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As I need to buy some cold weather clothes now that I'm heading further north than Xi'an I tried to look up the word for "coat".

I found there are at least these three terms:

  • 大衣 (dàyī)
  • 外套 (wàitào)
  • 外衣 (wàiyī)

What's the differences between them? Are all terms still in use? Do some of them only refer to items of clothing not really worn any more?

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3 Answers 3

"大衣" usually refers to a specific type of garment, it should be longer and more formal, something you will certainly take off when you stay indoors. No one would call a tracksuit top("运动外套") "大衣", but you can definitely call it "外套" or "外衣". I think a better translation for "大衣" is "overcoat" or "topcoat".

"外套" and "外衣" are pretty much the same, if anything, "外套" might refer to something heavier than "外衣". For example, it might be a bit odd to call a cardigan("开衫") "外套", but it's ok to call it "外衣" as long as you wear it on top. These words are more general, both refer to the outfit you wear on top. From where I come from, the "外" in "外套" and "外衣" means 'on top of', not 'outdoors'. "大衣" is just a kind of "外套"/"外衣", so is blazer("西装外套"), trenchcoat("风衣"), .etc.

And yes, people still use these terms, and they are something we still wear.

Google some images and you will have a better idea of what they are.

Also, If you are shopping online, "外衣" might not be a good keyword for searching since it's too general to put in product names(I haven't seen any shop owner put it in the title), but "外套" is ok, so is "大衣" if you are looking for that kind of garment.

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大衣:coat

外套:jacket

外衣:outfit or more generally the out most cloth you're wearing

Consider your situation I recommend you to look for "保暖的大衣" or "保暖的外套".

Personally I think “羽绒服"(down wear or down jacket) is a good choice for you. It can be very cold in the north.

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For "jacket" the word I found was "夹克" jiákè. I didn't include it because I thought the words I gave were only coat. Now I must wonder on the difference between 夹克 and 外套. Thanks for the advice by the way! –  hippietrail Nov 19 '13 at 17:39
1  
"夹克" is a direct phonetic translation of "jacket". I think originally "外套" means variety of outfit, but now most "外套" for man in the Chinese market are just jacket. –  zyc Nov 19 '13 at 17:46
    
Yes I meant to include that I knew 夹克 was a loanword from English. Sorry I forgot. –  hippietrail Nov 19 '13 at 17:48
    
That's OK. Anyway, I think "羽绒外套" is a good choice. –  zyc Nov 19 '13 at 17:57

come on guy, as a native I should tell you that....we can't make these clear. Many people use them messy, especially in some small towns.

外套and外衣may be not very thick, but you can still call大衣, but大衣in most cases refers to those heavy ones for cold winter.

And, yes, the 3 words are all alive, widely used by many people. and when you use any of these, we can get your idea. for example, it's winter now in Beijing, so no matter you are using any of these 3 words, we know you are wearing a very heavy and thick "thing"...yes, coat. But if in spring or autumn....I suggest you not say 大衣

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