With winter in full swing around here (seriously, it’s been nothing but rain and freezing temperatures for the past two weeks), I find myself suffering from cold weather blues. As in, my hands and feet are quite literally turning blue. Winter is a tough time for me because, as a Reynaud’s syndrome sufferer, my extremities get uncomfortably cold and numb when the temperatures drop. Even inside toasty boots and two layers of gloves, my hands and feet stay cold most of the time. A super-warm coat is an essential for me, especially when I’m going to be outdoors a lot.
Needing more warmth than most mortals typically means that I have to forgo the cute and fashionable jacket options and go straight for a technical monster of a coat. It often feels like there are no cute and lightweight options that will also keep me warm enough. Crop jackets and pea coats are out: a straight cut + boobs = tent. Such trendy items are not right for my unpredictable, all-weather lifestyle, anyway. I can be in an urban setting in the morning and then by the early afternoon be hiking in the woods as temperatures drop. So I try my best to find cross-over styles that work with my body type.
Oh yes, that other niggling factor: what will actually fit me? Over the years, I have noticed that whatever my weight, waist size, or bust size, the common denominator to most of my clothing fit issues is my height. Height combined with bust size is where things get nigh-on impossible. As a short and fuller bust girl, finding anything that fits is a challenge and coats are right up there at the top of the list.
These days I prefer a thigh-length coat over a short jacket. Luckily most jackets end up a little longer than average on me. I also need to maintain a good range of motion while having really effective insulation. I need room in the bust, but not a lot of room at the waist because of my hourglass figure. The waist needs to taper, not fall straight down, otherwise I look like a Hefty bag. And being petite means that anything too heavy simply overwhelms my frame. Couple in some unavoidable sensory issues, and “rugged” jackets quickly become a burden on my neck and shoulders.
Typically, an off-the-rack coat in standard sizes has the wrong proportions for me. I have shortish shoulders and a higher-set bustline, so most jackets end up tight at the fullest part of my bust and floppy/bunched up at the waist. I feel like I constantly need to hoist the waist and shoulders up, otherwise it just hangs uncomfortably and my arms can’t move. As I’ve lost weight in the past year, this has become an even more common occurrence. If I size down in coats to fit the rest of me, the chest area in the garment gets smaller and smaller.
Clothing manufacturers: what if I told you that you can have a size XS waist and a size M chest?!
Coat shopping for petites with fuller busts: successes and failures
The rest of this post will include some of my successful and not-so-successful attempts at finding a winter coat. It kind of turned into a mega-post. Prepare yourself.
Lands’ End Packable Down and Primaloft jackets, various styles (XS-M, regular & petite)
In the past, I’ve actually had outstanding luck with Lands’ End insulated coats and jackets. They are my benchmark for a good fit because it’s what I’m wearing at the moment. I own both their primaloft jackets and down coats/parkas. They top my list because they are really petite- & bust-friendly. Lands’ End outerwear also comes in a wide range of lengths, cuts, styles and sizes, including: regular, tall, petite, plus and petite plus. I don’t know any other retailers with such a range.
I now take a XS in Lands’ Ends regular sizes or sometimes an S in their petites, and both have room for my 28FF/G bust. I was a 30G/GG when I took a size M and there was even more ample space there. I still have one of my old coats from a couple years ago in a size M that’s roomy enough now to fit a fleece underneath it and I’m still getting good wear out of it. It’s a rare unicorn of a jacket that I can fit a fleece under and still zip up over the chest. Since my main problem area(s) with coats are the bust and shoulders, all the size and cut options from Lands’ End are great news for me.
Similarly, I have two of their packable quilted primaloft jackets from the old season with the cinchable hem which I prefer (pictured below). They are also still in my old size, M, but they still fit, albeit it a little more roomy and boxy than they were before. These are somewhat less roomy in the chest.
My trick with Lands’ End coats is that even though I am petite (5′), I often opt for their regular (not petite) range, because I find that the chest accommodates my bust better. So I went for the XS in the new packable down parka last winter (28G) and it fit beautifully. It also gave me a little more length than on the model, which worked out great for staying warm.
