With so many options out there—down or synthetic, wool or nylon, anorak or duffel—finding the warmest, most stylish wrapper can be a daunting task. Dawn Levy, the creative design director behind her eponymous line of ultra-chic outerwear, explains what to look for when shopping for a cold-weather coat.

By Rebecca Daly
Updated October 29, 2015
dawn levy winter coat
Credit: Craig Cutler; Prop and Soft styling by Liz Engelhardt

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dawn levy winter coat
Credit: Craig Cutler; Prop and Soft styling by Liz Engelhardt

1 Go Into Detail.

When looking for a winter coat, craftsmanship is the first indicator of a quality piece. It’s important to pay attention to the little things, like how the garment is sewn (stitches should be straight, with no loose threads) and the hardware (buttons and zippers should be securely attached). Another sign of quality is the caliber of trimmings and fabrics. Buying reliable brands that you can count on for longevity is key.

2 Warm Up to Versatility.

Because we live in a culture of fitness, women are trading their favorite, dressier go-to pieces for sportier looks, such as puffers that are multi-functional, anoraks made from cotton-and-wool blends, and parkas lined with detachable down or fur inserts for additional warmth. Levy suggests investing in a coat that offers several flattering styling possibilities. For example, her signature Donnie down coat can be worn multiple ways. Wear it as a vest in the fall by easily removing the zip-out bib and sleeves. Once the cold settles in, put it all back together for a complete down coat.

3 Get Down.

Down is nature's best insulator, says Levy: You get the most warmth for the least amount of weight and bulk. In order to keep a feminine shape when wearing a parka or a "puffer," pay attention to construction and detail. Look for features—like a smocked waist, laced-up side panels, or a fitted inner bib—that will help the coat hug your body and enhance your silhouette, rather than hiding it completely.

4 Take Care.

Winter coats, both down-filled and wool blends, should be washed twice a season. Always dry clean wool coats to avoid shrinking them or changing the texture of the fabric. For down- and synthetic-filled coats: Remove any trim, like fur, that need to be dry cleaned. Toss the coat in a washing machine, and then tumble dry on low with three tennis balls (these keep the filling from getting compacted or stuck in one area).

5 Stay Puffed.

It may be tempting to use vacuum-packed storage bags to tuck bulky winter items away in the off-season. But beware: Compression can warp the shape of wool coats, and damage the feathers in down-filled coats, ultimately reducing their lifespan. Levy recommends hanging coats in a closet for storage—cedar closets are ideal for all outerwear due to their natural insect-repelling quality. Don’t have one in your home? Try these cedar planks instead.