How to find the perfect winter coat

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It may only be the middle of November, but with piles of snow and frigid temperatures hitting a good part of the country, it already feels like we’re well into winter (say it isn’t so!). And while we’re still de-thawing from last year’s Polar Vortex (so…much…cold) , there’s one thing that makes plummeting temperatures a little bit exciting – a wardrobe change.

Cold weather calls for all our cozy favourites: a warm pair of camp socks, fleece-lined tights, a cuddly scarf and of course, a comfy coat. And while current designs mean we no longer have to sacrifice style for warmth, finding a quality winter coat that stands the test of time can still be a daunting task.

That’s where Marissa Freed comes in. As the president and CEO of FREED, a heritage brand of the iconic garment manufacturer Freed& Freed International Ltd., a Winnipeg-based garment company, her knowledge of outwear is extensive.

While FREED recently launched their first retail collection, they’ve been major players in the outerwear industry since the company started in 1921. For years, their main source of business was London Fog. In 2011, the company won an award for their redesign of the iconic RCMP uniforms. And last year, along with a handful of other Canadian manufacturers chosen by Hudson’s Bay, they were a “Made In Canada” supplier of clothing for the athletes competing in the Sochi Olympic Games. Freed & Freed manufactured most of the outerwear: the duffle, soft shell and puffer coats.

“The Olympic uniforms were such a huge coup for my office, we were all so proud,” Freed says. She then goes into a story about how one of the ladies on her sewing floor visited The Bay and saw some rogue threads on the Olympic garments.

“So she went back with her scissors to clean it up!”

“These projects got us a permanent spot on the map,” she continues. “Even though we have been around for 93 years, we were always best known for London Fog, and it’s quite exciting to now be better known for being a strong Canadian manufacturing company.”

We picked Freed’s brain for tips on how to find the best coat to last you all season.

Yahoo Canada: What are the hottest coat shapes and colours this winter?

Marissa Freed: There is a lot of oversized going on all over (which is a look I’m totally obsessed with!) — lots of unconstructed shapes and plays on the blazer, as well as your traditional parka style. There are also some heavy ‘80s and ‘90s influences out there, just without the exaggerated shoulder pads!

YC: What are your tricks for finding the best coat for your body shape?

MF: This is a tough question to answer, because everyone has their own opinion of what looks best on them. Personally, I love oversized, but as most people know, oversized tends to hide your shape. As women, I would suggest finding a coat that accents your best feature so if you have a small waist, make sure your coat is fitted in the waist. If you have bigger shoulders but long, thin legs, go for more of a traditional straight-fitted coat cut above the knee, which will draw the eye to those gorgeous long legs. For a larger bust, I would suggest a very feminine fit, like FREED’s Montrealer, to accentuate those curves.
 
YC: We see winter coats that range in price from $50 to $5,000. What should a customer look for to make sure they’re getting the best bang for their buck?

MF: To the naked eye and to a consumer that isn’t in manufacturing, this can often be difficult to determine. Most brands’ fits are geared toward their target customer so we can’t say one is necessarily higher quality, they are simply meeting the demands of their consumer. A garment that is unlined actually requires more skilled labour than a lined garment. Fabric is always a good indicator of quality, if we are educated enough on the value of certain contents. For example, 100 per cent wool is higher value than a blend of wool with polyester or viscose, wool/silk is always a gorgeous fabric, but wool/cashmere is tricky because consumers need to look at the percentage of cashmere to determine if it really has value or not – the list goes on and on. Basically, value should be determined by the consumer, dependent on the fit for their body type, the value of the fabrics and trims (for example, is there or isn’t there fur and how big is that piece of fur) and if the coat will last. 

YC: When we think of winter coats, we often think of Michelin Man-type puffers. What are your tips for staying warm, but still looking chic, this winter?

MF: As Canadians, we need a few different kinds of coats. We need a lightweight coat, such as a leather or denim or a light fabric with no fill for spring and the beginning of fall; we need a rain coat for the rainy days; we need a wool coat for the fall, winter and chillier days of spring. If we are outside in the dead of winter walking the dog or walking longer distances, we should have a heavy parka. Your coat for those chilly days should fit snugly and close to the body to not allow the wind to penetrate through. And of course, we should be wearing accessories, gloves, scarves and boots for optimum warmth.   

YC: Why is it important to find a coat you like?

MF: In Canada coats get a lot of face time, so it’s a fashion must to have a warm and fashionable coat for at least three of our seasons. Your coat should be flattering to your shape, the right colour for your complexion and reflect a classic silhouette so it can last more than one season. We will always need coats — so preferably also one of high quality so it will last. One of the reasons I chose to base my new line on English tweeds is because the fabric itself is one of the oldest and most luxurious fabrics around, and its construction is known for lasting the test of time.  

YC: What is one classic coat that every woman should have in her wardrobe?

MF: Every woman should have either a classic-shaped wool pea coat or a classic above-the-knee, single breasted wool coat.

YC: Your current collection of coats are all named after cities. Tell us about that, and the differences you’ve noticed between different cities’ signature styles.

MF: When I was choosing names for the styles I thought it very fitting to try my best to picture the style of the people that live in that city and of course consider the temperatures of those cities. For example, I find Winnipegers to be a little understated in the way they dress, the people aren’t too flashy, so the Winnipeger is a very classic single breasted clean lined coat. The Vancouver addresses the needs of people in Vancouver because it doesn’t get quite as cold over there and the people are laid back yet fashionable. The Montreal woman is fashion-forward yet ladylike so the Montrealer is double breasted, cinched at the waist with ladylike details on the back. The Torontonian takes a little more risk in their expression of fashion; they are a little edgier and extremely fashion-forward so the Torontonian is a dropped shoulder play on the popular oversized style. The men’s, although still following a lot of Canadian places, all focus on clean lines, added warmth without the added bulk and classic shapes while remaining transitional through the seasons. For instance, the Jasper is a transitional piece that has added warmth because of the quilted down sleeves and back, yet it’s a blazer style so the man wearing this still looks sharp whether going to work or out for dinner. The North Bay is a two-piece coat where rather than putting the down vest underneath like all our other styles, I made this a layering piece where the jacket and the vest can stand alone as individual pieces or the vest can be worn on the top of the jacket. All in all, I kept in mind the requirements on Canadians throughout the Canadian seasons, the individual styles of people in different cities and of course our home base being in Canada and having access to our domestic factory.