When the cold weather bites, something fascinating happens to London. A hush comes over the city. The streets empty of dawdlers and gawpers, the lights gleam in windows and the great cacophony of London’s human noise – the merriment and the misery – is locked behind closed doors.
In many ways, it makes a relaxing change. I much prefer a crisp, cold morning to a drizzly grey one. It is far more pleasant to walk the streets. They are always quieter at this time of year but, made more unwelcome by the chill, they are almost deserted, resulting in the rare feeling of freedom.
Cold also has a way of focusing the mind – and opening the wallet; I have never been so extravagant with taxis than in the harshest cold. However, there is but one investment that you need to make when you feel the flinty hardness of a cold snap; a bespoke overcoat or topcoat from your favourite tailor.
It always amazes me how some people, worst of all me, allocate their resources so disproportionately. Spending big on suits but not on shoes is a classic, but overcoats are easily one of the most neglected garments in the wardrobe. Chaps I know who are only too willing to spend £400-600 on a suit, usually in a hopelessly thin fabric for the mild-but-not-exactly-balmy UK climate, choke when they see an overcoat for more than £300.
“It’s not worth it” they say “it’ll soon be warm enough to walk around in a suit.”
One of the biggest problems the overcoat has is that it isn’t perceived to be a particularly sexy item in the male wardrobe. Although you’d think this shouldn’t matter, it does. Buying a sharp suit has a superficial as well as a practical purpose. An overcoat is seen to be entirely utilitarian; something to keep you warm. Whereas as the suits on the silver screen have men gushing about patterns, colours, waistcoats and buttons, rarely do you ever hear such enthusiasm for the poor old overcoat: “Oh man, did you see that awesome Chesterfield in Boardwalk Empire?” “I did, but did you see that incredible double-breasted King coat in The King’s Speech?”
The thing is, a bespoke overcoat is actually very good value. If you live in a temperate climate, you might need to wear it for a quarter of the year at a push, but generally it will be stored away, maintaining its shape. With such low usage, it will last for years and years. Having recently spoken to a tailor who was bemoaning a lack of trade, the “steal” of a bespoke overcoat – for those that can afford it – was still eluding many of his customers, who still persisted with off the rack which, unfortunately, is continually declining in quality of cloth. “You see them coming in with these horrible fluffy things. ‘bout as durable as a lace blouse.”
Fabric choice is the priority with an overcoat. Not only does it need to be warm, it also needs to look smart year in, year out. Most of the stuff you find in the shops won’t be made of the right stuff and, even if it is, would be only marginally less than bespoke. A good tailor will be able to direct you to some fairly heavy but good value cloths in a great variety of colours; the key is to exercise restraint. The more extravagant the pattern and colour, the less useful the coat.