Parts of a Jacket/Coat
First, let’s break down the parts of a coat/jacket:
The shell of a coat or jacket is the outer portion of the jacket and it’s where the material of your jacket shines. Not only is it your first line of defense from the elements but it’s also where the style and color of your outerwear are on display.
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The lining of your coat or jacket is what helps it keep its shape and provides an inner layer of warmth. It also provides a softer layer between you and any coarse materials so that your coat is more comfortable. There are different weights of lining from lightweight to heavyweight, and most contain polyester, silk or satin or a mix of the three.
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The filling of your coat is what provides the most warmth. For example, a nylon or polyester coat usually won’t keep you very warm, but stuff it with some duck feathers and it is instantly transformed into a highly effective protective shield against -20° winds in a place like Chicago.
The filling of a coat can range from heavier fabrics like polyester to lighter materials such as down and synthetic down. Real down coats, filled with duck or goose feathers, offer one of the warmest lightweight fillings out there. However on the negative side, they aren’t waterproof and can take forever to dry. There are waterproof treatments for down but they are not always 100% effective. Down is a finicky material; however, it is worth any downside when you’re walking against a winter wind.
Synthetic down, polyester fibers made to mimic down properties, was made in answer to this as it is waterproof, however, it isn’t as warm. Many coat manufacturers have responded to this by using a hybrid of both.
One of the lightest filling materials you can go with is Thinsulate™, which is crazy because it is also very warm. If you see somebody with a light looking jacket on in the middle of a snowstorm and they aren’t shivering, it’s most likely filled with this kind of material. Thinsulate™ is a 3M product made with tiny polyester fibers that are super dense but, because of their size, are able to be woven with barely any gaps between the fibers. This also makes them extremely water resistant. It can be a more expensive coat technology, but worth every penny.
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Jacket & Coat Materials
Now that you know the parts, let’s dive right into the materials:
Wool & Wool Blends
Wool is a heavy yet versatile natural coat shell material and is used in a variety of coat styles. Do you want an upscale suit overcoat? An Italian shawl? A peacoat?
You can have it all with wool because not only does wool create beautiful heavier coats, when you blend it, it can create a softer and lighter jacket or shawl that would stand out on any runway. The quality of wool is very important when determining the type of coat; the finer the wool fibers, the better the quality.
So, what is a wool blend? This is how manufacturers work with the cheaper and coarser wool to make it softer and more durable. Most often a wool blend is a mixture of wool and polyester or wool and acrylic. Sometimes they are also blended with other natural materials such as cashmere or angora to add a bit more softness. Hey, even if there’s only 5% cashmere, you can still say you have a cashmere coat!
The color of your wool will also depend on the quality. Most of the heavier wools are usually a darker color. It’s easier to dye them with black, grey or dark blue because the fabric is dense and won’t hold lighter colors very well. The lighter the fibers and blends, the better they are for using pastels or softer colors, which is why you will see lighter colors in scarves and more upscale wool coats.
Wool is not exactly waterproof and because of this, you are facing a dry-clean-only future. You also want to make sure your wool coat has a good lining – usually nice quality polyester – so you can increase your comfort level and also protect yourself from the wet wool in any unescapable rainy or snowy condition. A wool coat will keep you very warm but may also cause you to be scratchy and uncomfortable like that old sweater your mom gave you. Seriously, why did she do that?
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Shearling & Faux Shearling
Shearling has an indistinguishable look as the suede side is worn on the shell of the coat while the soft, natural, unprocessed wool is kept as the lining. The warmth is fantastic, and the suede also makes it more breathable.
Keep in mind that, like its wool cousin, shearling must also be dry-cleaned as it is not fashionably waterproof. What this means is, it will keep you dry in the rain but the coat itself will stain from the water and take forever to dry.
Faux shearling is an incredible solution. It’s made from acrylic to mimic the suede and natural wool lining. It’s the same material that’s used to make faux fur. Amazing, right? Because of the versatility of acrylic, you can do more with it and create fun styles, playing with the material a little bit. It’s also usually cheaper and water resistant—which means, yes, it is machine washable!
There aren’t a lot of color choices for shearling coats and jackets. This is mainly because the shearling style is so old; because of the inflexibility of the original, natural materials, it was hard to dye and the world just got used to shearling coats being tan on the shell and white in the lining.
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Cashmere is a luxury fiber and is much finer and softer than normal wool.
Cashmere is actually stronger and more insulating than wool too. However, it’s not necessarily warmer, as the softer fibers won’t protect you from the wind as much. It’s also not waterproof and again, requires special care and dry cleaning.
It may not hold up to the warmth of wool, but cashmere will definitely keep you cozy on a brisk fall and mild winter day. Most cashmere coats come in the form of overcoats, peacoats or beautiful shawls. Cashmere trench coats are some of the most beautiful coats you have ever seen.
The luxuriousness of this fabric makes the extra care well worth it. The softness and quality of the fabric will more than make up for its high maintenance. Again, there aren’t a lot of choices for colors either; however, the browns, blacks, gray and muted reds and oranges are so lovely and creamy, you won’t mind.
