurgent interest in what is considered classic men’s clothing, eschewing the one-size-too-slim designer trends of a decade ago or the wave of three-size-too-large everything of the late 1990s. The fedora, that final touch of gentility seems to be gaining popularity among the previously hesitant, due in no small part to links of the generation.

The unassuming facade of my destination, Flame Keepers Hat Club, would trick the casual passerby into believing what was on the other side of the wall was just as understated. Aside from muted wooden floors and pale grey brick walls, accented by a lone magenta wall, the shop is resplendent with fedoras in hues of burgundy and hunter green, flap caps in speckled tweeds and herringbone.

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Walking into the two-month old shop on West 121st Street, I was greeted by its genial proprietor, Marc Williamson, himself a 22-year veteran of New York’s JJ Hat Center. Williamson was steaming and brushing a new stock of hats to be soon displayed when I asked what’s the response been to his new shop.

“It’s all been going very well. I will not complain,” said Williamson, who at this point had taken the hat I wore into the shop and gave it a brush and steam.

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Flame Keepers owner, Marc Williamson, steams a fedora

Social media has played a significant role in the shop’s promotion thus far. Before the Instgram snaps of clients, however, there was a trying, year-long process to find a good enough space for the shop. After a back and forth with building owners, Williamson settled on the location, which sits at the corner of Frederick Douglas Boulevard, among Harlem’s major arteries. The area is experiencing what the New York Times described resurgence in development. Williamson, a lifelong New Yorker, by way of Woodside, Queens, felt a particular kinship in Harlem.

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“It’s a great sense of community here,” noted Williamson as two locals entered the shop. The two customers, one in a tan Stetson, browsed around the shop, trying on varieties and chatting with the obliging owner about hats. With a necessary style still to come in stock, the gentlemen left, with one shouting from the door that he lives across the street and would return later.

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“You see,” said Williamson, regarding the serendipitous encounter. “We have those discussions about hats all the time.” The ‘We’ Williamson refers to is not entirely the fedora-topped gentleman depicted in the old Apparel Arts illustrations, rather it’s everyone from the twenty-something Brooklynite, just getting into his first hat to the octogenarian, lifelong Harlem resident who may have very well observed speeches by Malcolm X or recall the sermons of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.

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In that respect lies that idea, the concept, the core mission of Flame Keepers; continuity.

“We’re passing the torch of good taste from one generation to the next, ” said Williamson about the inspiration for the name of the shop.

“Good taste is a range of things; it’s how your treat people. It’s how you present yourself. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

For Williamson, taste transcends any garment, rather it’s more abstract. It’s spirit, a way of behaving and carrying yourself.  Does a hat achieve that? Perhaps not solely, but it’s a stylish beginning.

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Beyond the abstract to the tangible. A hat just looks damned good. There is not a more appropriate way to dress one’s head than a proper hat. A knit or baseball cap often looks juvenile when paired with business formal clothing, while a headless pedestrian complete with heavy coat and scarf looks forgetful and cold.

Some men may believe they’re not the hat-wearing sort but, that must be due to not trying. Visit the shop and Williamson will make suggestions on color, crown shape and brim width, all to best complement the shape of the wearers face.

Visit

Flame Keepers Hat Club

273 West 12st Street, New York, NY 10027

212-531-FKHC (3542)

 

Photos by Bevin Elias

 

 

The Winter Coat Guide: The Trench

Before the end of November the gleaming lights and trimmings of 5th Avenue shops will attempt to conjure up a warm, rather cozy, if slightly manufactured, concept of holiday spirit. Truthfully, The Rockefeller Center Tree, with its own televised special complete with magnificent lights and pageantry is an annual tradition marking a true beginning to the Christmas season for many.  On the more cynical, though realistic, end of the holiday spectrum is the perpetual need for various coats to brave the the bitter elements. For the cool and rainy days ahead, the trench coat, especially the lined variety, should act as a first mate of sorts as we trudge our way through wintery slush.

