Thursday, December 1, 2011

Girls' Winter Coat Quality Challenge: Four Coats, Four Brands. Which One Reigns Supreme?

Here in Wisconsin, we take winter seriously.

For all of you who live in places where you consider it cold when temperatures drop down to 60°, well, consider this me shaking my fist at you in mock anger while I grumble under my breath jealously. Hmph.

Instead, we're happy when the forecast shows double digits and the windchill isn't cold enough to make it feel like we're in the arctic. We've been lucky this year so far that the tiny bits of snow we had didn't last, but I'm sure that at some point we'll have a massive pile covering every inch of the outdoors that will last forever.

I can't count how many times I've turned to my husband and asked, Why do we live here again?

For me, I'll willingly admit that I combat winter by staying inside as much as possible. Although I can't stop going to the grocery store, I can strongly encourage the kids to ask Daddy when they want to go play outside in the snow. What can I say? I know my strengths and they're staying inside getting the hot cocoa ready.

So when it comes to bundling my kids up to send them out to play or to school, a good quality, highly durable, extremely warm coat is a necessity. A must-have. A don't-waste-money-on-something-thin-because-you'll-just-end-up-having-to-go-buy-something-else-later kind of deal.

Which is exactly why when we were presented with a challenge of determining the highest quality girls' winter coat out of four different options, I was happy to participate. Each coat is made by a different brand and, to throw a twist in to the scenario, I don't know which company is behind it all... meaning that it is even easier to be completely honest about our thoughts.

Basically, forget name brands! It is all about staying warm, comfortable and protected from the elements, so Big Sister E (age 5) and I were ready to scrutinize these coats to see which one would be determined as the winner.

The Competitors

Kids' Coat ChallengeAfter careful consideration of each coat, inside and out, as well as each and every little detail, we came up with our winner. If there were medals, we would have had a gold, silver, bronze, and one that was a different color entirely, as we felt the coat belonged in its own category. Maybe that one gets steel?

First Place: Lands' End (retail price $129.50, on sale for $90.50)

Lands' End Expedition Parka reviewFit: A little big, but nothing major - particularly when I'm sure she will be wearing multiple layers underneath as the weather gets colder. The sleeves are especially long due to the "Grow-A-Longs" feature in which the inner sleeve gets 1.5" longer by cutting thread on inside. I love the idea that this will allow it to last longer... but for now while we have the inner sleeve shorter, the outer one is a bit long.

Care Instructions: The fur trim on the hood is removable and must be dry cleaned. The coat itself is machine washable on cold and tumble dry on low. With the addition of a cool iron if needed, overall this is extremely easy to clean and we all know that kids get their coats dirty.

I also appreciate that Lands' End put their large care instructions tag easily accessible along the lower, left seam. That makes it so that parents can reach it easily and that kids won't have any tags rubbing or bothering the back of their neck.

Lands' End Expedition Parka reviewHood: The hood itself is not removable but the fur trim unsnaps easily (which is a big plus in my mind because I'm not a fan of fake fur hoods for kids or adults). There is a strip of extra-soft fabric around the bottom inside of the hood so that the child's face is protected. This hood provides the best coverage as it fits Big Sister E comfortably and stays in place well to protect her head, face and neck against any wind, rain or snow.

Lands' End Expedition Parka reviewWrist Cuffs: Big Sister E absolutely LOVES that the elastic wrist cuffs have a thumb hole and talked nonstop about how it helped keep her hands warm. This genius idea not only provides warmth on its own, but by placing their thumb through the hole before putting on gloves, a child can rest assured that there is no way that snow is going to slip down inside their sleeve.

Did I mention genius? It really is.

Lands' End Expedition Parka reviewButtons, Zippers, Pulls and Snaps: This parka features the largest zipper and pull out of the bunch and it runs smoothly up and down, which is nice. The snaps were a tiny bit hard for little fingers, but still workable.

Pockets: TONS of pockets, including tiny ones on the chest that, according to Big Sister E, are to "hold diamonds." The handwarmer pockets are a bit too small and the angle to get your hands inside is a little inconvenient. Also, as nice as it is that they zipper closed so items won't fall out, it also makes me wonder about the zipper teeth scratching your skin.

