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My husband took pity on me this winter, and treated me to a new winter coat for no reason other than he felt sorry for me coming home and peeling myself out of wet clothes every time it was raining. Part of my commute to work involves a 25 minute walk along a waterfront, so I have to endure the windiest, wettest, roughest conditions on my way to work each day. No wonder I'm in a foul mood when I get there.
Being the lovely man he is, he took me shopping to buy a "proper" winter coat. By "proper", he meant a fully waterproof long coat which would cover me from the rain, and keep me warm on those cold journeys. We ended up on the Cheshire Oaks retail outlet park, as we thought we'd be able to pick up a decent coat at a discounted price and we'd have a good choice between the likes of North Face, Regatta and Superdry.
To cut a long story short, I chose this coat from North Face. It cost £128, which I thought was quite expensive until I looked online and discovered that it actually retails for £320. No, that's not a typo. However, after using it for several weeks, and actually looking forward to going to work on a Monday morning to trial my coat in different weather (yes, I really am that sad), I can kind of see why it's priced at that. Although obviously at full price, we wouldn't have been able to justify the purchase.
So, what's so special about this coat? Well, the name kind of gives that away. It's described as an arctic parka, and I honestly think you could survive the arctic in this coat. It is made from fully waterproof Hyvent material, which basically means that rain and snow just bounces off this coat instead of soaking through it. It is also fully breathable, however, so you don't end up getting hot and sweaty inside the coat. It's fully insulated with luxurious "550 fill down insulation" which is basically very similar to the filling on our goose feather duvet. It has a hood with a detachable faux fur trim, which covers the face completely, and helps keep you warm by preventing any wind getting in through any gaps. The cuffs contain a fleece lining, which wraps around your wrist, preventing any draughts getting in through the cuffs. They really have thought of everything with this coat, and I can honestly say I don't even feel the cold when wearing it.
Design-wise, it's reasonably fashionable, as Parkas never really seem to go out of fashion. The waist has a little bit of gathering so it's more flattering than it would be if it was just hanging straight off you. On the model on the website, it doesn't look overly long, but as I'm only 5"3, it covers my knees. This means that when I'm wearing boots, there is only a tiny bit of my leg which isn't covered, so however badly it rains there's no chance of me getting soaked. It's available in sizes extra-small to extra-large, and I opted for a Medium size as I'm a size 12. It has the North Face logo on the shoulder and on the front at the top, and also the Hyvent logo on the arm, but all of these are very subtle which is good as I hate big logos or anything which tries to look flashy.
There are plenty of sensibly placed zipped pockets to store bits and bobs in this coat. With two pockets either side (waist/hip height), an inner "secret" pocket, and also a couple of horizontally placed pockets at the top around chest height. These are handy for carrying things you wish to keep secure, such as a train ticket, because it means I can keep my hands in the side pockets without fear of losing anything. I also like the fact the side pockets are angled, because it means my hands can rest in them naturally, unlike my previous coat where the pockets were horizontally placed so I looked like a kangaroo when trying to put my hand in my pockets!
In use, the coat is really lovely to wear, and I enjoy getting wrapped up to face the elements in this. Because of the down filling, it feels quite thick and puffy, I find sometimes I can hear a little bit of air escaping when I sit down. The zip is a bit odd, in that it zips in the opposite way to most women's clothing, so you're putting the left side into the right side to zip, rather than the other way round. This took a bit of getting used to, and you have to be careful you don't get the lining caught in the zip, but once I got used to it, it was fine. There is a flap which has poppers to cover the zip, but I never bother doing this up because I don't see the point when it doesn't add to the warmth or draft-proofing of the coat. There is also a very thoughtful flap of material on the inside of the top of the coat, where the zip reaches your chin, to ensure that if you bury your face into the coat your chin doesn't catch on the zip.
When zipped to the very top, the fit of the coat is quite tight, so I can't fit a scarf underneath. However, I can honestly say it's warm enough to not need a scarf. The hood comes halfway up the back of my head, even when I'm not using it, and this keeps my head warm permanently. When I do put the hood up, it doesn't get blown down by the wind, because it comes so far forward and has toggles to adjust it. It provides excellent protection for the face, and there's only a tiny bit of my face uncovered when the hood is up. Even with the hood down, it feels cosy because it's a bit like walking round with a duvet and pillow strapped to you!
The only tiny downside to wearing this coat, is that if you drive whilst wearing it, the hood can provide a bit of a problem in that it blocks your vision to the side sometimes, so it gets in the way when you're checking your blind spot. I panicked a bit the first time this happened, because I was on the motorway and trying to make a quick lane change without having to adjust my hood, but now I know about it, I make sure I unzip my coat a little as soon as I get in the car. This seems to solve the problem as the hood drops further down instead of being at eye level, although obviously you may feel more comfortable taking the coat off in the car. Personally, I find it so comfortable I don't bother, and it doesn't impede my hand movements or anything.
The coat is available on the North Face website, in various colours including brown, black, grey, navy blue, green and white. Mine is the brown version, as this is the only colour which was available at the discounted rate in the North Face outlet at Cheshire Oaks. For the sake of spending £128 instead of £320, I wasn't really bothered about having a choice of colours, and the brown one looks quite nice in my opinion. Although I think this is an amazing coat, I personally could never justify spending £320 on it, despite the fact it's an investment as I'll be wearing this for many years. At £128, it's sensibly priced, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
(Review may also appear on Ciao under the username Gingerkitty)