So over the past several years and through multiple moves, I’ve become intrigued by the idea of the Lean Wardrobe.

The basic idea is this: What in your closet do you need and actually use?

The goal is to have a few solid pieces that are easily interchangeable and that all work with one another, rather than having piles and piles of underutilized clothes stocked away in a messy closet or chest of overstuffed drawers.

Sure, the idea of having multiple closets filled with every possible selection SOUNDS nice, but most likely, you’ll just be wearing the same stuff over and over… the items you like and find most comfortable.

Once in a while, I’ll introduce a new article to the Lean Wardrobe series, highlighting a few types of one particular piece of clothing you should have (giving you the freedom to get rid of everything else, if you so desire).

The three coats you need

If you’re like me, you’ve amassed quite a collection of coats over the years. Some are too small, some too big, some kinda trendy (meh). If you think about it, there are only a few coats that are consistently making it into your rotation.

Here’s what I believe to be three essential coats for your closet; everything else is secondary.

1.) A navy pea coat

This is the best cold weather coat you can have. Find one with traditional styling in a slim cut so it doesn’t swallow you. I’d go with navy or gray (skip the black).

When you’re buying a pea coat, size down until you feel that it’s snug in the shoulders and back, then size up if you must. You want your coat to hug you but not so much that it’s uncomfortable or restricts movement. Lastly, your basic pea coat will hit a little past your hip.

From left to right: Tommy Hilfiger, J.Crew, Gap

The short trench

Nothing wrong with the full-length trench, but let’s be honest, it’s not the easiest thing to wear. You have to be a certain height and build to really pull that off. I’m 5’9″, and I personally think the long trenches make me look goofy.

Enter the short trench. These typically hit mid-thigh, so it covers your backside but doesn’t venture past your knee. They can come with or without a belt. I’d go with something in navy, black, or grey, that way you can wear it with everything.

My trench isn’t the warmest coat ever (water resistant, but not necessarily warm, unless yours has a special insulation layer), so I make sure to wear several layers if I know it’ll be cold out.

From left to right: Banana Republic, Shades of Gray, Burberry

Leather jacket

You want a slim-fitting leather jacket in a classic silhouette that you can own and wear for years. I’d stick with military silhouettes, bombers (if they’re slim enough), or motorcycle silhouettes. A dark brown leather is the most versatile, but if you’re especially bad-ass, go for the black.

Remember, this should fit like a second skin. You don’t want a big billowy leather jacket. Imagine yourself riding a motorcycle with it on. You don’t want the sleeves and torso of the jacket flapping in the wind; you gotta remain aerodynamic!

Leather jackets typically will be the priciest jacket you own, but if you find one you love, it’s often worth the splurge.

From left to right: Hugo Boss, Andrew Marc, Ben Sherman

What are YOUR essential winter outerwear picks?

There you have it, three outerwear items that are essential in every man’s wardrobe. Sure, you’ll have other jackets you throw on once in a while, but if you only have three to help you survive the winter, these should be it.

What are your favorite coats you own? Is there a certain kind you can’t live without? Let’s hear it in the comments below.

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45 Responses

  1. Ralphie on

    For those of us that are price conscious for whatever reason, all three of these jackets can typically be found at your local Army/Navy surplus store for half the price of buying new, name brand pieces. That’s how I got my peacoat and trench (with liner!). I saved money and I know that the colors and styles I chose are classics.

    • Barron on

      I was actually going to mention this in the post, good point. The only thing I’d worry about is the fit of these coats. I’ve tried some pea coats that fit really well, but some that were kinda meh, and I imagine the trenches to be more full-length, and not slim cut, right?

      In any case, to anyone considering the surplus store, it’s a good alternative and worth trying on what’s available there. Just remember the rules of fit.

      • Anonymous on

        It’d be worth knowing if, and if so how much, coats are as alterable as shirts and sportcoats. Can your tailor alter a trench? Peacoat?

        • Barron on

          A good tailor can alter pretty much anything, it depends more on the restrictions of the garment. Price will depend on where you live and where you go. Yelp is a good place to check for great tailors in your area, just take the angry reviewers’ comments with a grain of salt.

      • Ralphie on

        I wouldn’t call my trench “slim-cut”, although it’s not billowing around me either, so I guess that term is in the eye of the beholder. I’m 5’8″ and the trench comes down to just above my knees. So if you’re worried about looking like a fool, I’d say it’s just a matter of not settling and continuing to look until you find exactly what you want.

        • Barron on

          Sounds like it fits pretty well, that’s awesome. Maybe I have to go try one on for myself. As long as the trench fits well in the shoulders and body and isn’t billowy, that’s all that matters.

    • Barron on

      It’s tough writing an article on “essential winter coats” considering such varied climates depending on where you are in the world 🙂 But yes, for you Floridians, I have a feeling a pea coat would be pretty useless (and absurd). A nice tweed sport coat serves the purpose.

