vintage chic ~~ winter coats

I had the happy privilege of shopping with a girlfriend last Thursday (why can I hear her laughing?).  We decided to hit the mall in order for her to find some new things to liven up her wardrobe…she is not the Goodwill/thrift shopper that I can be but I embrace our differences.  I decided to use the opportunity to search for a new pair of winter boots…a purchase I have put off for years and, one of which, I can not seem to find second-hand.  A great pair was found for half off–score!

A few months ago I mentioned that I was reading the book, “Overdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” by Elizabeth L. Cline.  To say that this book was insightful (albeit a bit wordy at times) is an understatement.  It really helped me to  realize and understand things about the fashion industry that (you and) I had suspected all along– overall quality of garments is nose-diving.  While it is true that prices have also fallen on many fashion items, I am not convinced that these more “attainable” prices really match the quality I see in the clothes out there–whether at a high-end department store or at Target.  “Fashion” has become cheap and disposable across the board.   Case in point:  the woolen winter coat.

While we were at Macys, I decide to check out the sales on their wool dress coats.  I was just curious…I knew I didn’t need one.  I saw a nice looking longer black coat with a fur collar hanging on the wall and checked it out.  It was an Ellen Tracy brand and looked very similar in styling to this one:

ellentracycoatbloomingdales(via Macys)

First, I peeked at the price tag.  It was a $750 dollar coat marked down to around $400.  Wow.  For $750 it must really be a great coat, right?  SO WRONG.  Upon closer inspection I was appalled to note that the coat was only a wool blend (60% wool, polyester and something else, rayon?).  Not 100% wool.  Not even a wool cashmere blend.  The liner was the saddest piece of material I have ever seen in a coat that price–cheap, cheap, cheap! polyester nylon.  And sure, it had real fur trim but even the fur looked like it came off of some diseased animal…or maybe road kill.  At $750 this coat was at best going to last someone a couple of seasons before it started looking worse than it already did.

Back in the day (prior to 2000, probably earlier), a coat that was in the realm of that kind of money was usually worth it.  And once purchased, it was an investment that would wear beautifully year after year.  In fact, more than likely the wearer would get sick of it before it ever gave out.  This happened to me with a beautiful wool coat I got on clearance from Talbots in 1995.  I wore it for years.  I stopped wearing it about five years ago but held on to it because it still looked great.  I just gave it to my mom this winter because my parents had moved up North from a  warmer climate.  She loves it and has gotten compliments on it.  It is almost 20 years old!  Will that Ellen Tracy coat last that long?  Nope.

And there is the dress coat I wear now.  I think I am on my fourth or fifth year of wearing it.  It is a gorgeous,  heavy, wool/cashmere with a super soft fur collar probably made in the 1960s.  The lining is a silky satin, the stitching a work of art.  I love it.  The brand is “Forstmann”.

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I got it for $1.00 at a garage sale. At the end of this season, I will get it cleaned, repair a newly spotted hole under the arm, change the buttons and I will have a “new” coat for next year.   I see coats like this all the time in Goodwills and thrift stores.  For example, I have bought a red wool and mohair car coat at Goodwill for $6.00.  And not long ago I bought this vintage Lands End pea coat for less than $10.00 at another Goodwill.  It too is 100% wool…I don’t believe Lands End offers that anymore:

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My point is this:  Before you dish out tons of money for a new winter coat, really look at how it is made and what materials it is made with.  I can guarantee you that 100% wool is way warmer on a freezing cold day than is 70% wool; 20% polyester; 10% nylon.  Buy the best quality you can afford.  OR, better yet, maybe take the time to hunt in a few thrift stores, vintage shops (Etsy!) or Goodwills to find the most amazing, and affordable, coat of your dreams!

~~Heather~~

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38 thoughts on “vintage chic ~~ winter coats

  1. Two thoughts: 1. Where are the ‘good’ clothes in the stores? What does a person actually have to shell out to get the quality we all used to take for granted? Surely the uber-rich want more than ‘just’ 100% wool? 2. You can’t get the 1920s and 1930s vintage clothes I read about in (older) books about re-fashioning old clothes. One day we won’t find 100% wool coats at the Goodwill anymore. What happens then?

