A few weeks ago, I had my assistant, Rachel, in stitches when I said, “people in New Jersey don’t wear coats.” The whole conversation started while she and I were reviewing requests from a client in New Jersey who has a preference for vests over coats in the winter. Rachel, who is a native Coloradan and lives in Fort Collins, where two weeks ago it was 80 degrees and last week it snowed, found my observation about coats and people from Jersey hilarious.
Obviously, there was a bit of facetiousness in my comment as I wasn’t being entirely serious. My claim that all people from New Jersey don’t wear coats is as outlandish as the claim that people from New Jersey ski in jeans (not true.) It’s not like not there isn’t one person in New Jersey who owns a winter coat, but it also doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to the statement either. A week or two later, in another meeting now with my sister, Beth, a lifetime resident of New Jersey, in attendance, I asked her if people in New Jersey wore coats. Without a bit of prompting she said, “nope.” Rachel was dying.
Again, people in New Jersey own and wear coats, so Jersey readers, you don’t need to tell me in the comments that you own a coat. I’m from there and go home all the time and see plenty of people wearing them. Besides, not wearing a coat, or more specifically, not bundling up, isn’t specifically a New Jersey thing, it’s more of a suburban phenomenon predicated on the fact that compared to people who live in areas that require great deals of walking, people who live in the suburbs spend a finite amount of time outdoors comparatively and don’t have nearly the same need.
All three of my sister’s kids have always run from the front door to the waiting school bus across the street without wearing coats, even in the dead of winter, a choice that confounded and drove my sister crazy until she decided it wasn’t a hill worth dying on. Granted, kids aren’t known for making the smartest choices. However, even when my mom and sister visited me here in the city to go wedding dress shopping on a bitterly cold day in February many years ago and I suggested they wear their warmest coats and bring scarves, hats, and gloves, both my sister and mom were unsure if they owned any of these accessories. It blew my mind. Nobody walks in the suburbs, and if people don’t have garages that allow them to get to their cars without ever stepping into the elements, their cars are usually just a few steps away in the driveway. And can’t you start and warm up a car from the warmth of your home now using some fob or something? I wouldn’t know. The last time I owned a car it had a tape deck. Cold weather gear in the suburbs is rarely all that necessary unless you partake in activities that specifically call for it.
Conversely, if you live in a seasonal walking city, you don’t just have one warm winter coat, you have varying degrees of warm winter coats. In addition to my coats, I own several scarves for different temperatures, a few hats of varying weights, lightweight gloves, middle-weight gloves, and then gloves that would keep me from losing fingers in the Arctic Circle. All of my boots are weatherproof, I have snow boots, rain boots, a raincoat, insulated socks, and the list goes on. When my friend visited from suburban Seattle during a Polar Vortex she packed ballerina flats not just because she didn’t check the weather report but because the only “gear” she owned was for when she goes snowshoeing as an activity. Otherwise, what need did she really have for any type of footwear for freezing temperatures? Thank God we wear the same shoe size and I could throw her one of my several pairs of winter boots.
PONCHOS, WRAPS, VESTS, AND CAPES: COAT-FREE ALTERNATIVES FOR FALL, AND BEYOND
It was actually my mother who suggested this post topic during a text thread between me, her, and my sister over the weekend and after I got my COVID booster. I mentioned I was still without a blog topic and as I was sensing vaccine side effects and was coming down with a headache, horrible body aches, and couldn’t imagine cobbling an extensive blog post together, she suggested a post on wraps and ponchos, which she loves and wears well into the deep winter. As for me; I think they’re useless.
WHEN WRAPS AND PONCHOS ARE MORE WORK THAN IT’S WORTH
In theory, I think wraps and ponchos are beautiful. If walking is your main mode of transportation, however, they serve no purpose. They’re clumsy, fussy, and, worse, if you live anywhere seasonal, your window of wear time is more limited than the window of time you have to eat that leftover sushi in your fridge. Wraps flap all over the place against the wind and forget figuring out how to carry your bag — over the wrap or poncho: a bunchy blanket-y mess, or under a wrap or poncho: a strange lump. Hand and arm freedom? Gone. When you live in a walking city, your arms, shoulders, and back become like your car trunk. You are literally a turtle carrying your world with you. Basically, walking around wearing a wrap or cape when you have things to get done feels like you are walking around trying to keep a big blanket wrapped around your shoulders. Nobody gets things done dragging a woobie around like Linus.
