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How to buy a winter coat online that you'll actually love

What to look for in fabrics, materials, and features for your best fit

Credit: Canada Goose and Getty/Janifest

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Fall is finally here again, meaning it’s time for pumpkin spice, apple picking, and due to the changes in temperature, it’s also time to throw on jackets and coats.

Whether it's getting chilly or staying warm where you live, it’s never too early to start looking for a new coat. Shopping ahead of time helps prevent scrambling at the last minute to buy a jacket. Especially this year, with shipping is taking longer than usual, you'll want to make sure to order early to get that perfect jacket in time for the season.

It might be tempting to default to a popular Patagonia jacket or jump on the bandwagon and grab the famous Amazon coat that was all over the internet a few years ago. However, while these jackets and brands are loved by many, you should be looking for something that fits your exact needs. There is no “one size fits all” for jackets. Some want the warmest coat possible, while others might want something light enough to carry when they don’t need it. The tolerance for heat and cold varies for each person, and while one person may want multiple layers, another may only want a single layer. With so much to consider, buying a jacket can be an overwhelming experience.

Whatever your needs may be, winter coats are an investment. You want them to be good quality, last multiple seasons, and look great. Because of my knowledge in apparel, I spend hours analyzing the materials, the fill, and functionality to make sure it fits my exact needs before I make a purchase. To me, it’s a seasonal sport, and below, I’m providing you with my tips and tricks for winning the jacket game, along with some coats and jackets we recommend for the colder months.

Tip 1: Pick the right material for the right temperature

I used to think all puffy jackets were the same. That is, until I started working in the apparel industry and realized I could not have been more wrong. A high quality jacket meant for frigid conditions might be overkill for a mild winter climate, and a lighter winter jacket could leave you freezing in colder temperatures.

In order to get the right jacket, you need to pick the right materials. Here are some notes on what to pay attention to when shopping for a coat.

For extreme cold weather: Look for down-filled jackets
For very chilly climates look for down-filled jackets as those will give you the most warmth. If they list a number with the down, i.e. 550-fill-power, keep in mind the higher the number the warmer the coat will be.

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canada goose jacket
Credit: Canada Goose

Keep warm in extreme cold with this jacket.

A great recommendation for a down-filled jacket is a Canada Goose jacket. Although they are a splurge, these jackets have a cult following, as they stand up to the coldest winters, making them a popular choice for those who live in extremely cold climates. This jacket is made with 625-fill-power down which means it will offer more warmth than other down jackets with a lower fill power. It’s constructed with water-resistant material that will keep you dry in light rain or snow. It has fleece-lined pockets, a chin guard to help shield your face from the cold, rib-knit cuffs and a down-filled hood to provide extra coziness and warmth. And if that isn’t enough, it has interior straps so it can be carried hands-free, snaps at the bottom for increased range of motion, and interior pockets with zipper closures.

Get the Canada Goose Shelburne Genuine Coyote Fur Trim Down Parka from Nordstrom for $995

For mild weather: Polyfill Jackets
For places with milder winter climates, keep an eye out for polyfill jackets. These are often not as warm as down fill but will provide enough warmth and are often less costly than down jackets.

puffer coat
Credit: Sam Edelman

Run errands in this puffy jacket.

This iridescent puffer jacket is a great option for a polyfill jacket. It’s not designed for the Arctic tundra, but it’s perfect for running errands or walking outside. It is filled with polyfill to keep you warm on a chilly day and is made with lightweight material which means it won’t feel heavy when you’re wearing it. It also has inset rib cuffs for extra warmth and front zipper pockets to keep items like keys or credit cards from falling out.

Get the Sam Edelman Iridescent Water Repellent Hooded Puffer Jacket from Nordstrom for $200

Tip 2: To find a warm, lightweight jacket that is easy to carry, look at the fabric and fill

If you hate carrying around a heavy coat, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a jacket that won’t keep you warm. There are coats you can buy that will keep you warm and not add too much extra weight to your outfit. Here are the fabrics and materials to look for and why:

  • Down and polyfill: Both down and polyfill will provide warmth with minimal weight, the main difference is that a higher quality down will give more warmth than polyfill.

  • Nylon and ripstop: For lightweight fabric options, you’ll want to look for nylon or ripstop material as both are extremely lightweight and durable.

Here are two great options for lightweight jackets that will still keep you warm:

patagonia jacket
Credit: Patagonia

This jacket will keep you warm but not weigh you down.

The Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
This coat is one of the most popular pieces at Nordstrom and Patagonia. It’s made with lightweight ripstop material and has polyfill, which is particularly useful if you live in a climate where the weather is unpredictable or the temperature changes throughout the day as this jacket is easy to carry around or squish into a bag. This jacket is also windproof and water-resistant making it great for windy and rainy days.

