I work in a bitingly cold office. Currently, I wear a charcoal fleece with a nice fit, but I can’t help but feel the look is starting to feel tired. I would like to step up my jacket game, but am unsure of where to start. A down puffer looks like I’m making too much of a statement, whereas a suit jacket seems overly stiff. What would you advise? — Jessica, San Diego
This is an issue not just for those of us who work in overly air-conditioned offices — given the climate crisis, a little moderation of coolants may be in order — but anyone dealing with the change in seasons and sudden nips in the air. Fleece is an easy solution and was, for a while, the favorite office uniform of shadow banker bros everywhere, for a variety for reasons.
First, it was a way of advertising that you had been to one of the elite conferences in the woods, be it Paul Allen’s Sun Valley retreat or Davos. Second, it provided a direct visual contrast to the navy-suit establishment, suggesting that your hedge fund or private equity firm had a different, cooler set of values (especially if said firm was ESG-Patagonia aligned). And finally it was … well, practical.
I knew one private equity titan who deliberately kept his office temperature frigid and always wore a fleece quarter-zip under his jacket, the better to put visitors, who were not expecting the chill, at a disadvantage. Such are the psychological-sartorial games people play.
The problem is, at that point — or the I-don’t-want-to-look-like-an-extra-in- “Billions” point — fleece at work becomes a cliché. At least if you are not in the outdoor rec world. So, what to do instead?
Stellene Volandes, the editor of Town & Country, said she always keeps a scarf or shawl, like a pashmina, on the back of her chair just in case. Radhika Jones, the editor of Vanity Fair, seconded that idea, pointing out that you can wrap it around your shoulders or just drape it over your neck, depending on the temperature and what else you are wearing.
That is certainly true, and one of the benefits of the shawl approach is that it doesn’t take up much room in a bag or a desk drawer. But for those in search of another solution, I give you … the coatigan.
Another of my favorite hybrid garments, like the shacket, jorts and jeggings, the coatigan is a cross between a coat and a cardigan. It’s long enough to wrap around the body and use almost as a blanket, and it’s structured enough to pass muster in an office. Like a fleece, it’s easy to pull on, so it doesn’t telegraph “uptight suit,” but unlike a fleece, it also doesn’t telegraph “Portland, here I come.” And it’s fungible enough to be slipped atop almost anything: dress, trousers, skirt. There’s even something a little soignée about the length.
Coatigans can be found at all price levels from a variety of retailers, including Amazon, J. Crew and so on up to the very haute. Given their versatility, it’s worth investing in a simple style in a basic shade — black, white or navy — that you will keep for the long term. It may even change your definition of “cool.”