This coat features a small internal electronics pocket, which is great for kids to tote around their mp3 player, and another of Lands' End's genius features: a large stowaway pocket. Made out of stretchy mesh and attached to the inner lower lining, this pocket means that we don't have to do the stuff-your-hat-and-mittens-in-your-sleeve-so-you-don't-lose-them thing any longer. Simply tuck any loose items right into the stowaway and you're set!

Lands' End Expedition Parka reviewLining, Warmth and Insulation: The insulation is not bulky, is evenly spread throughout this coat, and reaches all the way up through the hood. The quilted lining (which Big Sister E mentioned "feels soft!") keeps all of the down in place well and the long length of the coat covered her rear and some of her legs. With the protection of the hood added to the durability of the thick outer shell, she is sure to be nice and warm all winter long.

Reflectivity: There are a few reflective lines displayed in the logo on the lower back of this coat which shine brightly with light. Although not a ton, they would aid in visibility when worn at nighttime... or just in the late afternoon when it is dark enough that it seems like nighttime.

Extra Features: The combination of the "Grow-A-Longs" sleeves, the thumb hole in the elastic wrist cuffs, the interior stowaway pocket, the mp3 pocket, and the internal elastic cord at the waist for cinching make me thoroughly impressed with Lands' End and their design team.

Quality Rating: Exceptional (5 out of 5). This was my favorite coat based on the quality and durability and Big Sister E's based on just how much she loved the thumb hole. She did mention that it was warm and soft, too.

Second Place: L.L. Bean (retail price $109)

L.L.Bean Kids' Baxter State Parka reviewFit: When we were looking at the four coats together, my husband immediately asked, "Why is there a boys' coat?" because of the square, more bulky shape to this parka (also probably because it's blue). Although my daughter isn't extremely girly by any means, this coat is definitely less feminine than the others and cinching it at the waist still didn't make it look more "girl."

Care Instructions: L.L.Bean's care instructions read like a (boring) novel. The removable fur can be hand washed but the coat specifies things like using an extra large capacity washer on the delicate cycle and adding an additional final rinse cycle. After then squeezing/pressing any moisture out, it can be tumble dried with a tennis ball in the dryer to distribute the down evenly.

None of that is beyond difficult, but I like to just toss something in the washer and dryer and be done and this requires more than that... so, knowing me, I'd probably slack on washing it just to not have to go through the hassle. At least the care tag is down and out of the way so that it's long length doesn't bother the child.

L.L.Bean Kids' Baxter State Parka reviewHood: The fur trim is attached by snaps and the entire hood can be removed due to the well-placed zipper. Although it is comfortable and warm, it just doesn't seem deep enough to stay up and the hood falls down too easily and lets the cold air in by her face.

L.L.Bean Kids' Baxter State Parka reviewWrist Cuffs: Right away Big Sister E commented on the super-softness of the L.L.Bean wrist cuff, while I noticed that the adjustable outer cuff was a great addition. Being able to tighten it over a glove or mitten means there is less chance of cold getting in! This would have won our "best cuff" award had it not been for Lands' End coming up with the infamous thumb hole.

L.L.Bean Kids' Baxter State Parka reviewButtons, Zippers, Pulls and Snaps: The snaps on the pockets were a tiny bit hard, but not enough to make a difference. The zipper moves easily and both Big Sister E and I liked the cover fabric at the top to ensure that it didn't catch on her skin.

L.L.Bean Kids' Baxter State Parka reviewPockets: Similar to the Lands' End coat, there is a tiny, zippered pocket on the chest and the handwarmer pockets from L.L.Bean are also very small and inconveniently located for actually warming hands.

This coat also features a cool stowaway pocket... but this one is a little small and in an odd place up higher in the lining. It seems to me that if you had a hat stored in there while you were wearing the coat, it would cause a big lump right on your chest.

