Wearing Boring Outerwear

Next to tailored clothing and shoes, most of my clothing budget is spent on outerwear. In my closet are some field jackets – the kind with two pockets at the chest and two at the hips. Then I have some coats with various belted riggings, which are used to help cinch in the waist, as well as some “designer” pieces with unusual pocket placements. It’s said that these sorts of jackets are often inspired by hunting coats, but I can’t imagine anyone who has bought these sorts of things (including me) has ever hunted for anything but their keys and an open bar. 

Some of my coats, however, are quite simple. Boring, even. There’s a waxed cotton Barbour Bedale, which I bought in the standard dark green colorway. It has a corduroy collar, but the overall look is so generic at this point that the jacket has become almost nondescript. I also have a heavy Melton wool pea coat from Buzz Rickson, a green barn coat from LL Bean Signature, and a brown, waxed field coat from last season’s Barbour x Norton & Sons line. The brown field coat actually looks something like this vintage piece I found on eBay over the weekend.

Each of these lack the kind of bells and whistles that can make an outfit interesting, so to balance things out, I sometimes layer in some heavy, textured knitwear. Above are some examples. Underneath the pea coat is a very subtly textured, black Shetland, which is also from last season’s Barbour x Norton & Sons range. Underneath the LL Bean Signature barn coat and waxed cotton Bedale are some heavy, cream-colored sweaters, which are from Inis Meain. The first is a basket weave sweater that’s been made with an open interlocking lacing on the front body. The second is your standard cable knit Aran, although done to Inis Meain’s design. Finally, underneath the brown field coat is also an Aran from Inis Meain, but this time, in navy. The pairing of blue jeans and a navy sweater can sometimes look off, but the jeans here, I think, are light enough that there’s enough contrast.

The chunkiness of these sweaters and their texturally interesting designs help make boring outerwear pieces look slightly less boring. If you wanted to wear a scarf with these, it would be better to stick to something that’s also solid-colored, but textured - such as a grey cabled knit. That way, no element sticks out too much on its own. By relying on complementary colors and playing with textures, you can make outfits look interesting without needing to turn to the brashness of patterns or unusual design details. It’s a quieter, arguably more sophisticated, way of making a statement. 

(Pictured above: sweaters and coats as described; straight legged 14.5oz selvedge denim jeans from 3sixteen; undyed thick harness leather belt from Don’t Mourn Organize, made with a buckle bought at Slash Clothing; and shell cordovan boots from Brooks Brothers)

Deck Jackets

I probably should have anticipated this before I started a blog called Die, Workwear!, but as we get closer to winter, I’ve been thinking about getting myself a deck jacket. The term deck jacket refers to heavy winter coats worn by sailors during the mid-20th century. They’ve become highly prized among vintage collectors and workwear aficionados, not only for their history, but also their durability and protective warmth.

Some of the earliest deck jackets looked very much like the US Army’s winter combat jacket (also known as a tanker jacket). It had a dark blue outer shell made out of a heavy corded cotton, and a basic zipper-front design. Over the years, however, it’s been improved upon by the US military for naval use. In 1943, for example, the jacket was lengthened and lined with alpaca fur so that it’d be more protective for sailors. The knit waistband, exposed knit cuff, and patch pockets were also done away with, as they were at risk of snagging on different parts of the ship. As replacements, the knit cuffs were brought in, sort of like the storm cuffs you see today on certain Barbour jackets, and the jacket’s hem was made with a drawstring. The basic zipper front also saw the addition of a button-closure wind flap, and then later metal hook claps, which were easier to operate when you had big gloves on.

There are still many makers of deck jackets today, and they typically come in the garment’s original colors - dark blue, light olive, and dark green. My favorite version is probably by Mister Freedom, who released one with a striped blanket lining a few years ago. Most sizes have long sold out on their website, but you can sometimes find some floating around on eBay. Other makers include the many Japanese companies that specialize in workwear and military reproductions, such as Buzz Rickson, Toys McCoys, The Real McCoys, and The Few. You may also want to look into stores such as Blue in Green, Self Edge, Superdenim, and Bench & Loom, who either carry those aforementioned brands, or similar ones.

Unfortunately for me, all those are well outside my budget. I’ve seen slightly more affordable models by Spiewak, Engineered Garments, Orvis, and Pike Brothers, but they’re still pretty pricey. Going vintage here won’t yield any more savings, as collectors have been hunting for originals on eBay for years. For a good vintage piece, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to a whooping $1,500.

So for now, no deck jacket for me. Perhaps for the better, since I don’t think you can look like a sailor with a size 36 chest. 