Get the Patagonia Nano Puff Water Resistant Jacket from Nordstrom for $199

Athleta jacket
Credit: Athleta

All the warmth without the bulk.

Athleta’s Rock Ridge PrimaLoft Coat
If you love the warmth of a puffy jacket but still want to be able to walk, run, or exercise without the weight or bulk, then grab this piece from Athleta. It’s made with lightweight recycled nylon fabric and polyfill insulation. The side mesh panels stretch which means you’ll feel free to move in this jacket. It has a longer hem and thumbholes to provide extra warmth and coziness. Within the 460+ reviews and nearly 5-star rating, buyers gush that it’s great to wear for the gym, running errands, or driving because it provides warmth without feeling bulky or heavy.

Get the Rock Ridge PrimaLoft Coat from Athleta for $198

Tip 3: Pay attention to bonus features that you could benefit from

My favorite outerwear has always been the jackets with surprise features that I didn’t know I needed until I had them. My advice to you: Look for the extra details while coat shopping. Whether it's extra pockets, carrying straps, or a coat that can be worn multiple ways, those seemingly small functional features can be the thing that makes or breaks a coat.

cole haan jacket
Credit: Cole Haan

Get two jackets for the price of one.

This Cole Haan jacket from Macy’s is a great example of a versatile coat. I own a jacket very similar to it, and the detail of having an inner attached vest has made it one of my favorite winter jackets. This is because it can function as either a short coat or a long coat, making it ideal for changing temperatures throughout the day.

The inner, attached zipper vest allows you to wear this coat in multiple ways. Zipping the inside vest leaves the rest of the jacket open, allowing you to easily move your legs while still having benefits of a long jacket (i.e. coverage in the back). You can also zip both the inner vest and the outer zipper, which acts as a double layer and provides extra warmth on a cold day, or you can simply use the outer zipper to have more room. Personally, I love that when I get too hot I can unzip the outer zipper to get some air into my jacket, but still keep the inner vest zipped up so I’m not freezing.

Get the Cole Haan Box-Quilt Down Puffer Coat from Macy’s for $220 (originally $275)

The Northface jacket
Credit: The Northface

Wear this jacket like a backpack when you don't want to carry it.

The North Face has great options for versatile jackets, too. I grew up in Michigan where winters are frigid and that meant wearing a super thick and heavy coat. This wasn’t a problem until I stepped into a store or mall and would immediately start sweating. My options were to wear the jacket and sweat, take the jacket off and lug it around until my arm is sore, or to wear a lighter jacket and freeze while I’m outside. Fortunately, this jacket from The North Face solves those problems. It has straps built-in to the jacket which means that you can wear it like a backpack when you aren’t outside. This coat is made for the coldest conditions with down insulation, windproof and waterproof fabric, and a breathable vent to help keep you dry.

Get the W New Outerboroughs Parka from The North Face for $449

Tip 4: To save some money, invest in a layering jacket and pile on what you own to make it work in any weather situation

Buying a layering jacket is a great investment for many reasons. It functions as a light jacket on mildly cold days and can work with what you already own if you don’t want to spend money on another heavier jacket.

If you already have a fall jacket, add on a layering jacket underneath to extend the life of your fall jacket and get the most for your money. Or combine these layering coats with other items in your wardrobe for extra warmth. The best part, they can easily be added or removed to get the perfect temperature for your body. Here are two great layering jackets.

uniqlo coat
Credit: Uniqlo

Layer this under a trench or wool coat to get the most for your money.

A friend of mine turned me on to this jacket from Uniqlo last year because it’s so versatile. It can be worn by itself on a crisp fall day and it’s also water-repellent if you happen to get caught in a light rain shower. It fits extra layers underneath, and it’s sleek and lightweight so you won’t feel like a marshmallow. What I really love about this coat is that it’s very lightweight, slim, and has no collar making it a great piece to wear under another coat. Wear this under that trench or wool coat that’s not quite warm enough and it can now be worn further into the winter season because it provides extra warmth.

Get the Women Ultra Light Down Compact Coat from Uniqlo for $79.90

j crew rain coat
Credit: J. Crew

Light enough to layer or wear on its own.

This is one of J. Crew’s best selling jackets, and reviewers love to layer it. It’s light enough to wear with multiple layers but also has enough heft due to the cotton and nylon blend that it can be worn on it’s own. Combine this cinched waist jacket with an oversized sweater to give extra warmth and maximum comfort but with a fitted silhouette. You can also wear it over another slim jacket to provide protection from the rain as this jacket is water-resistant. This piece also has a longer hem in the back to provide more coverage from the elements and has ample pocket space if you don’t want to carry a purse.

Get the Perfect Rain Jacket from J. Crew for $128

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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