In eighth grade, I wanted nothing more than a big puffy parka.
In 1998, that wasn’t a big ask. Thanks to That ’70s Show and Gap’s now-iconic Everybody In Vests campaign, every mall chain boasted expansive collections of outerwear inspired by the Michelin Man. So, after weeks of polite begging and reminders of the impending holiday season, I woke up on Christmas morning to discover that my parents had bought me a black puffer coat from Suzy Shier. I fell in love instantly and wore it until the zipper broke a year later – and then still soldiered on through another full winter as though an open coat was a style choice.
Thankfully, the peacoat trend of 2001 eventually saved me. (And I wore my coat a normal way once more.)
But two decades later, volume again defines winter jackets: R13, Kate Spade, Kim Shui and Phillip Lim all featured puff and bulk in their fall-winter collections, while mall staples such as the Gap, Aritzia and Nordstrom’s are rife with coats that could easily double as mattresses. And it couldn’t come at a better time: On top of serving a functional purpose within our months-long winter hellscape, they also serve as a layer of armour. They’re commanding, bulky and necessitate a certain amount of space. They’re the physical reminder that maybe, for once, you can get out of our way; that we’re here, wrapped up like Glow-Worms, and if anybody has a problem with that, they can walk around us on their way out the door.
And this was was a revelation.
I love winter, and I love coats, but for the years since the great peacoat discovery of 2001, I’d often used jackets as a extension of traditional femininity. They needed to work with my boots, pants, purses, dresses, hair and makeup, and warmth was secondary to how I looked – and particularly so through the male gaze. I didn’t want to lose myself (or my heteronormative currency) amid an abundance of fabric or lining, so I opted for vintage fur or tweed even if neither choice made functional sense. But who needed a hood, anyway? My colourful lightly lined coat had a belt.
But to dress performatively is exhausting. And being cold is even more so. Especially since one’s worth is not defined by the way somebody else thinks you look in a coat, and one’s currency certainly doesn’t hinge on how approachable you might seem to men. You can still drape yourself in leather, fur and tweed if that’s your thing. But more and more, I’ve wanted to be warm and loud and wrapped in a glorified sleeping bag. I want to look like I could start a fight with an ice storm and live to tell the tale. I want to look like the only person on Earth that winter is afraid of. And I want to look that way while wearing a coat so large that it eclipses the sun.
Which isn’t a particularly unique headspace to be in – after all, it’s been months since puffer coats were unveiled during Fashion Week, and longer still since they emerged as a wintertime staple more than 40 years back. Plus, I am hardly the first woman to see winter as another means of using fashion as armour, and I am also hardly the first to question my intentions behind the way I dress. I’m not the only person who feels their toughest and best while wearing outerwear that doubles as battle garb, and millions before me have also felt too tired and old to freeze unnecessarily. Alternatively, I’m actually falling into a new pillow-shaped norm since puffer parkas are defining the fashion landscape.
But that doesn’t mean that small steps aren’t exciting; that a winter that prioritizes warmth and function can’t feel like a spoonful of common sense. It’s the silver lining to a season that’s already defined by bleakness and hopelessness. It is, like the sneaker renaissance, the quiet suggestion that comfort can be powerful.
And I’m excited for a winter defined by coats that are unapologetic in their over-the-topness. I’m here for choices that take up space and demand to be accommodated. I’m ready to spend this season dressing for myself and on my own terms: for my own warmth, for my own tastes, for my own gaze. I’m ready to wear the puffer parka I picked up on sale at the Gap and will use as a large duvet if my real one is in the laundry.
But if my zipper breaks, I will either get it fixed or spring for a new coat. Because I’m a grown woman who will not wear a jacket open without reason. And because it’s not fair to my tweed or decades-old fur to fill in for a coat that doubles as a wearable sword I use during my battles with the hardest season.
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