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With the cold weather staples like the paletot and the single breasted topcoat hopefully on the checklist, another equally important addition is said trench coat. The most widely accepted story regarding its name is that it was favored by British officers during the first World War; of which battle took place in trenches. Tan gabardine or cotton, popularized by Burberry and Aquascutum, is the most traditional, and historic choice, it’s also the most ubiquitous. For the purists, nothing but khaki will do. Less popular but, just as appropriate is navy.

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Unbranded coat (consignment shop), jacket by Isaia, shirt and foulard by Brioni, trousers by Gant, hat by Selentino

A cashmere overcoat and a newspaper held over one’s head is no real match for the weather.  The basic construction of the coat itself; double breasted with storm flaps and wrist belts, all designed so water beads off the coat and doesn’t get in, is a garment that came into fashion based on its utility. That, coupled with a removable lining can serve as a topcoat for the cool rainy days. When layer adequately, it may provide sufficient warmth for frigid temperatures as well. It’s not the ideal choice but, it will work in a pinch.

Now, many design houses and fast fashion retailers have reworked the classic into a myriad of colors and lengths. Yet still, coats, especially those intended to protect the wearer from rain, make the most sense at knee length, despite what the trends may be.

A fourth option is the alternative coat. This green coat is wool, with a quilted lining. It is more substantial than a traditional trench coat but, with all of the militaristic inspiration and styling of one.

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Coat by Brioni, Shirt by Kamakura, tie by Park en Madison Su misura, hat by Selentino

The color separates the wearer from the herd of black and off black. While it’s not suited for the blistery days, it’s ideal for odd jackets and trousers on calm, but cool days. This coat will be just as home with chinos and jeans, versus the decidedly dressier double breasted paletot.

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Utility and style play well together in a trench coat. The military inspired construction is practical; keeping the wearer warm and dry. The styling, typically a distant second with a garment designed for military use, has become a popular piece since the second World War. Immortalized on screen by the Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca, it’s become that rare piece with equal parts style and function.

 

All photos by Bevin Elias

The Winter Coat Guide: The Single Breasted Topcoat

Following a heavy, double breasted coat, a single breasted top coat is an excellent second option for the milder days of winter. This coat won’t look as inherently dressy as a double breasted, opening the wearer’s options to sportswear, rather than solely  formal clothing. Though the previous post was spent bemoaning the single breasted coat, it does have its place.

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Coat and suit by Brioni, shirt by Piatelli, tie by Isaia, hat by Selentino, eyeglass frames by Tom Ford

This style is versatile. The understated charcoal and herringbone pattern make it best at home over suits and sport jackets alike. The peak lapel is a touch that is always dressier than its notched brethren; it’s just dashing enough. Still, it’s less dressy than its velvet collared chesterfield cousin. The lapel rolls to the middle button, much like a three button jacket. The middle buttoning point provides a the sought after’V’ which frames a suit jacket and tie nicely.

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Wool pocket square by J.Crew

Among the advantages of the single breasted is the quiet simplicity. However, some men have allowed themselves to become hidden in lifeless, ill-fitting coats, the majority of them in black. Incorporating a texture or pattern like herringbone or tweed, in a shade that isn’t black, may add enough personality for those willing to tip toe outside the box of conformity.

Bonus points for dressing the breast pocket.

Photos by Bevin Elias

The Winter Coat Guide: The Paletot

As a newcomer to cool weather, I was ill-prepared. While I didn’t quite freeze my ass off (a little bit of it is still there), the lonely topcoat I moved to New York with was less than adequate. Through enormous research, I narrowed down a few basic pieces of outerwear that should serve any newcomer well for a solid season. This is the first feature in the series on coats.

