A Comprehensive Guide to Winter Coats
Updated: Aug 4
You probably know this by now: I love winter. The chilling wind whipping through my body and preventing me from breathing makes me feel alive. When I stand in the cold and feel my nose and ears start to freeze, it makes me hyper-aware that I have a nose and ears that can be frozen, and isn't that a beautiful thing? Tell me - how do people in warm climates know they are alive if they never feel the rush of blood leaving their face when they step out into a polar vortex? Frankly, I am not sure they are alive. I freeze, therefore I am.
In order to really love the winter, though, you have to be prepared for it's chilly embrace. A wise woman once said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad sartorial choices. I don't know this woman, but she has my vote. Yes, if you want to winter well, you must have an arsenal of coats. You might be asking yourself why you need a whole arsenal. Won't one warm one do just fine? Here is the thing, my fair weather friend - you will quickly tire of wearing your one functional coat all winter long and you will find yourself longing for spring. To help you discover the joy that is winter, I present to you Queer Martha's Comprehensive Guide to Winter Coats. There are six coats that will take you from November to April with a smile on your lips and a pep in your step (assuming there is not ice on the sidewalk. Don't pep on the ice.) If you follow this Comprehensive Guide, then you, too, can have a winter coat for every occasion. First, you invest in the following six coats, then you evolve into a cold weather champion.
Word of warning before you follow in my footsteps - like everything else in my life, function follows form. Great. Let's begin.
1.) An actually-warm coat for when you go out in a snowstorm
Ideally, this is a boxy, vintage coat that came into your possession when your father-in-law bought the house of a woman named Helen who passed away with no family to claim her belongings, including her winter coat. Whenever you see Helen's name written on the coat's label, you will be reminded of the generations of families that made it through the winter in Pennsylvania's coal country with nothing but love and boilo, and that thought will keep you warm. Here's another winter tip from Queer Martha: make sure you are acquiring coats that keep you warm on the outside and you are thinking thoughts that keep you warm on the inside.
This coat should have some sort of fur collar for maximum winter forcefield effect. Fur is obviously full of controversy, but it is also full of warmth and goodness. I swear that the moment I hide my face in that fuzzy little neckbrace the cold just melts away. It is a pretty magical feeling. Faux fur might have the same effect. I don't know. I've never tried faux fur.
2.) A long tweed coat for when you need to look smart
Ok, so it is a scientifically proven fact that cold weather makes you smarter. That is why Canada and the countries of Scandinavia do everything well, we all know this. We all also know that tweed makes people respect you for your powers of intellect. Thus, when it is winter and you are about to do something smart, you are going to want a long tweed coat. Tweed because your smart outside will match your smart inside, and long because it's damn cold out there. This is not the season for a J.Crew Ludlow Blazer, I am sorry to say, unless you wear one under your long tweed coat. Tweed on tweed action is pretty hot, I must admit.
Try it out - put on your long tweed coat and walk onto a college campus or a lecture hall or something. People will look at you and think to themselves, "Wow, that person has brilliant ideas and also looks warm." You will be able to see it in their eyes, presuming their eyes aren't tearing up from the cold.
Wearing an awesome hat also makes you look smarter, so I encourage you to pair the two.
3.) A raincoat for sad winter days when it's cloudy enough to rain but not cold enough to snow
You don't have to tell me that there is nothing worse than a rainy winter day. I am not going to defend that crap. You know what nobody ever said? Nobody ever said, "Hey, let's go have a rainball fight!" It's never been uttered. Have you heard about Frosty the Rainman? No? That's because he doesn't exist. And neither should the rain in the winter. It does exist, however, and we need to be ready for it when it comes. The best way to prepare for a winter rainstorm is by having a brightly colored rain jacket on hand to counter balance the darkness you feel in your soul.
4.) A nostalgic coat that you just can't part with because it was the first expensive thing you bought for yourself when you got tired of your H&M coats not actually keeping you warm.
