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Buying winter clothes should be an investment

Fashionistas, tailors, and cobblers on which pieces you should splurge on and how to keep them in tip-top shape.

Center City tailor Ron Wilch recommends protecting wool and cashmere with mothballs and cedar wood.
Center City tailor Ron Wilch recommends protecting wool and cashmere with mothballs and cedar wood.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

As freezing weather tightens its grip on the region, Philadelphians are burrowing deeper into their parkas and crunching through rock salt in their L.L. Bean boots.

If you’ve ever found yourself waiting at your local tailor to get the lining of your favorite coat repaired, or bemoaning the salt stains on a beloved pair of leather boots, you’ve probably wondered: How can I avoid this next winter?

The good news? You can. The bad news? You’ll probably have to spend more money at the get-go.

Buy the right investment piece

Meet the investment piece — an article of clothing that’s more expensive than most pieces in your wardrobe, bought with the hope that it will serve you well for a decade or more.

“It should be something timeless that you’re very comfortable in,” said Lorenzo Marquez, half of Philly fashion-critic duo Tom + Lorenzo. “You have to make sure that it fits you well.”

According to Marquez, winter coats are the best starting point for your investment-piece collection because of their classic styling and high visibility.

» READ MORE: How to help when cold weather forces Philadelphia into ‘Code Blue’

“People will see your coat wherever you go,” said Marquez, who still wears expensive coats he bought more than a decade ago from brands like Burberry and Prada. “You want to make sure that it’s high-quality and that it will have an impact. You want people to look at you and think, ‘Wow! They’re well-dressed!’ ”

But you don’t have to blow your entire paycheck on one coat. Tom Fitzgerald, the other half of Tom + Lorenzo, said he scooped up one of his longest-lasting pieces, a $900 Marc Jacobs peacoat, for $200 during a sale. (Fitzgerald and Marquez like to shop in the offseason, which means they scour websites for articles of clothing they like during the winter and wait for them to go on sale during the summer.)

If accessories are your bag, beautifully made hats and merino wool gloves can add a touch of personality to a winter getup. And a good-quality pair of leather boots will carry you through several winters in style.

Giving your winter wardrobe a more classic touch needn’t preclude cheaper trend pieces from places like Forever 21 and Zara. In fact, many fashionistas choose to mix their investment pieces with new lower-end pieces each year, according to Fitzgerald.

“You can flip it around and buy that hot-pink puffy jacket that’s on trend this season from Uniqlo,” he said. “And choose to invest in your hat and gloves instead.”

Maintaining your winter wardrobe

If you’re going to buy well-made pieces, taking proper care of them should be a no-brainer. This should start in the summer, according to Ron Wilch, owner of the Wardrobe Clinic, a tailor shop in Center City.

Because winter wardrobes contain a lot of wool and cashmere, it’s important to protect your clothes from natural elements like moths and dryness when they’re in storage, Wilch said.

» READ MORE: How to keep your pets safe in freezing temperatures

“You should have mothballs or cedar wood — which you can just get from a Home Depot — in your closet,” he said. “It’s also important to get any damage sewn up right away. If you hold on to a ripped lining, the rip will expand.”

To avoid wearing out your favorite pieces, Wilch said it’s important to have a few items of similar clothing in rotation. If you have a favorite coat, occasionally swapping in a cheaper, interchangeable one will help the more expensive coat last longer.

It’s harder to rotate shoes when most of us rely on a trustworthy pair that won’t leak when we have to trudge through slush puddles, but there are still ways to make your Frye boots go that extra mile.

Oscar Herrera, who owns Pilgrim Shoe Repair in Drexel Hill and Caruso’s Shoe Repairing Co. in Center City, said that during the winter — high season for his business — he mainly fixes worn soles and stains from salt and water.

“If you’re wearing leather shoes, you should always put a protectant on them,” said Herrera, who has been working with leather for 28 years. “Water is very bad for the shoes because it shrinks them, which then puts a lot of strain on them.”

If your shoes are made from delicate leather or suede, avoid greasy or silicone-based products and go for something gentle instead, like a lightweight Meltonian spray. A heavy-duty spray, like Tarrago, incorporates nanotechnology that blocks water by filling micro-openings in the leather; those work better for everyday shoes.

» READ MORE: Tips for staying warm from Philadelphians who work outside

As long as you keep your shoes as clean as possible, seasonal damage should be minimal. Wipe them down with a soft damp cloth when you’re out of the elements. If your leather shoes are stained, clean them with a mix of equal parts white vinegar and water; use a white cloth so fabric dye doesn’t transfer. Allow the shoes to air-dry, then condition the leather with a little bit of coconut oil. (Stains on suede are trickier, so you might want to visit a cobbler or leather specialist to help with those.)

With these precautions, your winter wardrobe should last longer than you expect.

Shopping for investment pieces

  1. Identify the staples. Fitzgerald and Marquez recommend investing in a nice pair of black leggings or pants; suede boots (because they never go out of style); a cashmere sweater in a neutral color like black, camel, or navy blue; a tailored jacket or blazer for men; and, of course, a little black dress for women.

  2. Think about fit. When you’re trying on an investment piece, think about how comfortable it is. Make sure you can raise your arms. Make sure you’ll be able to get out of a car without ripping it. Think about how well it packs if you want to travel with it. “It has to fit your life and mind,” Fitzgerald said. “Not just your body.”

  3. Accept that not everything will look good. An investment piece is not where you take risks. At the end of the day, you want to shell out a lot of money only for something you feel completely confident wearing.

  4. Know what you’re paying for. It’s always a good idea to read the reviews on a piece you’re considering, especially if you’re buying online. If you can try on an item and look over its craftsmanship, that’s even better. For example, Herrera said Frye has recently started manufacturing boots with rubber soles in China, so although many people expect a high-quality product from that company, it may not always be the case.

  5. Keep a mental catalog of the styles that work for you. “Remember what kinds of things your coworkers compliment you on,” Marquez said. “And when you’re trying clothes on, take pictures and send them to people. Build a library of fashion of your own.”