The last time I bought myself a coat was November 2002 for a week-long trip to Ireland. I did my research and acquired an amazing 3-in -1 Weather System parka from L.L. Bean where the components (quilted Primaloft-filled jacket and a red zip-on rain slicker with a detachable hood) could both fit into their own tiny pouches which made great travel pillows. This coat has been an extremely hard worker (along with my two wool coats for more formal looks) over the years but I've outgrown it. This of course is not unusual since it is sixteen years old and I am no longer a size small!
So this year, I would be traveling for the holidays and I really didn't want to bring my raggedy, ill-fitting parka, especially as it can no longer be zipped all the way down. Thank goodness for two-way zippers which allowed me to bypass it having to fit around my hips.
Time for a replacement! I loved that jacket and everything about it, it was warm, convertible, packable, the hood was removable, and it not only had interior pockets but also an exterior sleeve pocket for easy-to-reach cash and IDs. I used those traits as my key search words. If you don't know me in real life, you have no idea how much research I must do before I part with my money. So, I first started the home of the original:
L.L. Bean Weather Challenge 3-in -1
$179 (from $229) in Deep Port/Raspberry
This sounded most like my jacket and I was willing to pay more at L.L. Bean if I could find something comparable in quality to the original, but that was not the case. The zippers were flimsy and inferior, enough so, that I checked the reviews, and they were the #1 complaint. I also was not happy with the thinner, wax-paper feel and sound of the exterior fabric. You would be heard coming and going.
L.L. Bean Winter Warmer Jacket
$129 in Cayenne
I was much happier with this one. I really loved the color! However, was looking for a convertible coat, which this wasn't (no zip-in insulation layer) and I had no idea how warm it would be, because it was more of a fleece lined shell with poly insulation only in the sleeves. But, oh that rich color...
Columbia Ten Falls Interchange Jacket
$150 in Nori
Again, the exterior fabric killed this one's chances. I also had to order an XL to fit my hips but then it was too bulky on my smaller top half. The jacket was shapeless on me and with those inferior zippers, just not worth it.
Columbia Snow Eclipse Mid-insulated Jacket
$119.99 in Nori and Rich Wine
This one didn't catch my eye on their website but it did when I saw it in Dick's Sporting Goods. The fit was good, so was the color, and the insulation was actually faux goose down. However, at the time I was not a fan of the faux fur trim. (Why is every woman's coat straight out of Dr. Zhivago this year?)
I discovered the label Free Country at J.C. Penny's because they were the the first 3-in -1/convertible coats I had seen in retail. The details were so well done; the zippers seemed stable and the zipper pulls of the zip-in jacket were covered by soft fabric triangle tabs that sheltered the pulls from view and contact with your inner garments. The gathered cuffs of the inner jacket kept heat from escaping and the exterior fabric seemed capable of repelling snow and rainwater. The only thing wrong...I didn't like the styles offered in the store. So off I went to their website for more choices.
Free Country Zephyr 3-in -1 Systems
$69.99 (from $180) in Black
Wasn't a fan of this on the website because of the color blocking and patterned fabric but tried it anyway. No go, not my style.
Free Country Trailblazing 3-in -1 Systems
$89.99 (from $180) in Garnet
I wanted red so I ordered this one but I still wasn't happy, so this one was also returned.
Free Country Nebula waterproof 3-in-1 System
$54.99 (from $180) in Royal Moth
This was the convertible/3-in-1system/interchange jacket I was looking for! I might have preferred it in red, purple, or green and a little bit longer but it was on sale for $55 and the inner jacket is a dark Mulberry color! It has the exterior sleeve zipper pocket, inner pockets, detachable hood, and the fabric of the quilted interior jacket feels like a cloud. Update: Just wore it for Christmas in New Jersey and it was warm enough for this mild winter.
Free Country Virtue Down Parka
$89.99 (from $220) in Red
So far this year, this jacket hasn't had any use, with a 50°F Christmas but come late January and February, and it will come in handy. This one is durable canvas on the outside with a three-quarters-length storm placket inside. My favorite features are the array of exterior pockets; zippered side entry hip pockets are placed directly on top of buttoned top-entry pockets. Another pair of side seam pockets are several inches above them in perfect position for warming the ribs. The best thing of all? That fur trim is removable!
St John's Bay Heavyweight Puffer jacket
$90 (from $180) in Rich Teal
So, almost all of the coats above were ordered and then returned. The winners were the last three above. It's pretty obvious I will be going to Free Country first for my next coat purchase. Since it probably won't be until 2034, I hope they'll still be in business...