How long should a winter coat last?

The average good quality wool coat will last 3 to 5 years if you treat it well. Sometimes a coat will last a lot longer. Here are the best tips for making your coat last longer than average.

A winter coat is likely to be one of the most expensive items in your wardrobe.  Consider it an investment. Don’t be tempted to buy a new one every year. If you select the right coat it will last for 10 years.  Mine do!

How to choose a coat that will look good for a long time

  • Buy a coat in a mid or dark color.

These colors show stains and dust less than pale colors.  If you only have one winter coat don’t buy it in white – however gorgeous it looks.  Cream and white say ‘rich’ – why? Because most of us can’t afford the short lifespan and professional weekly cleaning costs of jackets and coats in white.

  • Avoid very fashionable styles and colors

A high fashion coat will look great for a year but will quickly look dated.  The same goes for color.  There’s always one stand-out bright color or texture each season.  Buy a scarf in this but not an expensive coat.

  • Buy a coat with a lining

It helps keep the outside fabric in good condition.  Coats without a lining will get shapeless much more quickly as there’s no inner layer to take the brunt of the stretching that happens when you sit down.

  • Buy a coat with plenty of seams

Seams give structure and help to stop the coat bagging over time.  A coat with several seams has been made from several pieces of fabric, each cut to form part of the design.  Seams help most when they run along an area of the coat that gets pressure from your body.  So a coat with a seam at the waist will keep its shape longer than a coat without.  And a coat with a seam down the centre of the back will stay in shape longer than one with just side seams.

  • Check the fabric
A classic tailored coat by Marks & Spencer which will never go out of fashion

Wool and wool-blend coats will keep you warm and preserve their texture and looks for longer.  Because wool is a natural fibre it can take the occasional brief shower and look good when dry.  Some wool is coated specially to make it suitable for wearing in light rain.  If your climate is cold and dry wool is perfect.

Puffer coats and padded styles usually have a waterproof (or at least showerproof) exterior then some warm filling between that and the lining.  This is an excellent fabric mix if you live in a changeable climate.

Waxed cotton and a warm strong lining is ideal if you are outdoors a lot and the weather is blustery and damp.  Originally developed for farmers, fishermen, shooting parties and hunt followers the Barbour style waxed coat, usually with unflattering but useful hood, is ideal if you live in the countryside. 

Rain runs off the fabric easily so Brits adore this fabric.  In fact over the years it has become a staple of city dwellers who don their green wellies at weekends and head for the country hoping to be mistaken for landed gentry. You’ll be glad to know that the traditional Barbour waxed jacket actually looks better the older it gets.

  • Choose a dense fabric

If the coat is woven it needs to be closely woven otherwise it will sag quickly.  A knitted knee-length cardigan might last as a coat for a season but it will soon look stretched and uneven at the hem if you wear it most days.

  • Expect to pay for quality

A coat that is reduced in the sales is a great buy. But a coat you buy at the start of the season, at full price, will have a price tag that reflects exactly the quality of fabric and workmanship.

Don’t expect an inexpensive coat at full price to last as long as a discounted coat in the sales for the same money. 

The price of a coat (unless the brand can charge just for its logo as with some luxury names) depends on the quality and quantity of the fabric, the number of pieces it contains, the number and finishing of the seams that have to be made, the quality of the lining and how well the factory pays and looks after its workers. 

So a coat from a retailer with an anti-slavery policy and supply chain transparency will cost more than a fast fashion item manufactured by women earning miserable wages.

How to make a winter coat look good for longer

If you find yourself buying a winter coat every one or two years, then you should check out these reasons why coats start losing their looks and even showing wear and tear.  They are easy to correct.

Mistakes we make that shorten the life of a coat

  • You only have one coat

You wear the same coat almost every day for six months of every year. Think about occasionally wearing your last coat to give the new one a rest. I keep coats for about 10 years and buy a new one about every 4 years so I always have two or three coats to wear.

  • You keep your coat on most of the day in cold weather

Students get through winter coats in months.  That’s because they are in and out of college rooms, lecture theatres and libraries every hour or so.  They eat on the go and never stay in one place long enough to bother taking their coat off. 

