BEIRUT: As the thunderstorms and temperature dip into the mid-teens this weekend, Beirut will break out its rain gear for another season of numbing wetness.
Design and fashion experts have weighed in on exactly what to look for in winter clothes for those wanting to look stylish but searching for a trusted coat to block out daily downpours and footwear to shield from the buildup of mucky rainwater.
The verdict: quality over quantity will save money in the long term and reduce the number of layers necessary to stay warm.
“I lived in Florida, and when I first came to Beirut I felt like I needed so many things,” said Mariana Wehbe, owner of the Beirut-based personal shopping company Jayde.
“We think, how many things can I get: I need sweaters, I need this, I need that. But if they focus on the essentials – like a great quality jacket made from wool or cashmere – then you won’t have to wear so many layers.”
The advice applies to men and women. A high-percentage wool, cashmere- or mohair-blend coat naturally repels Beirut’s heavy rains while providing warmth that rids the need for excessive spending on long sleeve shirts and sweaters, she said.
Long coats of these materials made in a very basic shape and design have been stylish and will stay stylish for years – if not decades – to come, the experts agreed.
Fabrics to avoid include cheap ones like high-percentage polyesters, thin or stretch cotton and fake leather, all of which take very little to soak through and leave their wearers damp and shivering.
As a clothing item with one of the greatest life spans, experts suggested investing this season in a coat that will keep the rain out – for good. And with budget stores offering their own varieties of wool and mohair blends – a fine, very soft goat-hair yarn – that investment in a quality material doesn’t need to break the bank.
When buying a winter jacket – whether from a designer, an upscale boutique, or a budget fashion store – check the side label for the exterior fabric and stay away from designs that are too trendy, loud or furry, the experts said.
For Beirutis ready to splurge this season, Lebanese designers offer a range of basic, high-quality coats. The bonuses are being able to talk to the maker personally about the material and how to care for the jacket, as well as supporting the local economy.
RONALD by Ronald Abdala – located in Ashrafieh’s Monot area – offers a locally designed long, black wool coat with a basic geometric structure. He also offers a cashmere coat with a built-in cashmere scarf.
Both, he said, are timeless pieces in their design and function. “I don’t like to embellish my clothes, especially my coats,” Abdala said.
Local boutiques house a number of brands that use high-percentage wool or cashmere blends or leather. Wehbe suggested Green and Glam boutique located in Ashrafieh around the corner from ABC mall.
Green and Glam, which sells international eco-friendly brands, stocks basics like a long rust-red 100-percent wool coat, several styles of leather jackets and a pair of coats by French designer Le Fee de Bangale made from a mixture of leather and wool. The high-end coats average about $500.
The boutique also has last season’s coats on sale for 60 percent off in the back of the shop, the store manager said.
Men’s options for quality winter coats are scarcer, said Abdala and Wehbe.
“In Lebanon, you don’t really find everything you want, and when you do they are extremely expensive,” Abdala said. “You don’t have the market for it or the demand.”
Luxury designer carriers like Aïzone and boutiques in Beirut Souks offer men’s coats for those with very deep pockets. Abdala mentioned GS Grand Stores, where men can find quality, fashionable winter items for more reasonable prices. Wherever you shop, the advice remains to first pay attention to material and then to consider the price.
Another option for cheaper, high-quality coats is Beirut’s second-hand scene. For example, Vintage Love in Sodeco offers a range of brand-name leather trenches and wool coats for a several hundred dollars a pop.
For shoppers on a budget, Pull and Bear and Zara both offer natural blends, which are in some cases up to 80-percent wool or even 20-percent mohair.
Pull and Bear offers a 70-percent wool coat in a basic navy with gray lapels and brass buttons for little over a $100. Zara offers a range of basic designs, with prices that can climb up to $250.
But the trap in the budget shops can be tempting low prices and trendy styles that will fade fast, experts warned. In budget shops more so than at designer boutiques, cheap fabrics abound and may soak through when wet.
For example, fake leather jackets, though temptingly stylish, are often cropped and thin and offer little in the way of heavy rain protection.
Also beware of the ubiquitous 100-percent cotton trench coat at budget fashion stores. Though they have an attractive waistline and feel sturdy to the touch, they are often treated with a waterproofing spray that will wear off after one season of heavy rain, experts said.
Lara Khoury – a Lebanese designer whose atelier is located on Gemmayzeh’s main street – offers two trench coats in khaki and black and in very basic designs. Both promise water resistance as they’re made from gabardine, a quality, tightly woven cotton blend used specifically in designer trench coats.
Khoury designed the lightweight yet waterproof coat specifically with Beirut’s mild but wet winters in mind, she said.
“It’s not that cold,” Khoury said. “They especially protect you from the rain.”
The designers and expert shoppers also advised those looking for winter footwear.
High end to high street, almost identical designs can be found starting at around $50. The difference in quality could mean a high street brand withstands only one season before the seams start letting in water.
Wehbe’s advice is to make sure to have shoes waterproofed – depending on how often they’re worn, that could mean several times a season.
In footwear, men face greater difficulty getting stylish waterproof options. “The problem here is they don’t have a great selection of men’s shoes,” Wehbe said. “Those who are very young are a bit more risk-taking.”
She recommended J.M. Weston, a high-end shoe brand for men in Beirut’s Downtown, for basic leather men’s boots. The staff will treat the shoes, which are durable and waterproof, she said.
Weston’s also sells waterproofing spray or wax that customers can use to treat the rest of their winter shoe collection at home.
Young people are also choosing brands like Dr. Martens boots, according to Wehbe.
Though Wehbe said she herself would choose a super high heel even in winter, she advised against suede. Though a beautiful material, she said, suede is more vulnerable to staining and destruction on Beirut’s muddy streets.
Putting all the advice together, experts described the perfect winter look: a wool coat, a durable umbrella, a scarf or shawl, a cashmere- or wool-blend sweater and waterproofed leather shoes.
“And red lipstick, of course,” Wehbe said with a laugh.