A jacket is like a pair of shoes, in that it is a garment that no man can ever have enough of. With age, as our self-perception changes, we come to identify ourselves with different styles and shapes as our choice of outer wear. There was a time, I recall, when I wanted to look like James Dean — denim overalls and an attitude to fill up an auditorium. Now, I just want to leave the room with a little respect. The one thing many winter jackets have in common is that they originated as functional garments for the armed forces, and once the war was over, the surplus was distributed among civilians who had been rendered homeless. Thus began the gradual process of assimilating military clothing into contemporary fashion, a trend which became a mainstay and today gives us these eternal classics. Here, then, are five winter essential jackets for every man’s wardrobe.
The original WWI jacket is perhaps also the most recognisable one. Long cut in waxed or otherwise water-repellant (treated) cotton fabric, with an insulated lining, it used to be originally double-breasted and was often worn with a belt around the waist. Today the trench comes in a multitude of colours, although the original khaki remains popular. Fabrics too have changed, as also the length and styles, but the general form is recognisably the same.
This is perhaps the most recent of additions to the list. It is also the only jacket that began as an experiment after a hazardous fishing trip in winter. The idea was to find a jacket that could insulate against extreme cold and still stay dry. The jacket was inspired by old Russian military experiments, but perfected in the US (when Eddie Bauer added quilted channels to hold the down feathers in place). Today, the military finds use for these in high altitude deployment, but it also finds room in your wardrobe for those days when you expect the worst of Mother Nature’s cold, frosty touch.
Originating from the Dutch pijjakker, the Pea coat is traditionally a navy coat: a heavy woollen double-breasted jacket, short in length and with large flap-like lapels. The jacket is still one of the most formal of outer layers to sport. There are longer versions, as also some with a hood added on, but the classic ones — sometimes with gold buttons — remain timelessly elegant.
The original (fighter) pilot jacket, this was a short garment intended for use by pilots during flights. It dates back to a time when cockpits weren’t heated, and the jacket was designed to keep the flyer warm. Thus the air flaps, high collar and zipper locks, combined with the elastic cuffs and waist band (all to keep the cold air out) and the short length (to lend comfort to their seated position). Today, all bombers aren’t made of sheep skin, but a good one is still fashioned out of leather.
The classic duffle was a reference to the heavy woollen fabric (Duffel) that was used to make this jacket (as also the Duffle bag), which was later copied into every possible fabric option available. The original jacket was made of a heavy Duffel weave, with a tartan pattern on the inside. It usually featured a bone toggle and leather rope fasteners, had large pockets, and the hood had a button to fasten around the neck. These are hardy jackets, resistant to weather and wear and tear, and generally roomy.