Thrift: What to Look for in Used or Vintage Coats

Vintage wool plaid coat from The Classic Butterfly Etsy Shop
Vintage wool plaid coat from The Classic Butterfly Etsy Shop

Buying a used coat is a great, eco conscious way of preparing for winter. Here are some tips on what to look for in the vintage or used clothing store:


Make sure the coat fits properly. If it doesn’t, we are less likely to want to wear it, or will be uncomfortable in it. When shopping, wear a bulkier sweater (or whatever winter clothing you normally wear) to get a good idea of whether the coat will button or zip up easily, and if we can move our arms.


Make a list of all the desired features in advance, taking into account the local climate and what tasks need to be done in the coat on a regular basis.

Sometimes this means making sure the coat has a hood, or large pockets, or interior pockets, or a high neckline, or reflective stripes, or a swingy shape (for pregnant women).

Check Materials.

For some, a ‘dry clean only’ coat is fine, but for others with a more active lifestyle, this might be a disadvantage. Read the materials and care tags carefully, if they are still attached.

  • Some higher quality materials for fancier coats include wool and cashmere (but these can also be itchy).
  • Good coat linings are thicker and sometimes backed with fleece for extra warmth. Cheaper coat linings are often acetate and will shred or wear through easily.
  • For more active outdoor activities, it is sometimes better to look for nylon or polyester exterior fabrics for their water-resistant and wind-proof qualities.
  • Down fill is very warm but loses its insulating properties when wet, but synthetic fill is slightly less warm yet keeps its insulating properties when wet.
Check for Wear and Tear.

As coats are worn primarily as protection from the elements, it is important that they be functioning properly. This is especially true for children’s coats. Make note of any mending or cleaning  that needs to be done before the coat can be worn.

  • Check all the parts of the coat to make sure they are in working order.
  • Visually check for stains or dirt.
  • Sniff for odours. Lingering cigarette smoke, pet smells, or the scent of mothballs can be tricky to get rid of (less of a problem with items that are machine washable)
  • Try buttoning all the buttons and zipping all the zips. (If a button is loose, repair it immediately after purchase so it doesn’t get lost. Also check to see if there is a spare button attached to the interior of the coat.)
  • Test the pockets and hood.
  • Look under the armpits for signs of pilling or ripping.
  • Check the lining to make sure it is functioning as it should (although minor repairs can of course be fixed! See our mending section for assistance).

This is a more personal criteria, and each person will know what they would like. Typically, dark or vibrant colours can hide dirt better than light colours, and neutrals are able to go well with any outfit. A classic coat silhouette will last many years before looking dated (like a black pea coat, for instance).


One of the best advantages to being used clothing is that the price can be much cheaper than brand new items, and is sometimes negotiable. After carefully inspecting the item for the above qualities, judge whether the coat is a fair deal and negotiate a price that is fair to both purchaser and seller.Vintage items are sometimes made of better materials and craftsmanship than newer items, and for that reason can cost more.

Fix it Up.
  • First, make any necessary repairs. Sew on loose buttons or patch any frayed areas, as these will only become more worn in the cleaning process. Similarly, it is best to repair any tears in a coat lining quickly, as inexpensive coat linings easily shred and a small repair can quickly become a huge one.
  • Clean the coat (be it dry clean, hand wash, or machine wash). Follow instructions on the label.
  • If there are no cleaning instructions, it is best to either hand wash the coat in lukewarm water or dry clean it.
  • It is especially important to clean a coat if you purchased it in the warmer months and are planning to store it until needed, as there may be moth eggs or some other pests present in an uncleaned garment that may destroy it before you can wear it. Make sure the coat is completely dry before storing it, as trapped moisture can result in mildew or mold. Cedar and Lavender are natural pest repellents and are a much better option than moth balls, which leave a strong lingering odour on garments and are also toxic.

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