Outerwear designers are tasked with creating coats that can stand up to the elements—a job that is only getting harder as extreme weather conditions become more frequent and winters get worse in many parts of the world. These design teams are often the first in the fashion industry to incorporate novel tech and materials, and 2019 saw many innovative new approaches hit the market.
Every year, I scour the apparel industry for the most ambitious new outerwear and then test whether the pieces live up to their ambition. This year, my list includes six thoughtfully designed coats for both men and women. Some contain new technologies, such as a pocket that blocks out cell-phone signals to let you enjoy your hike in peace, or new waterproof fabrics that are ultrabreathable. My favorites put a special focus on the environment: One, created by startup Askov Finlayson, is both recyclable and “climate positive.” Meanwhile, coats from Lululemon and Canada Goose adapt to different weather conditions and the passage of time, respectively. It’s getting cooler—so if you’re in the market for a new coat, see my list below.
Designed for adaptability
Many of us who live in temperate climates have several coats to get us through the fall and winter seasons: a raincoat during the warmer, wetter months; a light jacket for when the temperatures start to drop; then a heavy-duty coat for when the temperatures dip and it gets snowy. Lululemon developed a single coat meant to get you through all of them.
The company’s “3-in-1” coats for men and women consist of two basic garments: a waterproof outer layer along with an inner puffer jacket. I tested the jacket in the cooler fall months, and I found it very handy to separate the layers and wear them separately. The light puffer provides just the right amount of warmth for when the temperatures begin to dip, and the exterior raincoat shields you from rainstorms. But when the colder winter months arrive, the two layers can be quickly attached, thanks to strategically placed magnetic buttons. Both coats are relatively sleek and minimal, which means they’ll work for a commute or a hike. This is the perfect coat for someone who wants to own less but still be appropriately dressed during mercurial weather.
[Photo: Askov Finlayson]
Designed for the planet
Men’s The Winter Parka, $495
Women’s The Winter Parka, $495
It’s designed for very cold conditions, all the way down to -30ºF. The brand puts particular focus on using recycled fabrics and the coat’s overall recyclability, since many technical fabrics are complex to recycle. Instead of regular down, the company collaborated with 3M to feature a featherless insulation technology that is recyclable, along with a shell and a liner that can easily be taken apart and recycled as well. All of this adds up to a parka that is 90% recyclable. (The shell also happens to be made from a recycled windproof and water-resistant fabric.) In a smart twist, one pocket of this coat allows you to block out cell- phone signals, or “go into present” mode, in the brand’s parlance.
If you care about the carbon footprint of your garments, then this is a brand to watch. The company calculates how much carbon it emits from every aspect of the supply chain, from manufacturing to the raw materials to the energy used in stores, then offsets 110% of that amount by purchasing certified credits, which go on to fund agriculture projects and clean energy. The company also writes grants to educational nonprofits that increase climate literacy, including ClimateGeneration and iMatter Youth.
Designed for functional fashion
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t leave home without a leather jacket, winter can present some problems. High-quality leather can degrade when exposed to too much snow and water, and the material won’t cut it when the temperatures get too cold. Outerwear startup Aether is here for you. The company is best known for its outdoor gear, but for its first streetwear jacket, it decided to focus on the classic leather jacket silhouette.
The company has designed a $1,175 leather jacket that’s insulated, water-resistant, and warm. The company layered soft nappa leather (coated with a protective finish) on top of a puffer jacket that is filled with PrimaLoft filling to retain heat. It also contains plenty of pockets, including one to keep your hands warm.
Designed for breathability
Synthetic materials have many useful qualities, particularly when it comes to outdoor gear—they’re ideal for waterproofing, for instance. But as North Face’s designers gathered feedback from professional mountain climbers and other athletes, they discovered a consistent complaint: Waterproof gear did not allow for much air circulation, which made them sweaty and stuffy.
The company spent three years finding a solution to this problem. It recently launched the alternative it developed as part of the project, a new material called Futurelight, which is perhaps the most breathable waterproof material on the market right now. North Face used nanospinning technology, which refers to milling fibers that are microscopically thin. This allows designers to adjust the weight, stretch, texture, and, importantly, breathability of the fabric.
North Face has rolled out three collections for both men and women that utilize the new fabric: one for running, one for skiing, and another for mountain climbing. We tested the $499 men’s Freethinker jacket designed for skiing and snowboarding under very wet conditions. The jacket provided a lot of protection from both strong winds and rains but was also surprisingly lightweight and breathable. It was also equipped with plenty of pockets, as well as a pocket at the wrist with a built-in wipe for goggles. There are also extra zippers at the chest and under the arm that you can unzip for extra ventilation. It’s the perfect jacket for winter sports, but it also works well for everyday life when the weather is wet.
Designed to last a lifetime
Men’s Erickson Parka, ($1,150)
Women’s Aldridge Parka, ($1,350)
Canada Goose was founded to design parkas for scientists and explorers who spend months at a time living and working in the Arctic and Antarctic circles. The company’s designers regularly interview people who have worn these parkas for decades—and examine the parkas themselves—to assess their functionality and address changes that could make them more durable.
The most recent result of that process is two brand-new styles: The women’s Aldridge parka has patches of waterproof Cordura fabric that reinforce areas that experience a lot of abrasion, which included both the pockets and the underside of the arm, from the wrist all the way to the elbow. A new men’s parka called the Erickson is also reinforced with Cordura in the pockets, the upper back, and the yoke. The parkas also come with military-style button closures that are highly resistant to wear and tear.
I expected the parka to be stiff and uncomfortable because of all of this reinforcement. But I was surprised to find that the garment was relatively light and felt very comfortable against the skin, since all the parts that actually touch the body are extra soft. The neck area and chin guard, for instance, is made with silky tricot fabric. This parka is expensive, but it’s designed to last for decades to come—so it’s fair to think of it as a long-term investment.
Designed for city life
Women’s Metro Jacket, $600
Men’s Metro Parka, $600
Spyder is best known for its gear designed for snow sports (the company has been a sponsor of the U.S. ski team since 1989). But recently the brand has been working on a collection of lifestyle jackets designed for city life. The new collection has all the performance features you might expect from sports gear, but designed with a more fashionable aesthetic.
I tested the women’s Metro Jacket, which has a slim silhouette, a faux-fur hood, and a Gore-Tex exterior that’s finished with a soft, wool-like feel. The men’s Metro Jacket has a similar exterior finish, without the fur hood, and has a slightly longer silhouette. Each is filled with Primaloft synthetic down, and like Spyder’s ski gear, the seams on both are reinforced with tape to ensure you stay warm and dry. Neither jacket looks like it was designed for you to take on a hike or down a mountain—and yet they’re equipped with a surprising number of technical components.