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Making the Case for Statement Outerwear

One writer has discovered the perfect litmus test for a great turn-of-the-season coat.

Making the Case for Statement Outerwear
Photo: Courtesy of Tasnim Ahmed

When I was twenty-four years old I moved to New York City. Like most transplants, I had been raised on a steady diet of literature and films that quietly hailed this beautiful city. But it wasn't the "if I could make it here then I could make it anywhere" mentality or even the renown as the greatest city in the world that convinced me. It was the seasons. I grew up in a place where summer was almost year-round, with a few weeks of the monsoon season and then the faintest whisper of cooler temperatures. I yearned to live in a place where I could witness nature ushering in its first signs of life, the relentlessness of the hazy heat, the turning leaves crunching beneath my feet, the iciness of the first chill.

I absolutely love summer. For a few sweet months it feels like there's a limitless energy reverberating off of people, blooming trees, and even the buildings and pavements. Each day feels like an uncharted expanse. However, as much as I adore summer, I love winter just as much, if not, more: the crispness in the air, the sky so perfectly blue from the cold it looks liquid, and then—hopefully—the pillowy snow. There's a change in atmosphere, slower and more intimate, seeking closeness from our dearest ones, and a turn inwards before the spring reset. I must confess, however, that there is one other reason why I love this time of year so much: the outerwear.

For years, I worshiped at the altar of the Perfect Black Coat, a canon of the homogenous (and dreaded) capsule wardrobe sweeping over fashion types across social media. I sought relentlessly for that one perfect black coat, where cut often superseded quality, a pitfall of chasing trends. Every time I thought I had acquired the holy grail, I would find yet another variation of the same. Eventually, I was confronted with a closet heaving of near-identical dark coats, which made the task of facing winter rather depressing.

With fashion being a medium of self-expression, outerwear often becomes the sole communicator of our inner selves during the winter months. We approach coats with tacit practicality. They are a means to an end, an anonymous sheath of dark wool to help us reach our destinations efficiently, with as minimal fuss and excitement as possible. While a black coat can undoubtedly be chic, falling back on it day after day can begin to feel a bit tedious, a mimicry of winter's gloom. Few people can say that when confronted with an enormous black coat, their immediate response is, "Ah, this is the essence of me!" How we approach our outerwear should reflect how we honor ourselves, instead of succumbing to a circumstance of convenience.

In my quest for coats, I've found that the older the coat, the better its fabrication. Vintage and thrift stores, online and off, are replete with affordable coats made from high-quality materials such as wool, cashmere, and angora. Though my younger self paid no mind to fabric composition, it is now the first thing I look for when buying anything. Mass production, consumer demand, and cost-cutting maneuvers are some of the reasons why coats today are not as well-made, and those that are can be astronomically priced. The coats that bring me the most joy, the ones that have me tearing off their dry-cleaning bags as soon as I bring them home, are the ones that are pre-loved. They've had former lives and are still standing, a testament to their durability, and because of the one-of-a-kind nature that comes with buying things second-hand, they feel rare and special.

Being too precious with the things that bring beauty and joy into our lives is a disservice to ourselves. Yes, we should care for our beloved pieces, but we also owe it to ourselves to revel in what delights us, not once in a blue moon, but rather each and every day. In an interview with the Guardian, Alexander McQueen once stated that when he used to help his sisters put together outfits as a young boy, his intent was to always make them look "strong and sheltered." This, I think, is a good litmus test for a great coat, something that communicates our power and exuberance, yet within which we feel protected. Below, are some of my own coats that elicit this feeling each time I wear them.

1. The Textured Coat

Photo: Courtesy of Tasnim Ahmed

Texture can be quite unexpected in a coat; it adds literal and figurative dimensionality to self-expression, be it through embroidery, beadwork, or an unconventional fabric. Every time I wear this coat, it prompts conversation. A second-hand treasure from Prada's Fall 2007 collection, I've been approached by strangers who are intrigued by its craftsmanship and color, or better yet, share their own feelings and experiences about that collection, telling me stories about the pieces they themselves own and recalling its somewhat divisive debut (of it, critic Cathy Horyn rather hilariously declared, "The cheap coat. The vulgar color"). Wearing this coat brings me so much joy. I am so determined to take it out as often as I can that on extra cold days I wear it with a very thin but very warm liner jacket beneath.

2. The Short Statement Coat

Photo: Courtesy of Tasnim Ahmed

Luxe fabrics such as brocade and velvet are typically reserved for special occasions, but recontextualizing these fabrics, as I have with this Miu Miu coat, for the everyday proposes a new way of thinking and dressing: life should be a party.

Faty Scarf-Detailed Wool-Blend Coat

Isabel Marant Étoile

3. The Faux or Pre-Owned Fur Coat

Photo: Courtesy of Tasnim Ahmed

One of my favorite photos of my mother is from when my parents lived in Louisiana in the 1980s, not long after they were married. In it, my mother wears a simple silk sari, her hair pulled back, and a chocolate fur coat draped over her shoulders. This image was imprinted in my mind for so long that when I moved to New York at twenty-four, one of my first purchases was a faux-fur coat from a thrift store which I wore to tatters. I love the versatility of fur, how it can bring glamor to any outfit or even heighten it, always purchased secondhand (more than enough fur exists already). This Frankenstein-esque old Fendi coat fulfilled that desire for glamor, while the basket-woven leather holds true to my need for the slightly weird and unexpected.

Faux-fur Coat

Proenza Schouler White Label

4. The Animal-print Coat

Photo: Courtesy of Tasnim Ahmed

What I love most about animal prints is what they can convey about the wearer's interiority. It requires inner conviction and a sense of humor so as not to err towards tropes or caricatures. My personal favorite is the leopard print, like this Michael Kors rendition, and its many facets: it can be conceived as the apex of elegance, as exemplified by Dior’s New Look; a full embrace of femininity à la Eartha Kitt; or the total rejection of conventionality heralded by the Punk movement.

Madalynn Calf Hair Maxi Coat

By Malene Birger

The Zebra Coat

The Great
$550 $385
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