From October the value of layering clothing in town cannot be underestimated – and a men’s overcoat can be a wise purchase. Every day one can experience the bitter cold early in the morning when transferring between home, station and office. However, wearing heavy winter clothes is often regretted on a packed train, in a heated office, or visiting any number of crowded evening venues.
Therefore the investment in a good men’s overcoat protects one from wintry weather with the flexibility of being able to remove it, whether to then carry it comfortably under arm or hand it over at a cloakroom. In recent years the ease of the ‘Cagoule’ raincoat as a waterproof skin easily tucked into a bag has taken over as a favourite covering but this image clearly lacks the sleek lines of a tailored overcoat that will look amazing in its own right and maintain the elegance of your suit underneath.
However, wearing heavy winter clothes is often regretted on a packed train, in a heated office, or visiting any number of crowded evening venues. Therefore the investment in a good overcoat protects one from wintry weather with the flexibility of being able to remove it, whether to then carry it comfortably under arm or hand it over at a cloakroom. In recent years the ease of the ‘Cagoule’ raincoat as a waterproof skin easily tucked into a bag has taken over as a favourite covering but this image clearly lacks the sleek lines of a tailored overcoat that will look amazing in its own right and maintain the elegance of your suit underneath.
The many types of men’s overcoat can be overwhelming and confusing. Like any other item of menswear, successive generations have adapted older styles to their needs. For instance, what separates the Victorian day jacket, the frock coat, from an overcoat? What separates capes from coats? Thus rather than tracing a conclusive history to each piece, we aim in this article to convey a brief introduction to overcoats for your own needs today.
The Covert Coat
The covert coat can trace its lineage among many classic items of menswear- such as the bowler hat, tailcoat and tweed hacking jacket, to equestrian pursuits in the countryside. This explains its common brown or green tone and its altogether aristocratic luxury feel with a velvet collar and slim cut. It is easy to find very bold contrast lapels that add a modern twist to this classic.
If you are fortunate in ever having a three-piece country suit made, consider the extra investment of a men’s overcoat like this in a matching cloth. Meanwhile, this is unlikely to be the choice for a town or work suit but can make a deeply satisfying weekend choice with an outfit of corduroy or wools in autumnal colours. Consider it a tailored alternative to the waxed Barbour jacket, only far more elegant.
The town alternatives to the Covert are the almost identical Chesterfield or Epsom Coat. Since these were among the first overcoats the titles have become very broad and somewhat vague. Nevertheless, its inception was as a removable outer layer instead of the universal day jackets like the frock coat. This was no doubt a response to early 19th century industrialisation with cities becoming the modern home as opposed to country farms where one universal coat was an essential second skin. Today the style remains very formal in a slim cut and high lapels and often shares the velvet collar.
The Crombie Coat
The Crombie is a brand name now associated with its own style of coat. Originating as a manufacturer of cloth 200 years ago, their products’ quality led it to become the choice supplier for the American Confederate army during the American Civil War as well as the Russian Tsars before becoming more well known covering The Beatles among other celebrities and statesmen. Their style of coat has been a less ornamented, more city-suited version of the covert just like the Chesterfield and the Epsom, all in wool.
They have recently re-released the style of coat they made exclusively for King George VI, father of the current Queen Elizabeth II. This resembles the Paletot Overcoat, derived from a Spanish variation on a traditional frock coat. The modern style is defined by its double-breasted peak lapels and a fitted waist.
The Camel Coat
The Camel Coat was popularized by Jaeger in the early 20th Century before becoming popular in America when worn by Polo players. This is a matter of colour and material rather than style, since it resembles something of the classic Crombie. Modern versions today such as the example below by Marc Jacobs really are still woven from 100% camel hair which, owing to the extremes of weather faced by Camels in their natural habitat, supposedly protect from heat as well as cold. Popular in the 1970s, it is often associated with second-hand car dealers and similarly frowned upon trading professions. This is unfair, however, since the pale colour has perfected some very striking outfits for those seeking a more distinguished elegance. Any dark suit will work with this or for more casual situations a jumper or black rollneck is particularly good.