And Lands’ End down coats are super warm. They temperature rate all of their coats, which I love, so you know if it’s warm/warmer/warmest to withstand the weather you’ll be wearing it in. I have owned two of their lightweight insulated down jackets rated warmer and warmest. They come with all the features I want like a removable hood, water resistance and packable, with classic styling that’s sporty enough for everyday without looking like camping gear. Every season they have new colors and even fun patterns or floral prints. Last but not least, they’re pretty inexpensive and LE often has winter sales on coats with 30-60% off, so it’s a rare day that you have to pay full price for anything on their site. If you live near a Sears/LE store, you can try them on and do returns in person, which is super useful and one of the last bastions of brick and mortar retail for me.
Okay, so the fit and appearance of LE coats puts them on the top of my list and makes them the most relevant brand for my fuller-bust success. However, the reason why I am shopping for a new jacket instead of sticking with my LE packable down, is that their down jackets can tend to shed a lot of feathers. Some are worse than others, but they don’t get better with time. If it molts, it won’t stop, even after washing. My first coat from a few years ago didn’t shed that much at first, but now spits out feathers everywhere and has lost much of its insulting power as a result. My second coat started right away. It loses feathers from the inside onto my clothes, which I then have to take a lint-roller to depending on the material. When I get out of the car, it looks like I strangled a chicken on my seat. I really wish that the down jackets didn’t have this fault. Maybe they fixed it for 2016, but I’m not going to take the chance and order one from Europe since I can’t return it.
The primaloft and non-down jackets don’t lose their filling, however. All told, I get a good 2 years out of one of their coats with regular wear, so the only fault I can name is the molting.
Rating based on various Lands’ End packable down coats (warmer/warmest rating):
Quality: 2/5 (4/5 for the primaloft and non-feather options)
Final verdict: Warm and petite/bust-friendly; definitely worth a try.
The North Face Kings Canyon Parka (S)
I tried on a lot of coats in stores this year, and this is one that I actually ended up ordering in my size with the intention of keeping.
I like the North Face brand. I don’t, however, own a lot of their clothes. I find it to be one of the outdoor brands that doesn’t especially cater to petites (by that I mean short in stature, not smaller waist sizes). Most of their jackets and fleeces just sort of don’t fit my body because they’re made for someone taller, and they don’t offer petites in their size range. I tried on tons of their thermoball parkas and down jackets last winter and they just didn’t really work for me. At the end of the summer, however, I found a North Face soft shell fleece on sale that I actually like a lot and fits me pretty well.
In Europe, The North Face coats are not easy to find. I found one lonely Kings Canyon Parka in a department store here in a size Medium and liked it enough to order it in a Small. There are no reviews of this coat online and it’s not available in the US.
In terms of features and appearance, it has basically everything I’m looking for. A super-warm 700-fill goose down, it’s water-resistant, and has a removable, adjustable hood without fake fur everywhere. It’s reasonably lightweight yet sturdy and tapers well to the body, so I don’t feel like I’m lugging it around. I like the navy blue colorway and the contrasting lining as well as the fact that the pockets have zippers and there’s an internal zip pocket at the chest as well. All the useful stuff, nice looks and the warmth? Sign me up. It’s also fairly pricey at €350.00. I decided to pay for warmth and longevity and ordered it expecting it to hold up better than a fashion brand.
In terms of fit, I’d say it runs smaller than some other outdoor brands, so I was optimistic that a Small would fit without the extra space in the Medium. As it happens, it’s just a little tight on the chest. Again, this is not because the chest can’t accommodate a 28FF/G; rather, it’s designed for someone taller who will fill out the chest area lower down at its deepest point instead of more towards the shoulder like I do. A little more room would have been nice, but it’s close enough for me to make it work. (Note to TNF: A waist cinch cord would help to adjust the fit better).
I thought I had found my unicorn, but I ended up returning this coat because it started molting feathers. Not nearly as bad as my existing Lands’ End coat, but worrying that it started within minutes of unpacking it. Also some finishings are lacking; in particular, the storm flap closure looks a little frumpy when the jacket is closed. I can tolerate some molting for a $50 coat on sale, but not at these prices. Are you listening, TNF? You can do better.
Price: ~$375 (€350.00)
Final verdict: A sporty urban look, but a busty let-down that lets out down.
Marmot Montreal Down Coat (S)
Marmot is another mid-to-upper range outdoor brand that is priced accordingly. I’m more than happy to invest if it means getting extras like waterproofing, wind-resistance and a coat that will last more than one season. I found this coat on sale in a local outdoor shop where it was the only size S they had in stock in any coat (!) and decided to give it a try.
