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I'm Down With That ~ Down Coats That Won't Make You Look Like a Marshmallow

Updated on May 5, 2014

Down jackets can be stylish ... I promise

It gets cold here in Chicago. And windy. And icy. I especially enjoy that lovely stuff meteorologists call "wintry mix."  Nope, it's not a festive holiday potpourri or Christmasy take on Chex Party Mix.  It's what Mother Nature does when she can't decide whether to make it rain, sleet, or snow--and is in a really foul mood :(

After years of rolling with the precipitation punches and alternating between three different winter coats, none of which were truly warm enough, I realized I could save time, money, and heat loss by finding just one cute down coat.  Something that didn't make me look like the Michelin Man.  (No offense. He's cute, too. Just not in a way I want to emulate for five months straight!)

(photo: Karen Roe via photopin cc, cropped for shape)

Searching for that holy grail of down jackets, I learned something: It all comes down to a defined waist. Designers have tricks for doing this, and never is it more important than with the potential marshmallow that is a down coat. Here, some stylish puffer jackets / coats that rise to the challenge, grouped by the smart waist-defining strategies they employ.

Quick tip: This may be obvious, but for the best deals, shop off-season for your puffer jacket!

Belted looks

It's not rocket science: A belt is an obvious way to add shape to a puffy jacket. My only caveat is to be careful not to lose the belt (as I did, in a theatre with my favorite long down coat) if it's not attached. (Have to say, I did make lemons from lemonade by adding a cute, moderately priced "regular" belt to the coat that kinda looks like I did it on purpose for extra style points .... ;)


Chevrons...they're not just for varsity jackets anymore! In fashion, chevron stitching acts like arrows, guiding the eye to certain areas of the body. When it points inward to the waist? No more marshmallow girl :}

Strategic horizontal stitching

In this case, designers replace the belt with a sort of self-belt: targeted stitching around the waist that serves a beltlike function, or elastic in the the back to beltlessly cinch the waist. I'm sure there's a fancy term for this, but to the unschooled (like me) it's just smart...and cute.

Jessica Simpson Women's Long Puffer Coat with Toggles, Black, Large
Jessica Simpson Women's Long Puffer Coat with Toggles, Black, Large

Oversized collars like this one can stand in for a scarf. One less thing to worry about! And I've been a toggle-coat fan since middle school...



Okay, so I didn't know what ruching was until a few years ago. I do now. (It's a method of gathering fabric with stitching accents, often with elastic sewn on the back for shape.) And I have to say, I'm a huge fan of this design trick when used appropriately.

Via Spiga Women’s Short Slimming Down Coat with Fur Trim
Via Spiga Women’s Short Slimming Down Coat with Fur Trim

Prepare to be asked where you got this one.


Princess seaming

A time-honored sewing technique, these seams curve down the front and/or back of a garment to flatter the figure without a waistband.

Via Spiga Womens Zip Front Hooded Coat with Slimming Seaming Detail, Black, Small
Via Spiga Womens Zip Front Hooded Coat with Slimming Seaming Detail, Black, Small

Not content with princess seaming in the front, this one takes it too the back too -- with flattering results.


Side stretch panels

Just when I think designers have run out of tailoring tricks for giving these coats some shape, I bump into a new one. This discovery -- the fabulous flattery of stretch panels -- comes courtesy of my brand-new packable down jacket from BCBG.

Tommy Hilfiger Women's Mixed Media Athletic Soft Shell Jacket, Black, X-Small
Tommy Hilfiger Women's Mixed Media Athletic Soft Shell Jacket, Black, X-Small

Here's another side-stretch number that also has that subtle pseudo-belt stitching around the middle. Sleeves don't appear to be down-filled, though, so depending on where you live, this may not cut it in January.


Mirror mirror on the wall...

What's the cutest of them all?

Which waist-defining trick do you think works the best?

See results

To do...

Cute coat: check.

Cute boots: check.

Do you have a tried-and-true winter coat you love? Does style matter when it's 10 below zero, or is warmth the only thing on your mind? If you live in the tropics and this whole lens is moot, can take your smug, suntanned self elsewhere. JK! ;)

Your turn

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Love it!

    • verymary profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Chicago area

      @IreneL11: thank you! gotta have tun with these titles :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I love the name of this lens. It makes ââme smile

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      What a wonderful idea! My coats always make me look wide, as in a rectangle from top to bottom, which I hate. I prefer not to freeze though, so have toughed it out. I am now ready to go shopping!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I had one of these when I was kid, I wasn't keen on them when I first saw them in the shops, but when I saw my friend with one on, I thought it looked really nice, have to get one.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Nice clothing lens

    • choosehappy profile image


      5 years ago from US

      Love the title ;) I'm all about the coats that don't make you feel like the Michelin man!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I like the princess seaming.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 

      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I like the Michelin man look and want my girl to look like Sta-Puff! haha! Just kidding. Blessed.

    • writerkath profile image


      6 years ago

      My favorite down coat was from 1978 - and yeah, I guess I looked like I was wearing a long blue marshmallow... but it was WARM! :) Blessed. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 

      6 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Your introduction is just how I feel! I live in the Midwest and I need a coat to keep me warm, but I have enough "bulk" in the middle (if you know what I mean) I finally spent more then normal and found a coat with a drawstring waist that I really like!

    • gezzyka profile image


      7 years ago

      The jacket with the chevrons is really cute and looks warm and snuggly. I'll admit, when it's really cold, I definitely put warmth above fashion, but it's always nice to have both when possible.

    • mochimo profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting lens, never see any of those kind of jacket here.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have avoided down coats because of the marshmallow factor, I will have to give them another chance now!

    • squid-janices7 profile image


      8 years ago

      I love my down jacket and it is a must in Minnesota, but I have to admit that I look like a bit of a marshmallow even with the belt. Maybe it is because I'm so short. Love your clever title and useful info!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I hate that look of the marshmallow down coat.

      I had one before and cursed it every time I wore it.

    • lakern26 lm profile image

      lakern26 lm 

      8 years ago

      I really liked this lens, Mary! I've never had a down coat for the same reasons you've mentioned, so I'm used to freezing my butt off (if only). After reading this, though, I'm tempted to check them out. Well done!

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 

      8 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      yes. down with down marshmello coats, they make one look like the michelan man! These are some really nice alternatives. 5*s!

    • hlkljgk profile image


      9 years ago from Western Mass

      great lens - and title :)

    • verymary profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Chicago area

      [in reply to barbm2k] that's the beauty...the coats define it for ya! [ trust me--I'm on the "rectangular" side, thru the torso, and know my tricks by now! ]

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I love it. A down coat with a defined waist. Now if I only had a defined waist... ah well.5*****

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      9 years ago from United States

      These are great selections! I kinda look like a marshmallow in any coat:)

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      9 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Nice coats.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My pick would be the Calvin Klein -- don't want to look like a marshmallow.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      9 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Very well done! Believe it or not, it does get cold here in the winter...but only enough for a trench coat with a liner. I remember the down jackets in Colorado...brrrr! Anyway, love the lens as always!


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