It’s finally getting cold out there – and while it might not be the dead of winter yet, we’ll be there before long, so it’s time to firm up your winter outerwear game. One of our favorite pieces has always been the duffle coat. The style is timeless, classy, versatile, and if you buy the right one, warm as hell. On top of that, they’ve got a pretty iconic history.
The first version was created by John Partridge in the early 1850s, but the piece saw its first widespread use when it was adopted by the British Royal Navy in the 1890s. After being issued heavily throughout World Wars I and II, the resulting post-war surplus made the coats widely available to the general public.
British clothier Gloverall purchased many of the original military pieces for resale, and eventually started producing their own civilian version, which they still make today and is considered by many to be the classic standard.
| BRIAN WEARS | Duffle coat c/o Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Andrews Bespoke tweed suit, Al Bazar shirt, Brooks Brothers tie, Mario Portolano gloves, Silvano Sassetti shoes | PHOTOGRAPHY | by Rob McIver Photo
The affordability and availability of the duffle coat in the 50s and 60s made it very popular, especially among students. That ‘collegiate’ connection, along with its nautical origins, enabled the duffle coat to become a staple in the lexicon of classic preppy style.
Now, with all that said, perhaps the most interesting thing about the duffle coat is that the name is (more often than not) technically a misnomer these days. The term ‘duffle’ actually refers back to ‘duffel’ cloth, which originated in – you guessed it – a Belgian town called Duffel. Originally, duffle coats (along with duffle bags), were all made from ‘duffel,’ which was a thick, woolen fabric with a distinctive nap.
These days, it’s actually much more common to see the coats made from Melton wool, which is known for its durability as well as its wind and water resistance – which is why the duffle coat is such a good cold-weather pick. Some retailers offer other fabrics (often synthetic) at lower, more approachable prices, but such pieces will be much less cozy. You get what you pay for.
While the modern duffle coat may not be made from the same fabric, it retains many of its defining characteristics – most notably the toggle closures, traditionally made from wood or horn fastened to rope or leather loops. Additionally, most duffle coats are hooded, mid-length with a slightly boxier cut, navy or camel, and often lined with a tartan liner – oh so British!