WHEN WRAPS AND PONCHOS ARE THE PERFECT SOLUTIONS
On the flip side, if you live a life like my mom who drives everywhere, a wrap, cape or poncho is ideal. Unless a work commute involves an icy wait on a frigid platform, people in the suburbs, for the most part, live temperature-controlled lives with quick spurts from house to garage to destination. In between that, there are pockets of moments peppered in where the heavyweight coat might need to come out for a spin. There is no reliance on the body to carry things; that’s what the trunk or backseat of a car is for, and no heavy walking, because most suburban plans have too much sprawl to really welcome much foot traffic. In addition, not only can driving while wearing a coat be bulky and uncomfortable, some studies are showing it’s actually not safe to wear a coat in a car, like a puffer. Does my mom own coats? Yes, of course, quite a few, but she also has a closet full of wraps, capes, and ponchos compared to the zero I have in my wardrobe. If my mom visits me in the deep winter when it is below freezing and we don’t have plans to go anywhere she will show up in a cape. As a New Yorker, it boggles my mind.
Vests fall into a similar category as wraps and ponchos but in a different way. They help keep the body’s core temperature warm while offering the arms a lot more range of motion at the same time which, for me, makes a lot more sense. In some climates or times of the year, this is the ideal layering piece. It’s also a style that some women will layer underneath a coat for an additional layer of body warmth if the vest itself isn’t too bulky.
This is not to say I get vests entirely for myself because, again, the wear time here in the northeast has always felt too short, but that’s due to my lifestyle and how infrequently I rely on a car as my mode of transportation. In the suburbs, a driving city, or an area like the Pacific Northwest where the weather can be more temperate, and changeable and where layers are so ideal, vests are great.
WRAPS, PONCHOS, CAPES, AND VESTS ARE GREAT FOR TEMPERATE CLIMATES
Pieces like wraps and ponchos can be go-to’s climates where the temperatures either never or infrequently dip below freezing. Granted, folks in these parts tend to have thinner blood and also relish any opportunity to break out a cozy sweater or coat for the few days a year it gets a bit brisk, but having some lightweight pieces in a wardrobe like these can be incredibly useful.
SHOP FOR CAPES, VESTS, WRAPS, AND PONCHOS
So if you’re someone who spends a lot of time in a car, prefers to wrap yourself up in a cape or poncho, is shopping for some vests, or just feels like it might be worth considering adding a few of these styles this season in addition to the coats you already have in your wardrobe, I have shopped around for some styles that you could consider. Take a look below.
WRAPS, CAPES AND RUANAS
If you’re wondering what the difference between a wrap, a cape, and a ruana is, a wrap typically has no shape and is essentially a large scarf that is big enough to drape around your body. A ruana, typically referred to many as a wrap by the general public, is similar to a poncho but with a slit down the front. Unlike a wrap, it has more shape and looks less like a big scarf. Lastly, a cape is more tailored with more structure. Capes are more tailored around the neck to fit snugly and often have some kind of closure. Over the years, the terms have been used interchangeably so don’t worry if you call your cape, wrap, or ruana the wrong term.
Ponchos typically have no opening except for the neck hole which means you better be comfortable slipping off and on over your hair. Winters get dry, so you could consider a travel-size can of static guard or a cling-free dryer sheet in your bag to control the static that might come from taking it on and off, especially if the neck hole is small. You can either rub the dryer sheet lightly over your hair or spray a little of the static guard on a brush or your hands and then run your fingers through your hair.
A little-known fun fact about the puffer vest originated from the puffer coat. Many say Eddie Bauer invented it but it was, in fact, an Australian chemist, mountaineer, and Mt. Everest climber, George Finch who invented it in 1922. He is also responsible for inventing bottled oxygen, another thing widely used in Everest expeditions.
What about you, where do you stand on wraps, capes, ponchos, and vests? Are you a yay or a nay? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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From this Minnesota resident’s perspective, all of these options have their place:
Coats – outdoor wear
Capes, vests, ponchos, and wraps – indoor wear
Haha, fair enough, Sally. The first time I visited the midwest during a blizzard I explained to everyone who was from there that I always imagined them all as invincible Vikings.
I live in a Seattle suburb and walk outdoors a lot. I could not deal without my hooded puffer jacket. Lightweight and waterproof — who could ask for anything more? I wear my light hiker shoes a lot in the winter because they are comfortable, waterproof and have grippy soles. I’m with you on ruanas, wraps and ponchos: cute, but not practical for outdoors in this area.
Agree. I wish they were more practical because they do look good. It’s the whole bag thing too. Just where exactly are you supposed to put it where it doesn’t look awkward?
I love all of these and have had many iterations over the years, including some my mother wove. I like a ruana over my fall coat as it gets colder, and a wrap or shawl over my winter coat when it is really cold. Here in Edmonton, we do get -40 weather — one year for an entire month!
Wow, wow, wow. I can see how you would need as many layers as possible!! Bundle up!