But if that isn’t your lifestyle then develop the habit of putting on and taking off your coat throughout the day.  Fewer food stains, less bagging at the back, and altogether less creasing and dirt.

  • You walk to work, or with the dog, most days, whatever the weather

You likely need a good raincoat as well as a warm winter coat.  Wool coats will not stand up to heavy rain very often.  Use a winter coat to keep you warm on cold days rather than keep you dry on wet days

  • You hate carrying an umbrella

OK, most of us find the whole umbrella thing a nuisance.  But using one doesn’t only stop your hair looking as if you’ve just single-handedly sailed the Atlantic, but it also helps you keep your coat in good condition.  When it’s both cold and wet a wool coat plus an umbrella is the way to go. If you really hate umbrellas get a full length puffer jacket with the warmest filling you can find.

  • You put your coat over the back of your chair in the office and in restaurants

Always look for a rail or set of hooks to hang your coat.  Sitting in your coat but slipping it off over your shoulders and onto the chair is a sure-fire way to push the back of the coat out of shape.

  • You fill the pockets with lots of stuff including sharp items such as keys and heavy items such as coins

You probably chose the coat because it had a nice smooth line over the hips.  But of course you wanted pockets.  The best pockets are set sideways into the seam or nearby.  Unlike patch pockets they don’t add inches to your hips.  But they only work when you keep them sewn closed or pop a small item into them such as the flat of your hand or a tissue (or mask today!).

Heavy items will make the pockets gape and sag and sharp items will wear through the lining in double quick time.  Use your crossbody bag or tote bag to stash items and keep the lines of your coat perfect for years.

  • You let the coat tails drag onto the floor when you take it off or put it on your chair

Ouch!  That floor is dirty.  Now the hem of your lovely coat is dirty.  But hey, you’re getting used to it being less pristine so you don’t worry.  Until one day the dirt and dust are so ingrained that even professional cleaning can’t restore your coat’s color and looks.

  • You rarely if ever get your coat professionally cleaned.

It’s a hassle and no mistake.  Doing without your coat for several days, taking it to the dry cleaners and collecting it again, to say nothing of the cost.  We’re better at this if the cleaners are on our way to work and we’re earning good money.  But once we retire, it’s one of the first things to go.

But professional cleaning can remove stains and restore the original color by removing dust and re-activating the pile on the fabric all without damaging the shape of the coat.  This keeps the coat looking good longer and adds to the number of years you will get real pleasure in wearing it.

  • You rarely if ever brush your coat to remove dust and hair.

Because the build-up of stray hairs and dust – much of which may be minute flakes of your skin (yuck right?) – is slow you may not notice your coat is looking tired.  But others will.  So at least once a week take a brush to your coat paying special attention to the shoulders and collar. 

In the fifties I can remember such brushes hanging on every ‘hall stand’.  Both the stand and the brush have disappeared.  But ask the military how they manage to keep their dress uniforms looking perfect for so long.  I bet you they use a brush.

  • You don’t wear a scarf

A silk, cotton or wool scarf protects the inside of the collar where over time the natural oils from your skin rub against the fabric. Get into the habit of wearing a scarf, it can really up-style the look of the coat too.

Bright orange wool coat worn with black accessories and scarf
This wool coat has looked good for 6 winters
  • You have a coat in a pale color that shows stains easily

Only the rich should wear pastel-colored coats because a single drop of red wine or salad dressing may be impossible to remove completely.  On a darker or patterned coat a slight stain may not look much.  But on your gorgeous baby blue cashmere coat … well, you will be in tears.

  • You use a hook rather than a hanger when you get home and when you store your coat out of season

A hook is OK at work or for an hour or so in a restaurant.  But a heavy coat hung for hours or months at a time will inevitably droop and start to retain folds where you don’t want them. 

Buy a large padded shaped coat hanger and use it only for your winter coat.  Over the summer do up all the buttons and hang the coat at the back of your closet.

  • You bundle your coat into the overhead locker on the plane and push your bag in on top

Everyone is doing it right?  So reluctantly you follow suit.  Stop.  Turn your coat lining side out, fold it in two or three.  Put your bag up first then tenderly place your folded coat on top.  Exit the plane looking great!

