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Not Your Father’s Overcoat: How To Pick The Right Jacket For Every Occasion

men's outerwear on coat rack
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Gone are the days when men would go out into the world swimming in fabric. Raglan sleeves, billowing bodices, rain jackets over suits, and dusters down to the ankles have lost favor with the fashion godsand thank goodness for that. The age of the well-fitting, simple, clean line-dominated coat is upon us.

Whether you’re looking for a casual bomber for a guys night at the bar or a nice overcoat for date night, the possibilities are endless according to Brian Hathaway, a style expert at Mario’s in Portland, OR.

“Our philosophy is that you can’t have too much outerwear,” Hathaway says.

Men’s outerwear is experiencing a renaissance at the moment.Bombers and parkas and great coats, oh my. Whether you want something dressy or casual, functional or fashionable—or both!—now is a great time to go out and enjoy all the outerwear the world has to offer.  There is a jacket for every occasion, and The Manual is here to help you figure out what to wear.


The general rule according to Hathaway is: the longer the coat, the dressier the occasion.

While short overcoats were in vogue for a few years, length is making a comeback.

These overcoats aren’t your dad’s dusters, however. A properly fitted overcoat should fall just above the knee whether you’re short or tall. There’s room to play with this length if you so choose, but taller gentlemen be warned that anything that hits mid-thigh might make you look oversized, and shorter gents, avoid anything below the knee.

Parkas and other rain jackets look best when they fall somewhere between just below the buttocks and just above mid-thigh.

Bombers and other short coats should hit just above the derrière or, at the longest, mid-butt.


While this is largely dependent on the kind of coat you’re looking for—bombers and track jackets, for instance, tend to have fuller bodices—straight silhouettes are universally flattering.

Hathaway says to look for a jacket that fits comfortably through the waist but doesn’t pull. “While you don’t want too much fabric, which overwhelms, you don’t want a skinny fit either.”

You should be able to move comfortably in your coat without too much excess fabric, though keep in mind how many layers you plan to wear underneath. If you’re still confused about the right balance between a clean fit and a skinny fit, use the X test for suits. If the jacket pulls at the fastening point, it’s too tight.

“The straight silhouette just gives a clean finish and a modern look,” Hathaway says.

While tailoring is an option, Hathaway says, you want to get as close a fit off the rack as possible.

Related: TGIF Shopping: Norwegian Wool’s Fall Collection Is Here To Warm Your Chill

Sleeves And Shoulders

Pay attention to the sleeves of a jacket, and it’ll make the difference between looking dapper and looking like you’re playing dress-up.

Hathaway says the sleeve should hit about an inch above the V of your hand. Anything longer, and you’ll look undersized; anything shorter, and you’ll look like you’ve squeezed into a child’s coat.

Look for how the shoulder fits as well. You want the shoulder of your jacket to be sharp. Avoid jackets with shoulders that extend more than half an inch to an inch past your actual shoulder. Again, this is dependent upon how much you’ll be layering underneath. The general rule is that you want the shoulder to have a close, sharp fit without any pull.

For nicer overcoats, beware raglan sleeves. While not always the caseThe Manual always urges you to use your own judgment—the diagonal seam can make the shoulder look shapeless and sloppy.


Hathaway says details are getting cleaner and sharper on coats. While there’s room for the occasional flare, for the most part coats are dark, clean, and simple—no more superfluous zippers or piled-on pockets.

“Less detail is better,” Hathaway says. “It’s more modern, and it looks better on everyone.” 

Details like spread collars, shearling, or accent colors—burgundy is our favorite right now—are visually appealing yet subtle. That’s not to say you should avoid fun details if they speak to you. It’s all fair game as long as it doesn’t overwhelm.

Hathaway says that he’s seen a lot of really great reversible jackets come through Mario’s as well: one side is a softer fabric, like wool, and the other is nylon. Reversible jackets are chameleons—they look good on every occasion.

One of the best parts about shopping for a coat in 2016? Technological advances.

“Technology has changed the way we shop for coats,” Hathaway says. Cashmere is no longer reserved for dry days, for example. Now you can buy water resistant cashmere and look sharp in any weather.

No matter which way you cut it or what you’re looking for—whether a nice leather jacket for the weekend or a cashmere great coat for a night on the town—as long as you follow our fit guide, you won’t go wrong.

Image courtesy of Laura Bittner via Creative Commons.

Editors' Recommendations

Lisa Dunn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Lisa Dunn is a writer with a background in investigative journalism and a love of tailored suits. Born and raised in New…
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