L.L.Bean Kids' Baxter State Parka reviewLining, Warmth and Insulation: Big Sister E loved the bright blue lining and commented right away on the extra soft strip that went around her face. The quilted design keeps the goose down insulation in place and the rugged nylon shell keeps away wind and rain. This coat would do very well all winter long keeping the heat in and the cold out.

Reflectivity: There is a reflective triangle logo on the bottom of the back.

Extra Features: Interior stowaway pocket (even though it is oddly placed) and an internal elastic cord at the waist for cinching.

Rating: Exceptional (5 out of 5). Although the care instructions are a bit much for me, this is a highly durable, comfortable, warm coat to last through the winter. The cuffs and zipper are great and there are plenty of pockets for storage. This wasn't far behind Lands' End in quality and was only bumped to second place because of the hood not staying up well and the boxy fit.

Third Place: Gap (retail price $88)

Gap Warmest Parka reviewFit: The long, slim fit of this coat is great, particularly because Big Sister E is long and thin herself. There is thick elastic through middle on the inside and the combination of that and the belt keeps the waist of the coat right in place.

Care Instructions: The fur trim is removable but the instructions don't say anything about how to wash it. The coat is to be machine washed specifically in a "front loading large capacity washer" so... what if you don't have one? The drying instructions are the same in that it is to be tumbled dry in a large capacity dryer, so I'm not sure what someone would do without that set. Bring it to a laundromat?

Gap put their care instructions on a tiny tag along the seam, so it is well out of the way and not bothersome at all.

Gap Warmest Parka reviewHood: There is a very soft fleece lining on the inside of the hood, although it might cause static on long hair. While I like that the fur trim is removable, I especially appreciate that there are two rows of snaps for it, as they can then snap to each other and remove any chance of a snap rubbing along a child's head (the Lands' End and L.L.Bean coats have one row of snaps and then a flap of fabric to cover them).

While this hood seems like it should stay up when the coat is fully zipped, it doesn't and continuously falls down, which is disappointing.

Gap Warmest Parka reviewWrist Cuffs: Gap lost more points with their wrist cuffs, as they were the worst of the bunch. Loose and thin, there's not much protection from the elements with these and I imagine that digging in the snow would result in cold, wet sleeves.

Gap Warmest Parka reviewButtons, Zippers, Pulls and Snaps: Gap did great with their zipper and snaps, as they are no problem for kids. Big Sister E wouldn't be able to tie the belt in a bow by herself (particularly with gloves or mittens on) but this belt isn't fully necessary for the coat and could be removed.

Pockets: There are two decent-sized handwarmer pockets and one inside mp3 player pocket.

Gap Warmest Parka reviewLining, Warmth and Insulation: Overall, this coat feels much lighter and not as warm as Lands' End and L.L.Bean. While there is fleece in the hood, the rest of the coat is left feeling thinner and cold. The lining is loose on the inside, so it moves around a little too much.

Reflectivity: None.

Extra Features: Internal mp3 player pocket.

Rating: Average (3 out of 5). Big Sister E was a fan of the big pockets that this coat has because "you can fit lots of stuff in them," to which I agree. Although Gap made this soft and warm, it just doesn't have the rugged, wind-stopping, chill-reducing feel that the Lands' End and L.L.Bean coats have.

Fourth Place/Different Category: J. Crew (retail price $148)

J.Crew Girls' Petulia puffer reviewFit: Here's the thing about J.Crew's coat: it seems less of a "winter coat" to me and more of one that would be used for special occasions. It is very soft and squishy and has a nice slim, grown-up fit, although it doesn't hold its shape quite very well.

Care Instructions: The easiest of the four, I love that J.Crew made a child's coat that can simply be machine washed and tumble dried. I do wish that they had put the care instructions on the side seam, as that way it wouldn't be near any little necks.

J.Crew Girls' Petulia puffer reviewHood: No fur, yay! Unfortunately, that's the only positive about this non-removable hood, as it is extremely shallow and doesn't fully cover Big Sister E's head. There is no way to fasten it to stay in place so it falls immediately right back down when she turns or moves and her neck is left bare. The only way that I could see this providing any protection is if it was held the entire time while worn, which is just a tad unpractical.

