By Cindy Weber-Cleary
Updated Nov 07, 2014 @ 2:33 pm
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Credit: Imaxtree

InStyle’s Fashion Director Cindy Weber Cleary has been a fashion editor for the past 20+ years. Needless to say, she’s picked up some tricks along the way. Catch her column here each week for how-to tips and style secrets on her favorite, timeless styles.

Buying a winter coat is a big decision as you will probably wear it more often than almost any other garment in your closet. Therefore, you should think carefully about what you need and buy the best quality that you can afford.

Many women tend to think of their outerwear as what they put on over an outfit to keep warm, but you should really think of a coat as an important statement of your personal style. When you walk into a client meeting, a parent-teacher conference, a charity luncheon, an interview, etc., your coat telegraphs a message about who you are—and you should dress around it (meaning your accessories should complement your coat as well as your outfit).

Menswear-Inspired CoatsRunway inspiration from Prada, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors:

Credit: Imaxtree

I personally love a menswear-inspired Reefer or topcoat. It’s a timeless style with a bit of attitude. Since it’s structured, it easily tops a slim silhouette such as a pencil skirt or slim pant. On the other hand, the tailored shape can provide a nice contrast with something soft and feminine (see the Michael Kors runway shot above). I splurged on a black cashmere one with a leather lapel that was worth every penny since it can be classic when paired with a white shirt, a pencil skirt, and slingbacks—or edgy when worn with a chunky turtleneck, skinny pants, and wedge ankle boots.

Credit: Courtesy

Get the Look (from left): Whistles coat, $625,; Stella McCartney coat, $1,593,; Topshop coat, $240,

Collarless CoatsRunway inspiration from Chloé, Giorgio Armani, and Sonia Rykiel:

Credit: Imaxtree

A collarless coat has a more ladylike vibe that lends itself to a turtleneck or jewel-neck and, of course, a necklace that sits high on your chest. Another option? A fine-knit or silk scarf to cover your neck (thank you, Nora Ephron, for saying it like it is in her 2008 book called I Feel Bad About My Neck!)

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Get the Look (from left): Nº21 coat, $1,557,; J.Crew coat, $350,; Maje coat, $865,

Belted or "Bathrobe" CoatsRunway inspiration from ADEAM, Altuzarra, and Balenciaga:

Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Imaxtree (2)

My final favorite classic is a belted or “bathrobe" coat. They can be strictly tailored (see the Celine at top) or soft and cozy. Nothing is more feminine than this waist-defining shape. These work well over slim separates or full ones such as an A-line skirt or slouchy trouser. Fuller skirts and pants need a narrow waist to keep the volume under control.

Credit: Courtesy

Get the Look (from left): Totême coat, $760,; Sandro coat, $845,; Reiss coat, $595,

Once you have one of these “forever coats,” feel free to try trendier outerwear options. This season there are also gorgeous shearlings, cozy puffers and dramatic statement coats in vivid colors and patterns.

Runway inspiration (at top): Celine