I am definitely team poncho! Or wrap, ruana, cape, whatever you want to call them! People think it’s always warm in Florida, but actually evenings get chilly and a layer to stave off the wind but still look like it’s part of your outfit rather than an unrelated overlayer is perfect! Same goes for travel…even if you go to a generally warm location, a pretty yet unbulky overlayer is a great solution!
Love a good wrap for travel. I never fly without one. Plus they make a good pillow and blanket.
I live in Seattle and walk a lot. I do not use umbrellas, relying on hooded coats instead. And in our rainy climate, I waterproof all my shoes after buying them. Ballerina flats? That’s inside wear!
Ha, laughing because I love that phenomenon of how people in Seattle never use umbrellas. I could see why. It would be a long day of opening and closing them constantly.
Solidly in the coat department up here in Atlantic Canada!
I do own a puffer vest, and wear it for a few weeks in the fall and a week or two in the spring.
I like the idea of a wrap or ruana, but it’s too fiddly for me as I’m always carrying multiple bags, books, phone, coffee cup. LOL I need outerwear that stays put.
Yup!! It’s draggy and cumbersome, but I do love the drama of them.
I have lost count of the number of kimonos/ruanas I have had. I love the look but yes, FUSSY. They are perfect if you are posing for a picture but the minute you need to actually *do* something, forget it. I do own a few vests that I wear if I’m doing something outdoorsy and one slightly beat up wool poncho for around the house when it’s cold. Otherwise it’s sweaters and jackets.
Ha. I am laughing because I need arms! It sounds like you get it.
As an Illinois (not Chicago) person with a daily 15 minute walk (each way) from parking garage to office, temperature regulation is really a challenge! A few months ago I bought the most beautiful wrap at a consignment sale. I almost didn’t buy it because in the past, I had similar items that I never wore. But it was so beautiful and the price was so good, I was determined to make it work! And I have worn it twice already, both times to a theater. It was perfect and I loved it. I also LOVE vests, because my core usually needs to be warmer than my arms.
Glad you are getting good use from your purchase! I am still trying to get on board with vests but I don’t think I have much reason for them. Sounds like you do though. Glad you found what works well for you!
I have an edgy style so I appreciate the variety in your post Bridgette! The weather in Southern Ontario is similar to yours and I appreciate coat-free attire. I find wraps are great for indoor events like concerts or the theatre as you can use them as a part of your outfit and then use them as a cushion if your seating in the venue gets uncomfortable. I love this post!
I agree. They can be great indoor items but they can be tricky if you have to layer a coat over them. Ha, laughing at the cushion option! Hilarious but smart. Glad you liked the choices.
I’m in the Lehigh Valley, in PA, but grew up in Albany NY, and while I don’t walk much outside much for a work trip, my car is outside (no remote start, darn it!) and I also have to shovel it out when it snows here. So, heavy coat? Check. Vest? Why, when my arms are equally cold?? Ruana, cape, poncho, wrap? Have them but barely wear them because they’re either always falling off my arms or too much in my way to move my arms! Boots- outside & fashion? Check. Umbrellas? Check. I would never wear just a vest in the winter here! Give me warmth (I’ll adjust my seat in the car for a bulky coat!)!!
Good point about shoveling. That’s something I don’t miss at all. Driving and shoveling in snow. Two things I haven’t done in 25 years. 😀
I am totally a yah!! to wraps, ponchos and vests!! I have always lived in Florida and Arizona mostly. I wear many different kinds of wraps from light to heavy wool no ponchos at this time and vests are so cute for casual times!! I find wraps, capes and ruanas to be quit elegant to wear!! I think this is why I love them so!!! I must say when I lived five years in Germany I never wore them in Winter!!!! I wore lots of different coats!! I walked there a great deal too!!!
It definitely is easier to wear wraps when you aren’t out in the elements as much.
Great post, Bridgette. Love the various choices. I love and frequent wear wraps and panchos. Albeit, I live in the Los Ángeles area, a much warmer climate. I keep a neutral BBC wrap over the back of my chair at work for those chilly times when i feel the air conditioner is blowing right on me. I wear ponchos typically over long sleeve tees and pants—easy and out the door!!!
Ok—no idea why that says “BBC” wrap! 😵💫
Haha, Mary. You made me chuckle.
I love a good wrap for a flight. I am never without one.
I wear snow eligible heavy coats, boots, scarves, hats and mittens. I live in the ‘burbs and wear all this stuff when I walk outside. I also knit and have my fair share of wonderful hats, scarves, ponchos, wraps and shawls which I wear inside the house and wrap over the snow stuff when I go outside. I love all the cold weather (and rainy weather) gear! Thanks for all the beautiful poncho and cape suggestions–I really enjoy all the choices for cold weather.
That’s great! Enjoy all your wonderful winter gear!!