When a young man enters the working world, before the financial burdens of “adulting” truly set in, it’s inevitable that his mind will start creating a list of pricey items he wants to save up for. Maybe it’s his first luxury watch or a pair of designer shoes—something that says he’s on his way to becoming a total boss with a powerful style flex. For me, working as a young stylist assistant collecting just enough cash to pay rent in an overpriced New York City apartment, it was a real, high-quality shearling bomber jacket.
Might sound a bit odd for a “dream purchase”, but the seed was planted at an early age when I gazed at Hollywood titans in classic movies, like Robert Redford in Downhill Racer, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, and even Tom Cruise’s badass vibes in Top Gun. But what really made me lust over the fur-lined jacket style was a Burberry campaign in 2009. These waif-like, rocker-looking tough guys were donning these serious statement-making shearling jackets with dramatic collars and leather belt buckle details—they had a certain attitude to them, and in my mind, they not only said “hey, I made it”, also “I’m too cool to care what you think”. That’s the powerful of good style—the right clothes can make you feel invincible. So why didn’t I buy one? The sky-high price tags, of course.
Cut to a few years later. I’m working as an editor making more than an entry-level salary and I’m still keeping an eye out for that perfect “I made it” shearling coat. At that time, I was less concerned with finding one that comes with a designer label and more so looking for great quality that ensures the garment will last for more than a season. However, most options were too expensive to stomach or too good to be true with a more affordable price tag that’s usually a sign of cheap construction. (As a fashion editor, you know how to eye a well-made garment and won’t settle for anything less—it’s a blessing and a curse, depending on how you look at it.) It took a while, but I finally found a good, real shearling sheepskin coat from Overland, a family-run business that specializes in quality sheepskin, leather, and wool apparel, along with accessories and home products.
After a winter of donning the fur-lined coat I always hoped to add to my wardrobe, I chatted with Monty Goodson, a member of Overland’s product development team, about what makes sheepskin worth the splurge, how to find a quality coat that will last for decades, and most importantly, how to take care of a shearling coat to keep it looking just as rich and elegant as that day you bought one.
What to Know About Shearling Sheepskin Coats
Overland’s site has a bunch of content explaining the differences of sheepskin coats and how to find the best one for your lifestyle, but essentially, there are two types of sheepskin coats. There’s double-faced coats (or single pelt) that uses both sides of the sheepskin belt with the hide on one side and wool fiber on the inside. These kinds of sheepskin coats tend to be lightweight but insulating, so you can stay warm all winter with very little underneath and avoid too much fabric bulk. The other type is a sheepskin-lined garment, which can be cowhide, lambskin leather, or even deer skin, but with sheep’s wool sewn in on the inside, which tends to make the coat heavier with two skins.
So, how do you know it’s a good sheepskin with purchases? Goodson says to examine the coat’s details closely: “If it’s simple skins and flat stitching, and you can see the work and how it’s done.” For some luxury shearling jackets, Goodson warns you might be spending more for the designer name attached to it, so look to companies that specialize in sheepskin, like Overland.
And if you’re wondering how warm your shearling coat will be, Goodson says, “it depends on the depth of the sheer. For example, if you have a coat that’s sheared really close, it creates a loft, creating a temperature inside off of your body heat.” The kind of warmth a shearling coat provides was something I didn’t expect. I have countless down parkas and puffers, but none of them insulate heat like my shearling bomber. And if you’re a year-round T-shirt type of dude, purchasing a shearling coat is worth it, because you don’t need to even think about winter layering—just throw it on and you’re good to go, even in below freezing temperatures.
To figure out the right size for your new shearling coat, Goodson suggests to stick to your true size, even if you prefer a roomier fit. “Sheepskin is a natural product, especially in a single pelt, it’s going to conform to your body shape as it breaks in, like your belt or leather shoes, so you don’t want it to be too big or it’ll end up being sort of droopy at one point,” says Goodson.
How to Care for a Shearling Coat
Shearling coats are a lot less precious than you might think. I was extremely concerned from the first wear about what would happen to the suede exterior if I came into contact with, well, anything while wearing it. How would I clean it? Would even the lightest graze against something create a permanent mark? Would unexpected rain be the end of my furry stunner? Should anything happen to your coat, take a deep breath, don’t panic, and don’t jump to the most extreme solutions.
My friend at Overland warns against using solvents or frequent dry cleaning, as it can damage the skin and cut down on its lifespan. “Leather is going to get its own age, developing a rich patina as it breaks in and wears in over the years,” says Goodson. “If it’s a suede surface, trying brushing out the area. If you got something oil-based on your coat, a bit of corn starch can help lift the mark if you let it sit for a few days.”
Before I had the chance to chat with Goodson, I had a mysterious dark mark appear on my coat—and I went into full-on panic mode. After a frantic Google search, I took a damp, wet cloth to the jacket to try to wipe out the spot. The skin took some time to dry up, but when I saw a hint of a mark left, I almost ruined the skin with rubbing alcohol (which was what one site suggested I do). This was a mistake, as alcohol can dry out the skin of your coat, creating more damage than good, but thankfully I only applied a slight dab and my coat was fine after some time.
The better you take care of your shearling coat, the longer it will last, so never jump the gun on treating a mark. You’re not always sure how the fabric was tanned or finish, so if gentle brushing or a dab of mild water doesn’t do the trick, test out a cleaning solvent on a part of the jacket that’s not visible, so if something goes wrong, you’re not totally screwed. And remember, leather will wick away and dissipate the mark over time, so aggressive treatment has the potential to cause irreversible damage.
How to Store a Shearling Coat
As we enter the warm weather season, I’m already thinking about how I’m going to properly store this shearling coat so it stays in the best condition possible.
“Worse thing to store a coat in—be it leather, sheepskin, fur—is a plastic bag,” warns Goodson of this common mistake. “Never, ever store your shearling coat in plastic bags. Sheepskin and leather are a natural, breathing product—they have to have that air circulation for longevity. Once you start sealing things up in plastic wrap or bins, that can dry out the skin over the course of time, shortening the life of your coat.“
And Goodson should know, because he’s had some shearling coats for over 20 years. Fabric garment bags or even pillow cases are best for keeping that shearling coat looking as fresh as day one.
If you do plan on investing in a shearling coat, do yourself a favor and don’t sweat the price tag like I did. You won’t regret the investment for decades of timeless style with unmatched warmth.
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