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    • Are you trying to stress me out? I don’t know what will happen. It is hard to believe that today’s fashions could ever become quality vintage pieces. I shudder.

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  2. Good advice here. I actually looked at a label of a tshirt the other day and was like what the hell is this. Had never even heard of the material.
    I hold on to things for a very long time. Sometimes that’s good – brown leather boots and bag. Other times not- down jackets that are so outdated and really just plain worn out. I have to find a balance.
    Fortunately, I won’t be shopping for a new winter coat for the next couple years. I’ve got one I love from Geoxx.
    cheers… x wendy

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    • Congrats on the new coat find! I have never heard of Geoxx…I will have to look that one up. Hope life is treating you well on your island. : )

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  3. Couldn’t agree more with you, Heather. I am amazed that so much high end expensive clothing is made from inferior materials. I love your coats. Can’t believe you got the furry-collared gem for a dollar!! That’s unbelievable. The red one is lovely as well – good on you for finding them. Have you still got snow?

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    • Yes, we still have snow that is slowly melting away. I try not to get too excited about it leaving once and for all because we usually get more snow through March. Although last year we had 70/80F degree weather in March—which is way too early for these parts.

      I don’t “get” the fashion industry anymore. We are paying for names, not quality, unless we are dishing out the BIG BIG bucks for couture.

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  4. I am with you on that Heather! I’ve gotten and have seen many beautiful wool or other high quality coats at the Goodwill. Usually they are in perfect condition.
    I found a gorgeous Ann Taylor wool coat in perfect condition at the onset of winter for $10.00. I had beautiful styling and a hood. It ended up being to itchy for me (sensitive skin that I have) but it wasn’t a loss because I gave it to my dear cousin, Rhonda who loves it.

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    • Great find, Lisa! Too bad it didn’t work for you but at least someone is getting use out of it. Finding great coats is a breeze at Goodwill. I have passed on so many because I just don’t have a need for them. I should be snapping them up and reselling on Etsy or Ebay.

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  5. Talk about fab finds Heather! Great post. My friend always shops at Value Village (it’s like a Canadian Goodwill store) plus other thrift stores and she has found some amazing coats and clothes for super cheap and rocks all the looks. I definitely want to read that book now!

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    • I think you would really like the book. I am pretty clueless about what goes on behind the scenes of fashion. That book was a great tutorial.

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    • I don’t really think about it as it happens but when I reflect on some of the stuff I have found…I am sometimes amazed. Usually it is not a planned purchase but somehow it works into my plan. Does that make sense?

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    • Karen, do you have an email address to share? If so, you can email me at frenchchicvivant(at)aol(dot)com. Just have something to ask you. Thanks!

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  6. Hi there! Really lovely coats and I so agree, I did a post not too long ago on exactly the same thing. I found a lambswool and cashmere Kenneth Cole peacoat for under £20, yet high street shops have been offering coats for 3 figures and no real wool content, it’s so poor value! Great blog and have a good weekend!

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    • It is really sad (and a bit scary), isn’t it, how quality has diminished drastically over the years? Nicely done on your own coat find. It is a shame to think that 100% wool is going to be non-existent in the very near future. You have a great weekend too!! : )

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  7. A buck? For a gorg vintage coat like that? Quelle score of the century, Heather!

    You are SO right about the shabby quality of coats out there. I never buy them new (though I buy many thrifted). My sis was looking for a coat in Canada a while back and I remember looking in Winners with her – they were all crap in the ways you mention, and not cheap.

    Funny, while first reading this post I instantly thought of Talbots. I used to work there in the mid-90s as a university student, and I’ll never forget selling a gorg red wool coat to an classy elderly lady. The coat actually had a wool shammy sewed not the lining! You just can’t find that nowadays. That’s why vintage, as you suggest, is the perfect – and way cheaper – option.

