Dressed in L.L. Bean boots and a winter coat, Abdi Iftin stands near his host family's comfortable farmhouse in Yarmouth in January 2020. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Whether you’re new to Maine or just dread the cold winters, choosing a winter coat as the weather starts to cool can be an anxiety-inducing experience. Winter outwear can be expensive, but having the wrong coat can make even the shortest walks around town feel like treks across the Arctic.

Picking a coat that will meet all your winter needs doesn’t have to burn a hole in your wallet or leave you wanting for more warmth. A few simple shopping tips will guide even the most winter-adverse coat seeker toward a perfect downy match.

First, check out your local second hand stores, which often have a wide selection of coats in all shapes, sizes and colors at drastically reduced prices.

Cindy Johnson, president of The Cubby Thrift Stores in Presque Isle, said that she recommends her customers ask themselves, “What are you seeking in a coat?”

“Fashion, outside work, sports or in-and-out errands — while all should be warm, length and material do come into play,” Johnson said. “Depending on the buyer, insulated denim or leather coats make a good in-and-out option, whereas a fashionista may want a lined, mid-thigh coat that makes a statement.”

If you plan to participate in outdoor winter sports, you might have different criteria.

“Puffer coats are a little bit useless when they get wet,” said Heather Steeves, communications manager at Goodwill Northern New England. “They lose their puffiness. If you really need a durable situation I would consider a hardshell and maybe get a puffy vest.”

Keep an eye out for quality brand names, too. L.L. Bean, North Face and Patagonia are staples in many Maine closets, but if you aren’t familiar with brands like Woolrich and Carhartt, they also make warm and durable winter wear. Steeves said that you may need to compromise on color for quality, though.

“Be ready to buy them in an olive green or a brown,” Steeves said. “Sometimes if you’re able to be flexible about what color you get you can get a quote from a high quality brand that will last a few years.”

Second-hand stores nearby outdoor retailers are also more likely to stock quality winter coats.

“A Goodwill store next to a big outfitter is more likely to have that kind of brand donated because donations stay local,” Steeves said.

Make sure to check coats for a lining, as sometimes donated coats will have the warm inner lining removed, Johnson said.

For more casual winter wear, puffy coats do have their place, Steeves said — just make sure it’s actually puffy.

“That’s how it works — it traps air in,” Steeves said. “If you get a down or alternative down coat make sure it’s really poofy.”

Even if it is poofy, make sure the coat fits you well. Stick within a size or two of your actual size to leave room for layering, but not so much room that the wind can flip through it. Also, make sure the coat is not too tight.

“You want to make sure you keep your body’s natural heat and if you’re squeezing your body in, it won’t do that,” Steeves said.

Keep away from certain fabrics that will not provide warmth, like vinyl or cotton.

“Cotton kills because once you do make any sweat it does keep it in and people think they won’t sweat in the winter, but you do,” Steeves said.

Don’t be afraid to look beyond your usual racks, either.

“Women can often find a gender-neutral coat on the men’s rack and vice versa,” Johnson said. “Cold weather does not discriminate.”

The secondhand stores will check to make sure coats have functioning zippers, but if you find a quality piece that has a small defect, don’t be afraid to buy it and mend it at home.

“Coats that are stained on the cuffs, are missing a button, or have ripped pockets do not affect the quality of the coat,” Johnson said. “Second-hand stores do not have the resources to wash or mend items. Consider repairing at home.”

Even if you have a warm winter coat, Steeves said not to forget that properly layering is just as important for dressing warm in the winter.

“Make sure that you have a nice wool or synthetic base layer, a good fleece or a wool sweater,” Steeves said. “You can thrift all of these things. Layer up in a way that makes sense.”