The Trench Coat
Made from a waxed or otherwise waterproofed canvas, the trench coat is a lightweight icon of the early 20th Century. As the name implies, these were an additional covering for Officers in the First World War that have become associated with silver screen icons in such classics as Casablanca or the paintings of Jack Vettriano. These traditionally come with a detachable thick woolen lining that means this coat can be suited to summer storms as well as cold winters. The flexibility with these coats is broad, looking good in both formal and casual settings, done up with a storm collar and belt or worn open.
The Ulster Coat shares many of these similarities but made in a heavy woolen cloth, traditionally Donegal tweed. This is the archetypal Victorian men’s overcoat with a mantle, the short cape over the shoulders. It continues the use of a belt since it is of a very loose cut like the trench coat.
Military style coats have enjoyed a revival in recent years. While the army surplus ‘parka’ coats worn by Mods in the 1960s should not be recommended to today’s gentlemen, the variety of beautifully shaped coats with extravagant brass buttoning mean it is perfectly possible to stand out without appearing to have just gone on leave. We recommend these are still tailored in luxurious cloths to a close fit rather than seeking the budget uncomfortable, heavy originals.
A descendent of the trench coat and similar military coats is the men’s peacoat. This is a short, tightly fitted double-breasted jacket. This glove-like wrapping keeps the torso warm whilst leaving the legs free and so makes an active, energetic appearance. This has become a popular choice amongst commuter professionals because of the stylish shape and lack of bulk found in most of these coats. Therefore plenty of examples can be found of this worn with suit and tie but the pea coat also makes an excellent casual jacket worn directly over shirt and jumper.
How to Wear a Men’s Overcoat Casually
It remains that a well fitted overcoat can appear very formal and austere. Nevertheless, one is also practical and distinguished. As with most menswear, often the best way to dress casually is to break the conventions of formality such as by wearing flat fronted trousers such as men’s chino pants, corduroy or jeans. Consider checked and button-down or even collarless shirts combined with a woollen jumper. A heavy coat with a contrasting roll-neck can make a strong seafaring look. Men’s dress boots can also keep things casual.
The more daring could venture away from these traditional overcoats entirely and look into leather and fur. While a good dark look can be achieved with leather coat, black shirt or t-shirt, fitted black trousers and boots this could be refined to a more aristocratic feel with a black chesterfield coat. The choice is vast.
Men’s Overcoat Etiquette
In a traditional bar or pub it is advisable never to leave anything unattended. For this reason in London you will see after-work drinks populated by crowds of suited young men often spilling out onto the pavement. Outside it is naturally best to leave the coat on. If standing inside for the duration you should remove your coat and carry it over your arm before you enter, since the inside will be hot and the lack of space means bulky clothing makes reaching the bar more difficult.
In a restaurant, theatre or nightclub, or indeed anywhere with a cloakroom, you should use it. Many institutions do not appreciate coats and bags left draped over the seat since it tarnishes the formal atmosphere and makes trip hazards for waiting staff. The exception to this rule is the added security of reserving your seat so no latecomer takes it and you are forced with the uncomfortable task of reclaiming your own seat. Most places should offer a cloakroom free with a tip tray, or else charge about two pounds in London. Do not be ashamed to take the wise step of photographing your ticket with your phone in case of loss. In the case of a tip tray about a pound is advised after you have received your coat but if the attendant is particularly helpful, such as in putting your coat on for you, feel free to tip more.
Caring For Your Men’s Overcoat
General care is best advised by the maker of the men’s overcoat. Avoid hanging the coat on a peg by its cloth under the collar, since this will stretch, but instead use the sewn-in ribbon as with a suit jacket. If caught in a particularly heavy shower care should be taken to avoid shrinking and misshaping a wool coat. The weight of the fabric, the ease of reshaping by a dry cleaner and the abundance of shelter in town means this is not a great concern. However, the fact remains that even the most luxurious, expensive coat remains your protector and therefore carries the deterioration caused by this service. An umbrella will help as will hanging the coat on a hanger to dry as soon as possible. Winter clothing is bulky so be sure to check out our clothes storage ideas.