How to Buy a Winter Coat

My co-worker told me that I am the “most coat-averse person” she’s ever met because my winter coat of choice is to layer 2-3 sweaters. I’m not sure why I dislike winter coats so much. I was born in Yellowknife so this is my habitat of origin. But I clearly remember when I was 5 years-old, living in temperate Vancouver, my parents told me to put on a coat before going to play outside. I refused and then they formed an ultimatum: I had to put on the coat or come back inside. I agreed by bursting into tears and making no physical effort to help while they put the coat on me. The neighbour kids were all slightly older and I think wearing a coat made me feel like a baby. But crying in front of them was totally cool.

I have grown to appreciate coats. But often I feel I’ve picked the wrong coat and I’m overdressed in both style and temperature, or it starts raining and I’m not wearing my rain coat, or I like a coat with jeans but it makes me look like a mushroom when I wear it with dresses. The 2-3 sweater combo never lets me down.

It wasn’t until I went for a run one morning last week and my phone died because it was so cold and I got frostbite all over my legs that I finally relented and put on my winter coat on my way to work.

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It was very pretty that day, though.

A winter coat is essential here and unless you were previously living in Edmonton, Alaska, or Yakutsk, you will have to buy one. I think it’s generally cheaper to buy one here and then you’re not taking up valuable luggage space. And the cheapest place in town to buy one is the bazaar.

Going to a bazaar as a tourist is very fun! Some of my favourite travel experiences have been in bazaars – the souks in Marrakech, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, a craft bazaar in Almaty. I even like the run down ones like the Fantastic Indoor Swap Meet in Las Vegas (they sell grilled cheese and false eyelashes for $1!). But going to a bazaar when you need a specific practical item is a personal hell that I never knew existed (some people apparently like it).

There are two bazaars here, Artyum and Eurasia. I went to Artyum since it is apparently the cheaper of the two.

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The comatose expression on my face is a testament to how comfortable (ie. like a sleeping bag) this coat is.

Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Don’t buy coats with fur. If there is any fur on a coat, even just fur around the hood, it automatically goes up 10,000 tenge +.
  • Try to buy your coat before October. Once the first snow hits, it will be more expensive.
  • You can bargain about the price.
  • Check the coat’s materials. Many are made with polyester and you’ll want a down coat for maximum warmth.
  • Try to get a coat that has a knit part inside the sleeve to keep the wind out.
  • Make sure the hood fits over your head! It might not fit over whatever fur hat you have chosen, but it should at least fit over a toque (I keep forgetting that nobody here knows what that word means).
  • Bring an amazing friend with you to help you through the process.
  • The tenge underwent a devaluation last year so by next year, who knows what a reasonable price for a coat will be. I paid 32,000 tenge.
  • You’re not going to look good so just don’t worry about it! I went with the coat that made me look the most like a hot dog.

If You Want to Buy a Fur Coat/Hat 

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Fur is so practical in this region that I don’t take issue with it. You will see all types wearing fur coats, from little old ladies on the bus to glamor queens at the opera. Fur coats are available at the bazaar, along with the other coats, though I’ve heard it’s cheapest to buy in Turkey. I’m not sure exactly how much coats go for but I imagine $$$.

Fur hats tend to be pretty expensive too – even more expensive than the coat I bought. If you can find one in the off-season, it’ll be a good deal so snatch it up! I already had a fur hat that I bought in Moscow in 2008 and now it’s finally being put to good use. It is the warmest thing I’ve ever put on my head.

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