You don’t spend over a decade in GirlGuiding NZ without absorbing some key messages about being organised, thrifty and practical, and that’s what I’m going to choose to blame for my love of buying vintage coats. There’s just something going on with me and any coat that’s older than me – I love them. I also love it when people ask where I got my coat and I get to tell them I paid under $20 for it secondhand *smug face*
Since I now own enough coats to keep me warm for the winter, I thought I’d share with you my secrets for vintage coats and my suggestions for the styles to look for this year. Get crack-a-lackin on finding your perfect coat now – it can’t be quite a hunt, so best to leave plenty of time for it.
The KEY to a good vintage coat is two elements: fit and condition. You want to look for these before you buy the coat, and you want to think about them after you buy the coat.
I’ve tried on many, many vintage coats and I am here to tell you that no matter how much you wish it to be awesome, an ill-fitting coat is an ill-fitting coat regardless of age. Your coat needs to fit you at the shoulders, the sleeves and the length.
The shoulders need to be neatly fitted, with the seam sitting just on the edge of the shoulder. The sleeves should hit you on the hand (ohhhhh nobody wants a short sleeve on a winter’s day) and you need to decide now what the most flattering length is on you. Personally, I like a coat that comes to at least the knee. I absolutely reject the idea of buying a coat a bit bigger so you can fit a bulkier jersey under it. I realise this is a controversial position.
The exception to this (of course there’s an exception, soz about it) is if you want to wear your coat oversized. This isn’t going to work in all styles – this coat would have looked absolutely stupid if it was oversized – but in those where it does work you just want to make sure the shoulders are close enough. Too bulky and you’ll look like three kids standing on each other’s shoulders and wearing their father’s coat for HiJiNkS.
Regardless of what kind of fit you go for, my two key bits of advice for coat fit in the long run are:
Always hang your coats up properly on good, padded hangers. They are heavy, and they need the extra support. Failure to hang coats properly will lead to them slowly sagging and collapsing.
Do not put your hands in your pockets. Buy some gloves, please, because when you put your hands in your pockets you slowly bend the fabric and break down the structure and fit of the coat.
Look, we’ve all had our hearts broken by The Coat Of Dreams that, as it turned out, had a condition issue. The common ones I see are staining, fabric wear, and tearing in the lining. I’ve also seen absolute butcher jobs on buttons on vinyl and leather coats – heart breaking.
Some condition problems are fixable or ignorable. I’ve ignored minor issues with lining and I re-attach buttons on vintage coats even if they initially seem firmly attached (because imagine losing an irreplaceable vintage button). I’ve had small flaws or rips fixed where necessary. But generally, I will not buy a coat unless it’s in freakishly good condition. There are plenty of beautiful coats out there, so pdo not settle for a damaged coat.
Once you own that coat it’s on you to maintain its condition for as long as possible. Get ready to dryclean, my friends, and get ready to do things like dry your coat flat on a clothes airer if you’re caught in the rain. If you rip the vent (which I realised today that I’d done in a vintage coat), then get it repaired. I’m pretty motivated to look after these things because I want to keep up the good work of the previous owner. If Margaret was able to make that coat last 40 years then who am I to destroy it in a year?
This season I’d be looking for one of three styles:
The leather trench (as pictured) – delightfully retro, and a quick way to look like you may or may not be a detective (always chic, obv). Great layered over swishy skirts and turtlenecks for a 70s vibe. Vinyl is also a winner but make sure it’s not too thick and rubbery.
Oversized, mannish and wool – so warm, so comfy, and so easy to throw over literally any outfit. Great over blazers for layering, my version of this also makes me look much cooler than I actually am. You can sometimes find a good version of this in Army surplus stores.
Robe coats in plaids – my one of these is not vintage, but if you can find a robe coat (looks like a dressing gown) in any pattern, snap it up. Plaid is particularly “in” just now, and as I write this I think to myself: what about those gorgeous old dressing gowns that men used to wear? Could those be an awesome and unexpected coat?
This coat was a dream TradeMe find, and I was caught by both the colour and the beautiful buttons and belt buckle. The seller said this had been in storage, which can be dangerzone for leather (we’ve all smelled mildewy leather and we all know it isn’t great). This one is odour-free and came with a pocket full of forgotten Malaysian currency (don’t worry, I’ll be posting that back). Best part is: it was FIFTEEN DOLLARS.
Pants are cheery Uniqlo and the boots are Kathryn Wilson, also from TradeMe, for $55. I am also delighted with them.