Move over sweater weather, it’s downright cold in many areas of the country right now that winter is days away — officially, anyway. With temperatures plunging and coronavirus cases continuing to spike, you might be once again left reimagining how to shop for the perfect women’s winter coat right now. For one, experts told us that given wider availability and variety of styles and in contrast to past trends, shoppers tend to seek multiple outerwear options for varying temperatures and occasions. “It used to be that customers would buy one coat for cold weather and what we’re seeing is that stylish shoppers really want options that speak to their outfit or mood that day, not unlike sneakers or shoes,” said Matthew Sebra, a senior fashion director at Macy's. So if you’re on the hunt for a new winter coat or don’t quite know where to start, we chatted with Sebra and other fashion experts to help you find the best winter coat or jacket for you.
Women’s winter coats versus jackets for women: What’s the difference?
Before jumping into the increasingly broader selection of cold weather options, it’s important to understand the contrast between coats and jackets, which people often label interchangeably.
According to Sebra, who was formerly the deputy fashion director at GQ, these are two distinct pieces with significantly different protection but a fairly simple differentiation. “Traditionally, the key distinction is length: A jacket hits at or around the hip while a coat is longer,” he said. Erica Russo, fashion consultant and a former VP and fashion director at Bloomingdale’s, added a few other discernible differences.
Jackets are often lighter weight and commonly made from denim, leather or fleece.
Coats are typically worn more as protection from weather conditions like the cold, snow or rain.
Within these two categories of winter outerwear, you’ll come across a variety of different styles while shopping, especially as new trends emerge.
Parkas are long coats with big hoods that fall to your knee or lower and are designed to protect against extreme weather.
Ski jackets typically hit at the hip and are designed to protect during sports or other physical activities.
Puffer coats have become “a must-have outerwear piece that’s just as fashionable as it is functional,” said Russo. Available in both jacket and coat length, it’s the look of insulation poofing between quilting that distinguishes puffers from others.
Leather jackets have remained staples in many closets in varying lengths. “Both real and faux is such a huge trend in women’s clothing that it naturally influenced outerwear as well,” said Russo. “From rich fall hues to printed snakeskin — the leather coat is a standout piece.”
Peacoats are typically a more formal cold-weather option that can come in a variety of lengths and is typically built with wool or cashmere blends. “Those fabrics are versatile and can be dressed up or down for any occasion,” noted Sebra.
But remember, there are always exceptions to these rules — Sebra considers this a big plus about winter coats and jackets for shoppers this season. “There are traditional tailored topcoats and puffer coats cut in the same silhouette; naval-inspired peacoats updated with nylon sleeves traditionally found on a bomber jacket,” he said. “You can find a long corduroy puffer coat or an insulated utility coat in classic wool. There are no rules anymore — just buy what you love.”
Best women’s coats and jackets
Nobody wants to put on a coat that’s no match to brutal wind and frigid temperatures so how do you know which is worth investing in and which won’t hold up in the cold? Check out some of our favorite finds, as well as recommendations from the experts we consulted.
Best splurge down coat for women: Canada Goose
For those looking for maximum protection against frigid weather, this slim-fit Canada Goose parka is worth the investment. Although it costs more than some other jackets on the market, this thigh-length, water-resistant, parka will keep you comfortable in temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Canada Goose. It is 625 down fill, which shoppers will see typically ranging from 400-900 (the higher the number the better) and it also features an adjustable down-filled hood, lined chine guard, interior backpack straps and cuffs at the wrist to retain heat. It’s available in ten color options as well as a range of sizes from 2XS-2XL.
Best affordable coat for women: Orolay
There’s a reason why Russo called this jacket, which is her top pick for a budget-friendly, everyday option, the Amazon coat: More than 13,000 reviewers left it with an average 4.4-star rating. “For the past few years, it’s been a viral bestseller with no signs of slowing down,” she said. “Women are loving the coat’s length, roomy fit and fashionable details like pockets, fleece lined hood and range of fun colors.” The thigh-length coat also features 90 percent duck down fill and six roomy pockets.
Best overall jacket for women: Patagonia
Don’t let the fact that this jacket weighs just ten ounces fool you: Its warmth and protection from both water and wind are not compromised by its lightweight feel. Not only can it to compress down to a small packable pocket and keep you warm even when wet but this Fair Trade-Certified jacket is also environmentally-conscious. In addition to the 100-percent recycled shell fabric, starting in 2020, Nano Puff styles have transitioned to 100-percent “post-consumer recycled polyester insulation” in 2020, a new material Patagonia claims “provides excellent warmth for its weight, stays warm when wet and reduces carbon emissions as compared to conventional production methods.” Plus, there is a hooded style as well as a parka version for added coverage.