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Leather & Faux Leather
Leather quality is determined by the different layers the material can come from. The top layers are the strongest, highest quality and most waterproof, though they will stain.
The middle layers are rougher, not as breathable and less waterproof. The bottom layer is the softer, fuzzier leather used to make suede. Suede is beautiful, soft leather, but not as durable and not as warm. It most definitely isn’t waterproof. As with wool, you won’t be able to machine wash any leather. All dry-clean, all the time.
Faux leather is terrific for people who are budget conscious or vegan/vegetarian. It is made from a blend of polyurethane and plastic, often with some sort of polyester woven in to add pliability. This makes it very waterproof (hurray!) Dry-cleaning is recommended for shape retention but you can machine wash them, carefully. Just don’t put faux leather or suede in the dryer, remember they are plastic. Also, the plastic (and polyester) means there is absolutely no breathability, so be careful with the humidity.
The colors for real leather, like wool, are more muted and less varied. However, faux leather can be found in any color you want.
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Polyester can in the most basic definition be described as a very soft form of plastic. Because of the polymer base in the material, it is extremely versatile and used in a lot of blends but can also be used on its own as the shell of a coat.
It’s often used in linings and fillings as well and it’s possible to get a 100% polyester coat with all three parts of the coat/jacket being made from polyester.
Because of its water-resistant properties, most 100% polyester coats are made into trench coats and windbreakers or something similar for wet and rainy weather. It’s a lighter material and quite comfortable as it conforms easily to the fit of the wearer.
Polyester will protect from a medium amount of wind but once things get cold, you’re going to have to switch up to something heavier. Enter, wool blends. As mentioned in the wool section, polyester is often used in wool blends to make it softer and more pliable.
You will have a more varied choice for color with polyester as it works well with most dyes. However, most coat manufacturers stick with the muted colors we have gotten used to in our outerwear. Be on the lookout, though, as some places will think outside the box and offer bold colors in case you want to make a statement.
It is recommended to dry-clean polyester, however, machine washing is okay—just make sure you stay away from that dryer! (Polyester shrinks)
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Polyurethane is a type of polymer or plastic fiber that is used mostly in raincoats or coats with water resistant shells like more inexpensive trench coats.
It’s a lot like faux leather but is even more plastic-like in its texture. It will protect you from the rain for sure and from light to medium wind, but as with lighter polyester coats, get thee to a warmer material once the snow starts!
These coats are usually lined with acrylic or polyester to make the coat more comfortable. Plastic against the skin is not something that would work well. There is also no breathability. However, there are a lot more colors to choose from and this is where a lot of people break out of their muted color shells and wear something brighter. Yellow and red are popular colors for polyurethane coats.
You can wash these coats in your washing machine, but again, plastic is a no go in the dryer.
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Nylon is another soft and pliable plastic material used both as a shell and a liner. It is made into fibers through a melting process and then blended together to make a softer material.
It has the same basic breakdown as polyester. The main difference is that nylon is softer yet stronger than polyester but polyester dries faster and holds up better.
Nylon also doesn’t hold dye as well, so you’re again looking at a more muted color choice, however, some manufacturers take the plunge anyway and every once in a while, a bright color will pop out. Usually, those are more of a nylon/polyester blend.
Although it is a plastic fiber and should avoid the dryer, Nylon can be washed in a washing machine.
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Fleece jackets can be pure heaven in the winter. You won’t be able to use them as your main weather coat, but fleece jackets are an excellent layer to add on in the dead of winter. It is also blissful to wear on a cool autumn day. However, you don’t want to wear it on a windy or rainy day as it won’t protect you from either one.
Fleece is a very soft wool-like material made out of polyester. It is much softer than normal polyester and because of this, it is 100% machine washable! Finally, right? You can even dry this one because of how it’s processed. Much of the polymer has already been melted to make the fibers small and soft, so melting and shrinking is not as much of a problem.
Because it’s polyester and retains dye well, you will have your pick of any color, any color you want. Though most manufacturers, again, stick with the muted colors we’re used to.
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Cotton is a very soft and fluffy fiber from the cotton shrub plant. The versatility of cotton is amazing. The list of uses for this miracle fabric is long but in terms of coats and jackets, it’s mostly used for lighter jackets that provide comfort and warmth on a chilly day.
It’s a lot like fleece in many ways, except that it’s a natural fiber. It won’t protect you from the rain or wind either but it will feel soft and cozy on a beautiful autumn day. It will also provide you with a variety of styles to choose from especially when it is blended with other fibers like polyester.
Denim jackets! Did you know that denim is made out of cotton? Yes, your denim jacket is actually 100% cotton (most of the time). When you get into the blends, you can also find some beautiful lightweight trench coats and waist-length peacoat style jackets.
Every color imaginable is available as cotton is one of the best materials for dye retention. It can also be woven in different ways. There are even cotton tweed coats. The best part is that, depending on the style and blend, you can machine wash them, though you have to be careful about cotton shrinking in the dryer.
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