    BTW, I have just returned from a Vide Grenier, where I bought two coats you’ll love: one, a vintage Weill coat (made in Paris; it’s one of the oldest French fashion houses) for 30 Euros (when you see it, you’ll understand why I paid that much for it), and another wool-mohair coat for 2 Euros! Do I need more coats? We know the answer to that. 🙂 xo

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    • Coats are a weakness for me too. I am looking forward to seeing the ones you have gotten recently.

      I have been shopping thrift and vintage for so long that this change in clothing quality (everywhere) has caught me by surprise. It has been both gradual and fast…if that can happen. ; )

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  8. You are so right, Heather. Quality of garments is not anymore what it used to be. And as far coats are concerned quality remains a major point to consider. I still have a coat which belonged to my Mom and which not only is delightfully vintage but also of the best quality I have ever seen. Too bad I wear it only when I go to France…
    Yours with the fur collar is absolutely lovely!
    Warm hugs from sunny Florida.
    Anne Touraine (Playing with Scarves)

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    • I will bet your mom’s coat is gorgeous…especially since it is vintage, probably french, and chic. What a nice thing to own that belonged to her. I can’t think of a better occasion to wear it than when you go back to France! : )

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  9. Heather, love both items … you look so good in red .. you should wear it a lot more. That coat reminds me about one of my coast, million years ago .. from Mansfield – 100% wool – British brand, don’t think they are around anymore .. maybe I should check – had it every winter for nearly 10 years, it was expensive, but worth every krona.
    Wouldn’t mind getting a new one.

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  10. I’ve been having a hard time finding a jacket that’s 100% wool! Ten years ago, there was an abundance of jackets that were 100% and for a reasonable price. Now the most I can find is 60% wool with a blend of polyester, nylon, rayon, etc. It’s frustrating! What’s going on?

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    • It’s all very depressing and a sign of the times. Fashion is cheap and disposable now…and I have a problem with that. I hope you can find the wool coat of your dreams–I highly encourage vintage shopping for this particular item.

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  11. Reblogged this on vintage french chic and commented:
    Good morning! It’s 7F in Western Michigan…what an opportune time to “reblog” a previous post I did last March about winter coats. I am joining forces with Jill (www.everythingjustso.blogspot.com) and Adrienne (www.therichlifeonabudget.com) for this month’s “How I Wear My…” featuring COATS! I hope you will click on over to their great blogs to see some fabulous coats.

    And, in case you are wondering, I did change out the buttons on my black Forstmann for this new season. So again I get to enjoy wearing this warm beauty.

    Have a great week! And please, stay warm!!
    ~~Heather~~

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  12. Heather, love that black coat … very close to what I had when I was so much younger … stunning – and the red jacket … really suits you. Red is a great color on you. You’re WC on finding style and quality for nearly nothing.

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    • I am happy you found me! Adrienne and Jill do such a nice job on the HIWM… series. What a great way for like minded peeps to find one another. : ) Thank you for stopping by.

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  13. I agree with you! Everything is being made cheaper, even the designer brands. A winter coat is an investment piece, so it should be the best quality you can afford. I wanted to mention, another quality winter material is Alpaca. It’s very warm, lighter than wool and less scratchy. I’ve had mine for about 12 years. P.S. I love your red pea coat!

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    • Lisa, isn’t it a shame that quality has lessened over the years. My mind was seriously blown when I saw the price of that Ellen Tracy coat for the quality of materials and workmanship. I feel motivated to snap up all the vintage coats I can find now so I will have warm coats to wear well into my future. And yes, alpaca is a great material. I actually bought an alpaca coat for my daughter a few years ago. She loved it.

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  14. I love the black coat, too!
    You’re so right about the quality. I used to have real good wool coats that lasted for ages. These stores ask lots of money for soso-quality. I have not been good and clothes finding in secondhand stores – I find accessories there 😉 – so I will check out the sales in the next few days. Have seen a couple of coats I could seriously be interested in…one os red with big black buttons 🙂
    Have a very HAPPY day, hope you’re not frozen yet? 🙂

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    • I will bet you can find some gems in your secondhand/thrift stores. Even though vintage is more of a big thing than it used to be, I am still surprised by how many coats I see for practically nothing. Keep looking!

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