(Pictures above from Secret Forts, Superfuture member Five, Christophe Loiron, and Good Wear Leather)

Getting a Good Grey Sweatshirt
Every fall season, I can’t seem to stop myself from buying more sweaters, but the one I keep coming back to, year after year, is my reliable grey sweatshirt. For casual use with chinos and jeans, I can’t think of anything better. It’s low-maintenance, sporty, and if the fit is right, can look pretty great.
My favorite sweatshirts are made by Japanese companies such as Buzz Rickson, The Real McCoys, and Strike Gold. These brands specialize in mid-century reproductions, and often use older production techniques (these techniques don’t lend any special advantage, they’re just neat if you care about such things). They’re also thicker and denser than most other sweatshirts on the market. You can find them at them at Self Edge, Blue in Green, Superdenim, and Bench & Loom.
Other really great companies include Archival Clothing, WTAPs, Levis Vintage Clothing, Sunspel, Reigning Champ, Battenwear, Loopwheeler, RRL, and Velva Sheen. Many of these will have their own unique selling points. Archival Clothing, for example, has theirs made in Portland, Oregon by the old-school American manufacturer Columbiaknit, while Levis Vintage Clothing often draws from Levis’ extensive in-house archive. These models tend to be quite expensive, however, so if you want something more affordable, check out Champion, American Giant, Land’s End, Uniqlo, and J. Crew. The last three hold sales pretty often, so you can knock the price down further if you exercise some patience.
Naturally, many people may be wondering what’s the difference between a ~$150 sweatshirt and something that you can find for ~$50. Some of this will be in the detailing, such as some having loopwheeled constructions (which again, are just old ways of making these garments). Some of this will be in the quality of the materials. My Buzz Rickson sweatshirt, for example, is nice and dense, and doesn’t stretch out as easily as the one I bought from J. Crew. It also has a “vintage” fit that I like, which is slightly boxy and short. I think it goes well with the kind of boots, jeans, and jackets I like to wear. 
In the end, however, you just need to find something that fits you well, and works for your budget. Not all sweatshirts have to be dumpy, and not all nice ones have to cost an arm and a leg. If you find that your sweatshirt stretches out easily, just throw it in the wash and put it in the dryer after each wear. It should shrink back to shape. The color might dull from being in the dryer so much, but … it’s a sweatshirt. These look better beat up. 

Getting a Good Grey Sweatshirt

Every fall season, I can’t seem to stop myself from buying more sweaters, but the one I keep coming back to, year after year, is my reliable grey sweatshirt. For casual use with chinos and jeans, I can’t think of anything better. It’s low-maintenance, sporty, and if the fit is right, can look pretty great.

My favorite sweatshirts are made by Japanese companies such as Buzz Rickson, The Real McCoys, and Strike Gold. These brands specialize in mid-century reproductions, and often use older production techniques (these techniques don’t lend any special advantage, they’re just neat if you care about such things). They’re also thicker and denser than most other sweatshirts on the market. You can find them at them at Self Edge, Blue in Green, Superdenim, and Bench & Loom.

Other really great companies include Archival Clothing, WTAPs, Levis Vintage Clothing, Sunspel, Reigning Champ, Battenwear, Loopwheeler, RRL, and Velva Sheen. Many of these will have their own unique selling points. Archival Clothing, for example, has theirs made in Portland, Oregon by the old-school American manufacturer Columbiaknit, while Levis Vintage Clothing often draws from Levis’ extensive in-house archive. These models tend to be quite expensive, however, so if you want something more affordable, check out Champion, American Giant, Land’s EndUniqlo, and J. Crew. The last three hold sales pretty often, so you can knock the price down further if you exercise some patience.

Naturally, many people may be wondering what’s the difference between a ~$150 sweatshirt and something that you can find for ~$50. Some of this will be in the detailing, such as some having loopwheeled constructions (which again, are just old ways of making these garments). Some of this will be in the quality of the materials. My Buzz Rickson sweatshirt, for example, is nice and dense, and doesn’t stretch out as easily as the one I bought from J. Crew. It also has a “vintage” fit that I like, which is slightly boxy and short. I think it goes well with the kind of boots, jeans, and jackets I like to wear. 

In the end, however, you just need to find something that fits you well, and works for your budget. Not all sweatshirts have to be dumpy, and not all nice ones have to cost an arm and a leg. If you find that your sweatshirt stretches out easily, just throw it in the wash and put it in the dryer after each wear. It should shrink back to shape. The color might dull from being in the dryer so much, but … it’s a sweatshirt. These look better beat up. 

I interviewed William Gibson recently for my public radio program, The Sound of Young America, and the program was just released online.  It’s rare for a public radio interview to be concerned with fashion and style, and rarer still when that interview is with a science fiction writer, but that was one of the core issues in our conversation.  Gibson’s books tend to be about ideas, and his most recent, Zero History, is about the interplay between fashion, identity and authenticity.  He’s even helped create/curate some items for the Japanese brand Buzz Rickson, which manufactures perfect duplicates of 20th century military clothing.

Enjoy the interview, which I’ve included here.