You can actually see the moth hole in the center front of this coat in this photoshopped photo of me, but I cannot bear to get rid of this jacket. First of all, it is actually quite warm, and I like how it mixes the classic peacoat with a funny turtleneck situation, but mostly it is the coat's sentimental qualities that tie me to it so inextricably.
I had, in fact, during my late teens and early twenties, bought a series of H&M winter coats that would finish the season with tattered linings and massive pilling. I would see myself in store windows and think, "This coat is just not laying correctly, and I am freezing." One day in 2008, I decided it was the moment go to the Galeries Lafayette - the only place I knew where I could browse coats - and buy myself something of quality. I ended up with this black number from a German designer made from an Italian blend of 50% wool, 40% poly, and 10% cashmere (as my mother said - wool for warmth, polyester for strength, cashmere for softness. She's a smart lady.). It was the first high-quality item that I ever purposely bought for myself (I once accidentally bought a John Galliano bra - I had no idea what was happening until I got to the cash register.), and I was so proud of that jacket. I am still proud of that jacket - moth hole and all. Yes, the fourth coat you need to be a Winter Warrior is a coat that reminds you that you have the power to take care of yourself even when the wind is whipping and your hands are chapped and you are walking home because you forgot your wallet and can't get on the train. This is a pride coat.
Side note about shopping for this coat - as I was browsing the racks of winter coats in the Galeries Lafayettes, there was another girl looking at coats on the racks near me. She was cute - she had short hair, like I did at the time, and I was hoping that she would pick up on my gay cues like I was picking up on hers. I kept shooting her side glances while continuing to pretend to browse that coats, you know... doing that flirting thing you do when you run into a cute queermo in the coat department. She wasn't getting creeped out and moving away from me, so I was feeling pretty confident. I looked up at her and gave her one of those "how you doin'?" smirk/nods, and she totally smiled back at me! Then she totally didn't look away... then I totally realized I was looking at mirror and I had been flirting with myself the entire time.
So, yes, this is a pride coat as well as a shame coat. I can never let it go.
5.) A cape that will take you from dawn in an enchanted forest...
...to dusk in the streets of 19th century London.
You just never know where you are going to wind up! The winter is full of mystery, and you need to be ready. In all seriousness, I will say two things about the cape-coat. First, it is the warmest coat I own. It's like the mitten of coats - all your body heat stays trapped underneath, and you can even hug yourself and you walk around by slipping your hands inside like a built-in muff (there is definitely a lesbian joke in there somewhere.). Secondly, I literally get at least two compliments on this coat every time I wear it. People love it. They are into the cape. Maybe it's because folks are looking for a winter superhero to come in and save them from their Seasonal Affective Disorder, and then I suddenly show up before them in a tweed cape. You, too, can be a winter superhero walking around the city hugging yourself and brightening people's days. All you need is a cape coat!
6.) That "Why?" coat that you got at a thrift store and doesn't actually keep you warm, but you have to hang on to for the one unknown event in the future when it finally makes sense to wear it.
You already have one of these, don't you? It's that coat in the back of your closet that always gets tossed in the "Maybe" pile when you do your spring cull, then somehow always finds its way back on a hanger next to that bandage dress and your leather vest. I am not going to be the one to tell you to move on. I like to live my life ready for any adventure that comes my way, and my theory is that the hangers in the back of the closet hold vast potential that is yet unknown to our mere mortal minds. You need to have a wild card coat. The key to appreciating and celebrating winter is embracing all the wildness of the season. You never know when a massive blizzard is going to roll through town and shut everything down for a couple of days. You never know when a polar vortex is going to make you feel things you have never felt before. You never know when you will be driving though a snow-covered Valley Forge National Historic Park and suddenly hallucinate Revolutionary Way soldiers freezing together as they try to warm their bare feet. You never know when a clear night sky full of winter stars will take your breath away - or when seeing your breath in front of you will make you think about how magical it is that you are breathing at all. And you never know when you are going to need that weird, wild coat in the back of the closet. And that is what makes winter so special.