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What is an Overcoat?

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  • Written By: T. Alaine
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2016
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An overcoat is a garment intended for outdoor wear to serve as protection from the elements. Traditionally knee-length or longer, these garments are generally constructed from heavier fabrics and meant to be worn during the colder, wetter months of the year. Overcoats are highly functional clothing, meant to keep the wearer comfortable and in good health despite potentially unpleasant or unforgiving weather.

Overcoats are wardrobe staples because they are generally designed in a neutral fabric and a classic cut meant to match a variety of outfits and occasions. An overcoat is meant to be removed when an individual is indoors and sheltered from the weather outside, so it usually will not be as ornate as the garments that form the outfit underneath. Of course, this is not always the case; some people choose to make a statement with their outerwear by selecting a coat in a bright color or bold pattern.

The practical overcoat is not to be confused with a less functional coat called a jacket. This generally is a shorter, hip-length garment constructed of lighter-weight fabrics and intended primarily for indoor use. An overcoat is distinguished from a suit jacket, for example, because it is constructed of a heavier, more durable fabric and is designed to be removed after an individual enters a building. The suit jacket, in contrast, is worn under the overcoat and is meant to remain on the wearer after he or she is indoors to serve as a fashionable component of the outfit.

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Broadly speaking, modern overcoats are made from a few standard materials. Classic trench coats certainly qualify, as do long canvas, wool or wool-blend jackets. Fur was a popular choice in the past, although that has diminished, partly because of ethical concerns. Synthetic furs, as well as other synthetic blends, are possible options as well. The overarching goal is to use a durable enough fabric to withstand possible exposure to wind, snow, cold and rain.

There are styles of overcoats available for both men and women. A man’s version typically is bulkier and cut looser than a woman’s style. A woman might opt for a narrower cut with seams or a belt that nips the garment in at the waist, highlighting a feminine figure. These differences are slight, and choosing a more masculine versus feminine style is a matter of personal preference.

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