Best everyday puffer coat for women: Herno
This jacket will keep you warm while also looking stylish, which is why Russo recommended it for those shopping for a flattering puffer option. “I love this coat from Herno for its ultralight weight down, sleek design and modern collar,” she said. Made from “ultralight” nylon and filled with fine goose down, this practical-yet-stylish thigh-length, slim-fit puffer will keep you warm without extra bulk.
Best light jacket for women: The North Face
With a water-repellent soft shell exterior and soft fleece lining, this jacket is also wind-resistant, according to The North Face, and equips a detachable hood for added protection.
It comes in a longer style for additional coverage, which is also Russo’s favorite light-weight parka. “Water-repellent and fleece-lined with a high-low hem, this parka is both fashionable and functionable,” she added.
Best military jacket for women: FASHION BOOMY
For those shopping for a more transitional and less extreme-weather option, this military jacket will be a welcomed addition to your outerwear collection. Not only is this machine-washable jacket beloved by Amazon reviewers for its on-trend design, inclusive sizes and accessible price-point, but it also comes in an impressive 42 color options with a range of lining and hood choices. Whether you prefer the look of faux-fur hoods, fleece-lined hoods or no hoods at all, this jacket is ready to reflect your personal style with a drawstring waist, zipper closure and button details.
Best sustainable (and packable) down coat for women: prAna
This Fair Trade-certified brand, which is focused on sustainable and versatile options, now has an eco-friendly insulated outerwear collection. This 650-power fill down coat is insulated using Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified down and feathers, which ensures that the welfare of the birds providing this are respected at all times, according to the brand. The hooded coat can also pack into its own pocket and has a durable water-repellent coating that is free from harmful chemicals.
Best ski jacket for women: The North Face
Whether you’re hitting the slopes or the sled in your backyard, this three-in-one “zip in” jacket will keep you warm while participating in snowsports. The inner jacket’s lining is made from 100 percent recycled insulation that keeps you warm even if you get wet from snow or sweat. The breathable outer layer shell even has a zippered seam vent, an internal goggle pocket and wrist pocket complete with attached goggle wipe. There’s also a helmet-compatible hood that allows for coverage while you’re staying protected.
Best fashion (and eco-friendly) coat for women: Everlane
Available in four colors, this winter coat from sustainable fashion brand Everlane combines the warmth of a puffer style with a relaxed military-inspired design. Not only is this machine-washable coat filled with 100-percent recycled down insulation instead of goose down but the shell is also made from 100-percent recycled fabric created from bottles (36 of them), according to Everlane. Plus, it has fleece-lined hand pockets, a snorkel hood and water-resistant finish to keep you both warm and dry.
How to buy winter coats and jackets
As always, how you’ll use the coat or jacket dictates which one is best for you — you likely don’t want to hit the slopes in a peacoat or attend a formal affair in a bomber puffer.
“If you’re going to be standing outside for hours, you’ll want a puffer or parka, which are traditionally made from nylon or polyester and filled, which hold in heat better,” said Sebra. “The ultimate all-weather warmest coat is going to be a parka or sleeping bag-style puffer with a polyester shell, which is best for repelling rain, snow.” He also suggested looking for one that is insulated with a down or down-alternative as well as lining that warms quickly and keeps in heat.
As you’re scrolling through your many options for a coat or jacket, here are some features to keep an eye on.
Hoods offer additional protection from wind, rain, snow and plunging temperatures. They may be detachable for increased versatility and may allow for interchangeable linings and trims.
Linings such as fleece and sherpa give outerwear additional warmth as well as a soft feel on any exposed skin. “One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is sherpa,” added Sebra. “The cozy textured fabric adds a fresh twist to classic silhouettes, inside and out.”
Other materials used will dictate if the piece is machine-washable or more high-maintenance and requires dry cleaning. They’ll also impact whether the piece is waterproof, wind-resistant or compressible (for traveling). Russo reminded that “waterproof” and “water-resistant” are not the same so be sure to check product detail page for specific wording.
Pockets are important and so is where they’re placed, which you may not realize until you’re out in the cold with it. While shopping, note whether pockets are inside or outside, how many there are and whether they’re built with cozy lining to help keep your hands warm.
Best winter coats, jackets and down fill
Russo said there is one type of winter coat and jacket she considers a standout among the rest for its warmth: “The down-filled coat, given its ability for max insulation and durability,” she explained.
Down is a type of filling that comes from featherlike plumage from birds and is what often gives winter outwear a distinct puff. This offers superior insulation but down-filled jackets and coats equip different levels of “down fill power,” which can be an important spec for shoppers. According to REI, fill power shows the relative quality of down — higher fill power indicates greater insulating efficiency as well as less bulk. So the higher the fill power, the more packable and lightweight the piece of outerwear will be (in physical weight, not protection offered) .
However, this doesn’t indicate how warm the coat or jacket will be compared to others because there are other factors that impact this, including a spec that’s rarely seen: the jacket’s down weight. Instead of the quality of the down fluff used, this measures the amount or physical weight of it that’s used, which impacts how warm the piece will be.