The Montreal Coat has a thicker feeling stuffing than the TNF Kings Canyon, but it otherwise has a similar length and specs (water-resistant, 700-fill down, removable hood, and removable fur trim on the hood). The Marmot size S has a somewhat roomier fit in the chest and body, making it quite comfortable and more accommodating to layers. I could probably have sized down to XS, but then only a shirt would fit underneath. It has more of a straight waist/classic fit, compared with the tapered waist/modern fit of TNF coat. I prefer the latter, but the Marmot coat did feel warmer overall when trying it on.
Once again, there was only one lonely coat in my size on the rack in store. Unfortunately, it was a sickly beige color (pictured) that is so unapologetically ugly in person that it’s wisely not for sale in the US. These lifeless beige tones are really popular here and I find them universally unflattering. It looks okay in the photo, but against my skin tone it looked awful. I couldn’t get past it even at the sale price of around $200 and considered ordering it online for the full retail of about $300 in a different colorway.
Since there is no end to the complications that is trying to find clothes for me, in the end I didn’t order the coat because of its ridiculous hood closure/cinch system. There are two bungee chords that are nearly impossible to adjust, least of all with gloves on. With Raynaud’s, I really can’t take my gloves off. Then the bungees, which are highly immovable and frustrating, secure down with some velcro (?) that I couldn’t figure out. Why, Marmot? I hate velcro on clothes. It always ends up sticking in my hair or on my sweater or leggings and destroying them.
I reluctantly let the Montreal Down Coat go. I may check on the latest season version to see if the closure is different, though. So this one might still be in the running.
Final verdict: A solid option all around, let down by little details.
Mammut Kira Down Parka (S)
Next up, Mammut. Pricy, but is it “worth it”? Again, with Mammut you are paying for the name brand and I have often found Mammut outerwear to be prohibitively expensive for me personally, but I always believed their stuff was good quality.
I spied the Mammut Kira Down Parka hanging on a lone wall in another speciality outdoor and camping shop. I love green in nearly all shades, but I can’t abide military green in outerwear. Although it looks a little dull in the stock photo, this green (“seaweed”) looked great in the store and the padding was wonderfully lofty and plump. I also liked the bright accent color in the interior. Normally I avoid the extra puffy type of filled jacket as a petite to avoid looking like a marshmallow, but this coat’s appearance grabbed me right away.
Nice features include the long length and the stretchy thumb-holed windblocking handwarmers built into the sleeves. Detachable hood, check.
The pockets are functional, cozily warm, and overall the coat fit really comfortably across the chest with space and range of motion. At no point when trying it on was I aware of any chest restriction. For its size and bulk, it was amazingly lightweight. And definitely the most instantaneously warm jacket that I put on throughout my trials (650-fill down). I was really cold when I entered the shop and I started getting toasty as soon as I put it on. I like the simplicity of the style without extra zips and pulls everywhere, too.
Within 5 minutes, I was sure this was my coat. Then I reached down to look at the tag, and it wasn’t the $300 price that gave me a heart attack, but the fact that copious amounts of white feathers were poking their way through the seaweed green microlight exterior. Come on! I expected much more from Mammut. How hard is it to seal the seams or double line the outer fabric of a $300 down coat? What a shame. A coat that sheds a handful of feathers before you even leave the store will never maintain its warmth over time. Not to mention that it will make your clothes and house and sofa and car seat look like you pluck chickens for fun.
Final verdict: A toasty and expensive feather-shedder
McKinley Heather Hooded Down Coat (XS)
The extra long Heather down coat by McKinley was one of the cheaper finds across all of my shopping trips. It’s a lighter-weight down coat with a slimmer, more urban profile. It comes in a dark heather-gray finish. There are no extra frills with this one. The hood isn’t detachable; the sleeves have no gaiters or lining. You get two hand pockets and a zip with no wind flap. The price matches the simplicity at around €99 (€79 in the winter sale where I saw it).
I actually tried this one on a few times. I was striking out with so many jackets that I figured I might as well go for a cheaper option. You basically get what you pay for here. The finishing isn’t brilliant, but it would likely last the season. That said, the more expensive coats on this list spit out feathers everywhere while this budget option doesn’t!
