Updated: May 27
A great topcoat should not just keep you warm but can be the perfect way to finish your outfit. Here are our tips on finding the perfect topcoat for you.
Getting to Know Topcoats
A topcoat is a type of lightweight overcoat that typically hits at or above the knee and is designed in fabrics like wool or cashmere. A versatile wardrobe piece, the topcoat can not only look sophisticated with suits or sport coats, but can also add a refreshing note to casual and denim-friendly looks.
Breaking Down Key Differences Between Topcoats and Overcoats
Topcoats are lighter weight overcoats and are often a bit shorter than the average overcoat, stopping just above the knee as opposed to mid-calf.
Overcoats are full-length coats made to be worn over a sports coat. They are typically made of heavy wools and are quite warm; examples include Crombies and Chesterfields.
A topcoat is a conventional staple of men's outerwear. It is usually made of wool and has a long, sleek silhouette. Originally made to be worn over a suit, the topcoat can also be paired with a more casual look, such as with a pair of jeans. A key difference between topcoats and overcoats is that the topcoat is lighter.
A covert coat is a topcoat made from twill cloth with four lines of “railroad” stitching at sleeve and bodice hems, which prevent damage from objects such as thorns. They are typically oatmeal in color with a dark brown collar, and tend to be slimmer and shorter than typical overcoats. Covert coats are optimal for late autumn, before the weather begins to cool down significantly.
The overcoat, made out of wool, is a long-sleeved outdoor coat that keeps you warm on cold winter days. There are different variations that can match your personal style, such as single vs. double breasted and the length of the coat.
In short, the difference between the two isn’t always visible (though overcoats can sometimes be lengthier) - the key is the difference in weight. Although topcoats and overcoats can both be used in cold weather and in formal settings, topcoats are slightly lighter in weight, so they offer a bit less in heat retention in favor of a less heavy and cumbersome feel.
What to Look for When Selecting a Topcoat
Outerwear can be an intimidating area to explore, especially with so many different styles. But looking for quality and a great fit will start your journey off on the right foot.
A tailored topcoat that allows room for layering lets you mix and match your outfit from there. That topcoat will go with all the menswear pieces you know and love, from suiting to crewneck sweaters.
Advice for Topcoat Styling and Recommended Fabrics
A beautifully made topcoat is the type of garment that gets taken care of and can be proudly passed down. However, the same can’t be said for a topcoat made with cheap materials from any of the more notorious fast-fashion brands. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
Avoid jackets that are made cheaply or poorly. Look out for fabric that has a crunchy feeling from synthetic materials.
Beware of a topcoat that hangs off your frame. If the shoulders of the coat are much wider than your own shoulders, for example, then it is not a good fit.
A cheaply made topcoat tends to fit poorly and wear out quickly because of the low-quality fabric.
Poor-fitting topcoats create a baggy, sloppy look, so avoid topcoats that are too big in the shoulders and chest.
Finally, stay away from a topcoat that feels too tight.
How should a topcoat fit?
The topcoat is a defining piece of classic menswear that belongs in your outerwear rotation, and it is critical to devote just as much attention to the fit of your outerwear as it is to focus on the fit of your dress shirts. Think of the topcoat as an extension of your dress shirt or sweater; when determining how a topcoat should fit, similar sizing principles apply.
You want a fit that is nicely tailored, but with room to move. So when trying to find the right topcoat, look for armholes and sleeves that are tailored, but with enough room to slide the topcoat on over a blazer, suit coat, or sweater.
Length is important to take into account as well - typically, topcoats will reach the mid-thigh. However, some, such as the Italian Wool Boucle, reach all the way down to the knee.
Regardless of length, fit through the chest and shoulders is crucial. Like a good suit jacket, you want a piece that’s clean and well-fitting, but not skin tight. It should hug the shoulders without suffocating you.
The buttons on the front of your topcoat are typically a good indicator of fit. The middle button, when buttoned, shouldn’t feel as though it is about to pop off. Additionally, the front of the jacket shouldn't be too baggy, so it shouldn't feel like your dad's jacket that you put on as a kid!
Remember - the topcoat needs to button easily over a suit jacket, sweater, or chambray shirt.
There are several potential pitfalls when it comes to how a topcoat should fit, but first let’s review some essentials to keep in mind.
Tactical Fitting Tips to Choose a Perfect Topcoat
Here are some points to consider when determining whether a topcoat is the right fit for you:
Shoulders: A topcoat shouldn’t restrict your arm movements. Make sure to always look for something that fits squarely on your shoulders but that is just big enough to fit over layers. At the same time, make sure that your coat’s shoulders aren’t too big, as that can throw off your proportions.
Collar: When propped, the collar on your topcoat is meant to protect the back of your neck against tough winds. However, it also serves as an integral part of your topcoat's style. When you’re buying a topcoat, you have to make sure that collar is going to stay at attention - test out the collar to ensure it has enough structural support to not sag or fall. Otherwise, your neck could be subject to a rough time in the winter and your topcoat won't look as good as it should.
Body: When it comes to how a topcoat should fit in the torso, there are a few key factors to consider. A baggy topcoat will result in poor heat retention, as large pockets of cold air will be able to seep in. Meanwhile, a topcoat that is too tight will not give you enough room to layer on really cold days or and will over-accentuate your physique. It should be fitted enough to be flattering to your silhouette, but roomy enough so you can wear your topcoat over another layer, like a suit or a cardigan sweater, underneath. Buttons are also telling - you should see no pulling or creasing along the button closures when the coat is buttoned.
Sleeves: Remember two rules when it comes to sleeves. First, they must be wide enough to accommodate a suit or sweater underneath without constantly pulling at the topcoat sleeve lining fabric or having your suit sleeves always catch. Second, they must be long enough that your wrists and suit jacket cuffs are covered - make sure they do not reach your thumbs.
The modern interpretation for the ideal topcoat length has migrated upwards over the years. Knee-length or calf-length coats can look outdated and stuffy. Hip-length cuts make your body boxy and can tread too close to appearing too casual. The sweet spot for a correctly fitted topcoat is when it ends below the midpoint of the thigh and above the top of the knee. This is typically referred to as three-quarter length.
Because fit is such a critical factor in landing on the right topcoat, off-the-rack topcoats are generally not the best option. With an investment piece like a topcoat - something that you will want to make last for a long period of time - you should treat it just as you would your favorite suit. It should fit you impeccably.
If you want to learn even more about outerwear and topcoats, check out our next post.
The Bottom Line
The topcoat is an essential item for a capsule wardrobe. Make sure to check out our How to Build An Essential Capsule Wardrobe series to learn about all the other items you need to create the perfect and most versatile wardrobe.
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