Most Minnesotans have coat closets that are absolutely brimming with options. Since winter is our dominant season, we stock up on outerwear in order to feel prepared for virtually any outdoor occasion. And yet, selecting a coat that works perfectly with your outfit can sometimes feel challenging. Here are a few tips that might make the process a bit less stressful:

Make sure all of your coats flatter you

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's important to start with a set of outerwear options that look good with your figure. The coats you purchase should work with your proportions, coloring, and wintry accessories. A few tips on selecting a flattering coat can be found in this older post.

Buy moderately dressy coats in several lengths

Casual coats and jackets are so much fun ... but, in my experience, have very limited application for women who work in office environments.* There are so few outfits and occasions that call for an army-influenced anorak, weather-beaten moto, or scruffy faux-shearling corduroy bomber. So fun! So cute! So LIMITING! But classic, clean-lined, sophisticated coats - coats that aren't technically formal, but are a cut above knockabout weekend wear - can be dressed up or down in a snap. Since your outerwear is often the only thing people see all winter long, versatility is key. Buy (or thrift!) at least two classy coats: A shorter length that hits anywhere from mid-hip to high-thigh, and a longer length that hits at your knee or slightly below. Lengths subject to your own preferences and proportions, of course.

Consider your underlayers

If you're wearing a full skirt with a crinoline, stuffing it under a confining peacoat will look awkward. If you're wearing a thick Irish wool sweater, wedging your arms into an unlined, snug leather moto will be uncomfortable. The coat you pick should accomodate your outfit comfortably. If your bottom half is clothed in something bulky that needs accommodation, pick a coat that flares. If your top half is carrying the bulk, pick a coat that is lined in slippery fabric or has a bit more room to it.

Consider what will peek out

If you're wearing leggings and long boyfriend cardigan, most cropped jackets will seem off. They'll cut your underlayer in half and mess with your proportions. But if you're wearing a miniskirt, that cropped jacket may be perfect; Most longer jackets will obscure your skirt entirely, so if you worry about looking like a flasher, a cropped coat will prove to the world that you're not letting it all hang out.

Consider hems and lengths

I don't abide the "skirt hem must match coat hem" rule, but I do believe that hem discrepancies should look natural and considered.

  • If your skirt is a few inches longer than your coat hem, that's fine. If your skirt is more than about eight inches longer than your coat hem, it'll start to look wonky. Try to keep those lengths close, but don't worry about matching them precisely.
  • As I mentioned above, shorter skirts often work well with shorter jackets ... but if your coat itself is modestly long, flasher-fears may be mitigated. A knee-length coat is ideal for this purpose, and covers most cold weather layers beautifully.
  • For midis and maxis, you can certainly go with a floor-sweeping coat, but something short - like this moto - should work, too. Keeping the jacket to hip level or above will create pleasing proportions on many figures. (But not all! Use your judgment!)
  • If you're wearing pants, things are much simpler; Avoid the cropped-jacket-over-long-underlayer look, but otherwise, anything goes. Just pick a coat that works with the vibe and proportions of your outfit.

Of course, in order to make all of this work seamlessly, you need approximately 87 coats. Not practical for most women. So there will be times when you simply won't have the right coat to work with your outfit, and you'll have to punt. But when you're considering buying outerwear, give careful thought to your typical mode of dress: If you live in skirts, wear a skirt to try on coats and make sure to buy something that will accommodate your preferred silhouette. If you are a jeans gal, select accordingly. Don't buy a coat because it's cute, buy a coat because it'll work for you.

Do you have any guidelines for selecting a coat that works with your outfit? How about matching hem lengths? Do you feel like you can work with owning one or two great coats, or would you rather have lots of outerwear options?

*Non-office workers, work-from-homers, full-time moms, and many others may find casual jackets to be essential, of course. But, in my opinion, it's always a good idea to have one or two moderately dressy coats available, regardless of your occupation. Again, easier to dress down a fancy coat than dress up a casual one.

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.

Image courtesy J.Crew.