  2. Danny on

    This is a great post, as it gets me thinking about how to distill my wardrobe (and not just my coats) down to the essentials. Things that are interchangeable, timeless, etc. I’m in the market for a peacoat right now, I just picked up a thick tweed sportcoat like OnlyShawn mentions, and I have a trench coat. But for me, I can’t really pull off the leather jacket. For some reason I just don’t feel comfortable in them, which just throws the whole thing off for me.

    Good stuff, as usual!

    • Barron on

      Which leather jackets have you tried? Maybe it’s the stiffness of the leather you don’t like? If that’s the case you could always try models with a more supple leather. I know what you mean though, sometimes you just don’t feel comfortable in it, kinda like me with trench coats that aren’t cropped or shortened.

      Distilling my wardrobe is something I’ve been doing a lot lately. Just getting rid of things I don’t use on a regular basis to make room (either for new essentials, or just to make room in general). I hope to write more on this subject soon.

  3. Anonymous on

    While these are all fine jackets, the Pea Coat is the only one that even approaches winter-ready. The trench and the leather jacket are nice for places that don’t have real winters, but they are mostly useless when temps are hovering around or below zero for months at a time.

    • Barron on

      Where do you live? I guess it’s all relative. Some commenters like Shawn mentioned that these are mostly irrelevant for people in his area (Florida) where it’s way too warm. The title was a little sensationalistic, though I still think these three coats are great to have in the closet because you can make use of them on a regular basis, for most of the year (except for those extreme months when it’s below zero).

      • Anonymous on

        I’m in Minnesota. I definitely like all the jackets mentioned in this post, they just wouldn’t hold up in the winter here.

  4. Apm on

    Highly recommend JCrew’s bayswater peacoat! I bought it last year and loved it during the winter. I saw a lot on sale last spring (incase you’re willing to wait a season)

  5. John Fair on

    I only own 1 of those 3 types of coats (the Burberry mid-length lined trench).  My main go-to coat in the winter is a Burberry 3/4 length wool/cashmere overcoat which works with all of my suits.  My dress coat is Burberry Harbour (mid-length double breasted cashmere, black) which shall debute after New Years 2012.  I’ve been in love with this coat for 4yrs now and finally came up with an excuse to own it!  🙂   It’s been well worth the sacrifice! 

    As for casual coats though, I tend to wear a hip-length Banana Republic single-breasted military jacket (brown) if the weather allows.  If it gets too cold though, which in MI happens a lot, then I go straight to my North Face collection.  Can’t go wrong with goose down and Gore-Tex!

  6. Marc Ryan on

    Hey Barron,

    First off, I wholeheartedly agree with your statement of clearing space in the closet and only utilizing the essential clothing items. I have started to come to terms with this over the past few months, as many of my clothes have either seen lots of wear or none at all. I have pretty much phased out the “logo” items of my wardrobe (i.e. Abercrombie, Express, Hollister stuff). I was like 16 when I bought that stuff, what did I know? My style has definitely matured since then and I’m no longer wasteful in buying large amounts of clothing that is not considered a style essential to me.

    To address the main aspect of the article, as a guy who has lived in Chicago for the entirety of my existence, I know a thing or two about dressing for the cold.

    I bought a military style merino wool coat a few years back from Banana Republic. The small fit me so well that I had to have it. It’s kept me warm and I’m so glad I have it. Not only does it carry my keys, wallet, phone, my favorite “function” comes in the form of the collar. I can flip it up and it has a light gray lining, which adds a contrast to the black color of the coat and helps it “pop”. I don’t pop the collar on polos or dress shirts but I think it adds a little panache to the coat. I love little details like that in my clothing.

    One other piece that was not mentioned that I am lucky to have is a shearling lined blue denim jacket from Levi’s. I got it for about $50 last year on black friday and it was a must-have for me at that price. It is extremely warm and there’s nothing more classic than a Levi’s denim jacket. If the person has the confidence to rock it, by all means pull the trigger. I love pairing it with my slim beige khakis and a pair of desert boots/hiking boots.

    Great article Barron. It’s always great to see what people are into especially for a topic such as this. Have a great weekend and GO MANNY PACQUIAO!

    • Barron on

      Hey Marc,

      Thanks for your comment. I did away with all the logo stuff myself a couple years ago 🙂

      Interesting re: the shearling-lined denim jacket. I’ve never seen one, sounds pretty cool. Don’t know if I could pull it off myself; guess I’d have to try it on.

      I know Chicago gets pretty cold; is the pea coat the only one on this list that could hold up in the freezing weather?

      • Marc Ryan on

        Hey Barron,

        The shearling-lined denim jacket in my opinion has so much rugged swagger about it and looks so cool to me. I have no doubt you could pull it off, I mean you’re the head guy of the effortless gent, if I can pull it off to a certain extent, I’m sure you could do even better.