I tried the size S (EU 36) first and found that it came up roomy and long in the bodice and snug on the chest. The XS (EU 34) was a better size for me throughout the body, making the coat an overall more comfortable fit. Since it’s quite a slim and long cut, it made it feel less bulky to have it fit the body better. However, the armpit area was particularly bothersome here, feeling quite tight. I’m estimating that this was because of the chest not having enough room, as the XS chest was not just snug, but too tight to move my arms comfortably. It kept catching in the armpit area.
So while this jacket is probably the least bust-friendly, the size range does do quite well for petites in general. Because it runs smaller in the chest and isn’t a very heavy weight option, I’d recommend sizing up (two sizes if you’re especially busty) in this jacket and wearing it layered with a thin fleece or soft shell underneath. This would enhance the warmth since it’s not naturally so insulated. But if your waist is much smaller than your bust and hip measurement, it’s likely to tent outwards, so this won’t be the most flattering look.
Final verdict: Cheap, but functional; busty petites look elsewhere.
Fjällräven Singi Parka (XS) and similar
Fjällräven is a famous Swedish outdoor company that makes high quality camping equipment like jackets and backpacks. I always hear people raving about how amazing their stuff is. In general, it’s not really my aesthetic at all. It’s got a vintage, arctic explorer vibe and a heavy canvassy feel to it. But I am happy to accept Scandinavian expertise on all things wintry and warm. I saw some Fjällräven jackets and parkas at a high-end department store and decided to give them a try. The Singi is the closest I could find online to match the ones I tried in-store. All were a similar appearance with fur detailed hood, cinch waist and large front pockets.
The outer material is not actually canvas as I first assumed, but a special rugged fabric called G-1000 that is windproof, water resistant, breathable, UV protective, and so on. Apparently it is especially hard-wearing and you’re supposed to wax it. With a block of wax. This is some hard core arctic camping level outerwear that is somewhat beyond my needs for keeping me warm walking around cities and doing some light hiking. The price tag speaks to its technical superiority, I presume, at between €400 and €600 depending on the style.
They are certainly well made (although velcro on the sleeves is a personal dislike of mine, meh). I have to say, however, that for me they are also not very petite friendly. I tried on the smallest size I could find in all the jackets (XS) and they were all too big. And so heavy. On me, they look like canvas sacks. I liked the burnt orange and wine colors a lot since they differ from the usual array of black and gray jackets on offer, but even the colors couldn’t improve their appearance on me. I looked like a little kid that got into an adult’s coat closet. The sleeves hung down about 5 inches past my wrists. It was hard to evaluate the bust friendliness given the fit. Well, at least they’re roomy!
Despite the cinchable waist cord on some models, they are all cut straight down from the armpit to the hem. I’m not saying their aren’t worth €600 (the jury is out, tbh), but they were just not suited to my body type at all. Normally I’m all about the cinch waist. In this case, the proportions were a total mismatch for me.
I should note for the purposes of the ratings below that I don’t think any of the models I tried were especially insulated. They felt more like heavy-weight top layers. I’m looking for something really insulated that won’t require multiple tactical layers.
Final verdict: Scandinavians are big.
Summary and Conclusion
The struggle is real.
Being outside the “average” size range of off-the-rack clothing is difficult however it affects you. Those who need a 34″ inseam have as hard a time in your average department store as those who need a 27″ inseam. Being petite in stature has always been a struggle for me in terms of finding things that fit. When I was petite and overweight, I had different issues compared with now, but issues nonetheless. Even though my bust size has also decreased as I’ve lost weight and I’m not nearly as busty as before, my new proportions sometimes feel even more difficult to dress.
I still don’t have a new coat yet this year. It will probably be spring before I find something. That’s partially because I find myself resenting more and more that I have to give in and make do with clothes that don’t fit great or don’t make me feel great wearing them because it’s all I can find. That’s how I used to feel about bras: just grab whatever size since nothing will fit right, anyway. Beige and plain and listless? Perfect, take my money! I’m so happy to be beyond that. But just like it’s impossible in many places to find a size 28G bra on the rack, I am struggling to find a size XS-waist, M-bust practical winter coat, too.
Even bust-friendly clothing manufacturers largely make fashion items, which are great, but not specific enough for winter in my case. I wish more outdoor and sports companies would make specialized clothing designed for extended size ranges, whether that’s plus sizes (which are more widely available all the time), or for tall and petite women (harder to find, IMO). That would be a good start.
If you’ve had any luck finding good bust-friendly winter proof outerwear, please share!