How to store your winter coat in summer

Summerize your coat by storing it in an unlit dust-free environment with protection against moths – this could be the back of your wardrobe or in a special urban storage facility. 

Before storage it needs to be checked for repairs such as loose buttons and professionally cleaned.

If you are packing your coat flat then fold it once or twice, using tissue or old tee shirts between each fold. 

Make sure the buttons are all done up including any inside buttons (these keep the shape of the coat as it should be).  Make sure the collar and lapels (if there are any) are lying neatly and make the top half or third of the coat the layer lying on top. 

Don’t put anything on top of the coat when you pack it away as this will push the collar out of shape. You can iron a shirt but not a coat.

Use a suitcase or a large plastic packing bag that is designed for a winter coat.  Don’t squeeze the coat to get it in!

How to clean a wool coat

Regularly use a sticky roller especially down the front to lift any lint or hair from the collar and the front.  It takes a couple of seconds and makes you look smarter.

Brushing will remove more dust than the roller and refresh the pile.

Remove stains as fast as possible.  Then send the coat to be professionally cleaned – point out the stained area when you book it in.  The shop will use special products on that area if you tell them what made the stain.

Always keep the care label of your coat.  Use this to know whether you can apply a little soap and water on a clean cloth to remove surface dirt.  You may find that the manufacturer recommends only dry cleaning.

Your professional cleaner’s will welcome having the care label especially if the coat fabric is a mix of fibres.

How to dry a wet wool coat

Shake as much of the surface rain off as possible then hang it in the shower to drip if it’s really soaking wet. 

Then lie the coat flat on a table or clean kitchen worktop.  Take two large bath towels and put one under and one on top of your coat.  Now push the top towel against the front of the coat one area at a time until both towels have captured much of the water.  You may need to do this more than once. 

Then hang the coat to dry in a well-aired warm room.

If it is a wool coat don’t try to artificially dry it using heat of any sort.  Try to use a well-padded or shaped coat hanger. The better the hanger the better shape the coat will keep.  When drying a damp coat this is especially important

How much to pay for a winter coat

The simple answer is as much as you need to in order to get a good-looking coat that will last for years. That’s likley to be at least £150/$200 and probably heading towards £400/$500. It’s easy to pay £1000 for a coat today but I’ve never found it necessary to spend that much. Of course I mainly shop in the sales for classics like wool coats.

The value to you of a coat can be measured in currency – how many dollars or pounds does that coat cost per wear?  And in pleasure – how much do you enjoy wearing that coat and how well does it live up to your hopes of, for example, keeping you warm and looking stylish over time.

Here’s the cost per wear formula:  Initial price of the coat divided by the number of times you wear it before discarding it or using it for gardening.  A $500 coat worn for an average of 100 days over a year has a cost-per-wear value of $5.  Keep the coat for 5 years and the cost-per-wear reduces to $1. 

Buy an $100 coat and discard it after a year, then the cost per wear is also $1.

But before you decide to buy the cheaper coat think about how much pleasure the two coats will give you.  For $500 – especially if you buy in the mid season or late season sales – you can purchase a beautifully and ethically made wool coat with enough fashion influence to make you love wearing it for several years.  It will keep you warm and retain its looks.

For $100 (especially if you buy at the start of the season at full price ) you can purchase a man-made fibre coat from a fast fashion chain.  It will look great for the first few times you wear it as it is in this year’s color and an up-to-the-minute design. 

By mid season it may not look so good  as the poorer quality fabric will be losing its shape and the thinner (if any) lining may have started to fray. 

When you get it out of your closet again next autumn you may be disappointed that the color looks very last year and the shape of the coat is not as cute as it was when you bought it.

If you factor in the pleasure you get wearing each coat – you’ll feel more stylish in the more expensive coat right from day one – you’ll probably find that the cheaper coat ends up not being the right decision.

If you are looking for a winter coat right now, take a look at my post on The Best Winter Coats for Women Over 50.

Not sure how much to budget for clothes? I’ve got the answer for you here: How Much Should I Spend on Clothes?

For style advice and my picks of the best reductions on clothes for women over 50 sign up for the newsletter here

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