J.Crew Girls' Petulia puffer reviewWrist Cuffs: J.Crew made their cuffs nice and thick but unfortunately they aren't very clingy to the wrist. In order to get these under a mitten or glove, they would have to be smooshed down... but leaving them on top of the glove would allow snow in, so that doesn't work.

J.Crew Girls' Petulia puffer reviewButtons, Zippers, Pulls and Snaps: If you're been wondering so far why I think this is a coat for only special occasions, here's the reason.

If there is a parent out there that would consider getting this coat as everyday wear, the fact that it doesn't have a zipper should stop that immediately. In a double-breasted fashion, there is an inner row of snaps and then an outer row of large buttons that are difficult to fit into their small loop, even for me (with no gloves on and not in freezing weather).

Unless the child was quite a few years older, I have a very hard time imagining that they would be able to manage the snaps, buttons, and then tie a bow in the ribbon belt. Again, this would be cute for going to church, but to throw on to go sledding? Nope.

J.Crew Girls' Petulia puffer reviewPockets: This coat has two decent-sized handwarmer pockets that are well-placed and have the same soft cotton lining as the inside. No other pockets anywhere on the inside or outside.

Lining, Warmth and Insulation: Similar to the Gap coat, J.Crew's also seems much thinner and lighter compared to Lands' End and L.L.Bean. It doesn't seem as though the hood has as much insulation as rest of coat, although considering the hood doesn't stay up, I guess that wouldn't matter.

The lining is adorable, a neutral star pattern made out of very soft cotton that doesn't feel as cold to the touch as the others. However, that lining doesn't extend into the hood or sleeves, so again, the head and arms would be chilly.

J.Crew Girls' Petulia puffer reviewReflectivity: None.

Extra Features: The grosgrain ribbon belt? The lack of a zipper?

Rating: Average (2.5 out of 5). I think this coat has an adorable style and a great look, while at the same time the body of it would keep a child warm with the down and great star lining. However, the difficulty with the snaps/buttons/belt, the hood that falls immediately off, and the bulky cuffs put it in last place in terms of the one I would buy for my daughter's winter coat. If I sent Big Sister E to school wearing this, her teachers would (rightfully) not be pleased as they would have to do all the closures for her both on and off.

So there are our results. Four girls' winter coats from four different brands with all of their pros and cons. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Which would you most likely purchase for your child?

The Quality Coat Review was a blind review. In order to give my unbiased opinions, I am unaware of the company that sponsored the effort. While the opinions are my own, I am being compensated through MomDot for my time.


Hippie4ever said...

Great review! I bought Land's End last year for my son (now almost three yrs old) And I don't anticipate buying anything else. I have NOT found a good mitten yet...maybe you could do a review of those? I bought Land's End, but my son wouldn't even wear them once. I have a few fleece ones that came with hats, he wore those last year, but he's out growing them now. Pesky seams! Always the "feels funny", followed by tears. Any suggestions? He can't stand tight elastic around the wrist or the elbow length mittens and if I buy ANOTHER pair that either sits in the closet or must be returned I might scream.

Anonymous said...

I have ruined many fur hooded coats but my fault completely thinking I could dry them on low heat. Nope I had a cinged mess. I think they are all cute but I especially like your number 1 pick!

Jenny said...

I'm with you, I don't care for fur at all.

I've always loved Lands End products. They are good quality and wear well.

I buy Abby a clearance winter coat at Target usually just for playing outside. For everyday, I've bought a cute fleece toggle coat at Old Navy the last few years. It's easy for her to get on and off and she can unbutton it herself to get her carseat straps on tightly.

It's also light enough to carry around the mall after we get hot.

Kattie said...


I know this is an older post but I was searching for coats for my little 5 year old girl and I saw that Purple Lands End coat. I love it! Can you tell me what the full name of the coat was when you purchased it so that I can see if anyone still sells it?

Xenia said...

Hi Kattie,

We love this Lands' End coat as well - even more now than before, as my daughter wears it every single day to school and it keeps her comfortable and toasty warm. I believe the full name is the Lands' End Girls' Expedition Parka - hope that helps!