        I do have a cotton peacoat also from Banana Republic but it’s a little on the thin side and appropriate for spring/fall seasons. I have a small assortment of winter outerwear for now. I really was not into the whole style aesthetic until a few years ago but my collection is coming along slowly. I do own a North Face, but then again, who doesn’t. Personally, I think they’re overrated. What’s your take on them? I say that because everyone has one and I’m not much of a fan of having things everyone has, but didn’t think of that when I bought it haha. It’s a more casual choice in winter outerwear. What I do know is that my next casual outerwear piece will not be North Face, hopefully an RLX jacket. Those aren’t too common.

        • Barron on

          I know what you mean about not wanting to wear the same stuff as everyone else. I like North Face, though to me I would be buying one of those jackets more for utility than style. I like some of the pieces RLX has but I haven’t been paying close attention, so I probably wouldn’t be the authority on that line.

          In any case, go with what you love. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something unique that not many others have.

      • Dsale48 on

        I’m lucky to have received a hand-me-down camel hair overcoat – somewhere between a pea jacket and a duffel coat, single-breasted cut /4 button stance.  It’s VERY warm, and almost 100% rainproof. For a sport coat/blazer of the same material, I’d wear a sweater underneath and accessorize with a scarf and knit cap.

  7. Reuben on

    Hi Barron, first off, I’d to say that I love your site. The advice you give is fantastic and I love the illustrations. I was wondering if I could ask you for a tip. I live in Singapore so I never get a chance to wear winter clothing. I’m heading to Europe for a month soon though and I’m looking for nice coat. What would you recommend for a 21 year old Asian guy who is rather short (1.67m/5’5″) and a bit on the heavy side? What colour would you recommend too?

    • Barron on

      Hey Reuben,

      Thanks for reading. To answer your question, I’d probably go with the first choice in this list, a navy pea coat. Looks great, you can dress it up or down, and it hits at the hip, so it’s not too long. Try one of those out.

  8. Justin on

    Barron:  I have a body type that is not typically manufactured for.  I’m a powerlifter – 5’7″ tall, 16″ neck, 40-41″ chest, 30″ waist.  You recommend, and I prefer, tighter-fitting items such as the leather jacket.  How would you recommend I shop for these?  I can either buy a small and deal with a too-tight chest.  I can buy a medium and deal with a boxy, looser fitting middle.  Or I can find a manufacturer that gets it just right.  Thoughts?

    • Barron on

      Hey Justin,

      You’d be hard-pressed finding anything that fits perfectly right off the rack, but that’s okay, you’re not the only one. I’d go with the medium to fit your chest, and then take the jacket to a tailor to slim out the torso for you. That’s probably the best option you have, because dealing with a too-tight chest for any piece of clothing is just uncomfortable.

      Expect to spend a bit for the tailoring, but since it’s a leather jacket you (hopefully) will wear for years, it’s worth it. I spent around $75 or $80 to slim mine down, but now I actually wear it because it fits way better.

  9. Dylan McCarthy on

    I agree with collinwho below. I go to school in washington dc, so my go to winter coats are my peacoat and my Barbour Bedale waxed cotton jacket which can easily stand up to wind, rain, and snow. I’m looking at investing in a snug parka from Canada goose for those unusually freezing days.

  10. gabby evans on

    These jackets are nice, but I prefer a longer coat. I found a perfect jacket from Berlington
    Coat Factory
    . I got a great price, and it is warmer than this one. I actually just bought a new spring coat there for the warmer weather as well.

  11. Spencer Z on

    My short (just above the knees) wool overcoat from Banana Republic’s Heritage collection last year. Military inspired in an olive green, fully lined, etc. This thing is awesome and toughed out both Chicago and Minnesota winters with ease.

  12. carlos on

    Since a good leather coat should last the rest of one’s life, I’m thinking of getting a custom-made A2 jacket from Schott for about $1200. Is that too pricey? Schott also makes some slim-fitting pea coats but I already bought one from J.Crew that works fine.
    If you live in a place that gets some severe winter weather, then I suggest buying a waterproof, hooded parka with a removable fleece lining. L.L. Bean and North Face are good options, I think. I have an L.L. Bean one I wear when it is blizzardy outside. In those kind of conditions, it does look fashionable and appropriate.

  13. speedalini . on

    Hi Barron, I have a question regarding materials. I’m in the UK and looking at investing in a navy pea coat having read your article. The examples I’ve seen so far are often a mix of wool and polyester (perhaps with small proprtions of others too) – how important is this and would 100% wool be better quality?

    Many thanks and top work with the site!

    • Barron on

      I personally don’t mind if it’s some sort of wool blend. I assume the poly and other materials add durability, and as long as the coat fits and drapes well when you wear it, I wouldn’t be too concerned.

  14. mn_catholic on

    If you live in Minnesota (or other similarly cold climates) you need to add a fur-lined down parka to your “must-have” list. Trenches and leather jackets work in the spring and fall, and a pea coat will keep you warm down to about 0 degrees F, but when the “polar vortex” moves in, it’s time to throw fashion out the window and put on a parka.

  15. qin on

    This is a quite late response but I had a question on pea coats .

    Is there an ideal length for pea coats? I’ve seen some as long as a suit jackets and some just a little above mid thigh or a little shorter than a short top coat.