For myself, I’ve obtained a much heavier double breasted overcoat in the paletot style. The features being 6×2 buttoning points, with the top two not meant to be fastened, a center vent, peak lapels and a clean, beltless back. The beauty is in the simplicity. The coat has slight waist suppression, but still looks clean when worn over a sports jacket. Additionally, the styling works best with tailored clothing.

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Hat by Selentino, coat and scarf by Brioni, trousers by Gant

It is said to be ‘invented’ by 19th century dandies, namely the French count, Alfred D’Orsay. Nick Foulkes, author of Last of the Dandies, recorded that the count, who was caught in a rainstorm, purchased the heavy coat off of the back of a sailor. The vainglorious man-about-town saw a utilitarian appeal to the almost ankle length coat.

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However outrageous his life may have been, the count was on to something regarding the warmth of this style of coat. Last season, I tried a slim, single breasted chesterfield topcoat. Not only was I unconvinced of my apparent hipness, I was left with bitterly cold knees.

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The added layer of fabric and additional length of a double breasted coat are both practical and stylish. This coat proved to be sufficient on a recent blustery Sunday in NYC. With the bottom button fastened, the wind was blocked a bit more than the single breasted counterpart.

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Rather than yank the left side of my coat taught over the right, as I did last winter, and futilely flip flimsy lapels up, the breadth of the lapels and the additional layer take the reins against cold. This solution will allow my gloved hands to slide nicely back into the pockets, one more layer away from the wind.

Photos by Bevin Elias

 

 

Three Piece Season

Should the mercury in the thermometers (which I’m certain few homes still have) continue its annual descent, we’re left with little choice in the battle against the cold. We, collectively, traverse the bone-chilling cold streets, swathed in natural fibers, stopping for occasional respite at obscenely over-priced, mediocre chain coffee shops. The enjoyment from this presumed misery for the dressers; the men who appreciate clothing to a near maniacal degree, is the beginning of the season of layers. Chief among these is the three piece suit.

I’m not suggesting that the elegance of a coordinating jacket, trousers and waistcoat are solely limited to autumn and winter, rather there’s more of a need, a utilitarian purpose for them during these months.

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Three piece glen check suit, silver handled walking stick, white linen handkerchief all by Brioni, white shirt by T.M. Lewin, pin dot tie by Polo Ralph Lauren, white gold Abielle bee pin by By Elias

There’s a proper formality to the three piece. When the jacket is casually tossed off -or, ideally hung- the wearer still appears better dressed than his billowy shirt counterparts. More than practicality, it looks damned good. However, for the pragmatists, the additional layer, fixed closely to the body is another, more tasteful option to trap in heat during cooler months.

Consider, for the bulk phobic, a three piece in a heavy, say 18 ounce tweed, paired with gloves and a scarf may keep the wearer just as warm as an overcoat, but without the added garment.

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Gold collar bar and laple pin by By Elias, silk pocket square by Hermes, vintage mother-of-pearl cufflinks

This combination yields infinitely more tasteful results than the ridiculously unstylish, high-low trend of the puffer or fleece vest with suit I’ve seen on the streets of midtown Manhattan. My own predilection is to employ muted suiting fabrics, as I favor a reserved appearance. The furnishings are equally-and harmoniously-underplayed as well. All of this allows the cut of the suit to take the center stage in a way not jarring to the eyes. Details like the crocodile oxford and the gold By Elias pin are small touches that bring visual interest to an ensemble heavy in navy.

Three piece suit by A.M. Bespoke, shirt by Brioni, tie by Ike Behar, shoes by Brioni, socks by Bresciani, gold Fleur de lis by By Elias

Three piece suit by A.M. Bespoke, shirt by Brioni, tie by Ike Behar, shoes by Brioni, socks by Bresciani, gold Fleur de lis by By Elias

The season for adding layers is now. Rather than tip toe into the fall, enter pridefully with the elegance of a three piece suit, or the addition of one. Will a three piece make you look a little more dressed, a bit more put together? Certainly. That’s the point.

Photos by Bevin Elias

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