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)

Picking the Right Varsity Jacket

The endurance of the silhouette and styling of the letterman/varsity jacket is a little surprising to me. Trying to remember when I bought mine (red body, gray arms, above) I found a thread on Styleforum asking if varsity jackets were “back”…in 2007. Seven years later and the varsity shape is still in the game: Hedi Slimane made it a centerpiece of his comeback men’s collection for Saint Laurent in 2013. For a jacket that seems so bound by its origins—color-matched casual wear earned by team sports players for athletic accomplishments, i.e., FOR JOCKS—the varsity is maybe surprisingly versatile, even potentially subversive.

A Long Way from the Locker Room

For a long time, the “right” varsity jacket was the one you earned. A uniform for school athletes from the middle of the century on, it became pop culture shorthand for jock, whether that meant bullying jerk (Ogre in Revenge of the Nerds) or apparently harmless good guy (Michael Jackson, in human form, in Thriller). In the 1980s straightedge subculture kids adopted the hoodie-and-varsity ensemble as a symbol of fraternal, occasionally militant clean living. After a brief 1990s resurgence in washed denim we didn’t see a lot of varsities until the late aughts, when the classic Americana trend took hold. High fashion versions, like Slimane’s, take advantage of both the masculine connotations of athletics and the kitsch of throwback, Kodachrome America. Today you could call the varsity an ivy style or streetwear classic, and you wouldn’t be wrong in either case.

The Details

Nearly everyone who sells men’s casual wear, from Target to Engineered Garments to Saint Laurent, carries a version of the varsity jacket. But their styling choices greatly influence the vibe of the jacket itself. Raglan shoulders allow freer movement than set-in, but set-in sleeves make for a narrower, more tailored shape. Low profile shawl collars are standard, and foldover collars are a little more interesting and sit taller. But collar shapes can get even more exaggerated. Snaps are very 1980s, sewn buttons more vintage looking, a zip more moto-styled. Some jackets omit the knit trim waistband, which looks a little sloppy in my opinion. Monochromatic, tonal, and dark colors look more modern and can help avoid the risk of looking like you just haven’t bought a new jacket since high school (blue and gold, for example, will have the opposite effect). When it comes to letter, patches, and embroidery, I prefer none at all, but they can add character to a vintage jacket.

Where to Find Them

With so many companies making jackets for so long, varsities saturate the vintage market. If you’re cool with wearing someone else’s letters (or using a seam ripper to de-letter), you have your pick at nearly any thrift store. Some good American makers to look for on jacket tags are Centralia Knitting Mills/Skookum, Golden Bear, and Maple—their jackets will generally be better made than no-name and imported vintage pieces. Centralia and Golden Bear still make jackets—Rakuten searches often reveal interesting Skookum models. Golden Bear has been the manufacturer of choice for Engineered Garments, Union Made, and many others who use a general varsity shape. Keep in mind that jackets made for school clients are usually limited to school-style colors, and often use plastick-y leather for the sleeves. The co-branded jackets tend to use custom materials or shapes that you won’t find on pieces made for a high school band. Epaulet made a very refined, modern looking varsity-styled jacket, seen in the first picture on this post, unfortunately sold out for the season. Like many other symbols of mid-century America, the jacket has been obsessively recreated by Japan-based companies like Flat Head. As with military jackets, you can really spend as little or as much on a varsity jacket as you want.

-Pete

A Grand Rehabilitation

I have an old polo coat that I love. It weighs ten tons, is warm as all heck, and I wear it about once a year, when I’m traveling somewhere cold in the winter. It cost me about $30 on eBay (though I think it took another $25 to get it to me), and it was originally made around 1930 for Capper & Capper, a competitor to Brooks Brothers.

Sadly, while the camelhair exterior was holding up strong, the rayon lining was starting to be a bit worse for the wear. As most 80-year-olds do. I thought initially of taking it to my tailor and having him reline it, which probably would have cost a hundred or a hundred fifty dollars, but would have made it good for another fifty or so years of service. That was the plan, for a while.

Then I remembered that I had a closet full of silk scraps - odds and ends from our pocket square fabric that weren’t quite big enough to constitute a full square. I thought of how much I love patched out blue jeans, and wondered if this might be an opportunity for a creative solution.

Above: the result. Rather than replacing the lining, we patched it with fabric leftover from Put This On pocket squares. We were careful to preserve the tags, too - those old tags are one of the best parts of a vintage garment. The result is a very serious and hard-working coat on the exterior, with a beautiful secret inside.

Polo Coats

Despite what people say, it doesn’t get that cold in San Francisco, at least not compared to places where it actually snows. Still, that doesn’t stop me from wanting a polo coat every year. Polo coats are long, loose fitting coats originally worn by polo players in England. Early versions were often simple wrap styles - something like a robe, I suppose - but the cut eventually evolved into the more detailed version we think of today. The defining characteristics? Certainly flapped patch pockets, which mark the coat as somewhat casual; a double breasted closure to keep the wearer warm; a loose, half-belt at the back (known as a martingale); traditionally an Ulster collar (the thing you see in the first photo above, with the almost horizontal notch), though peak lapels have also become common; and of course that golden tan color that so nicely complements the browns, blues, and grays most of us wear.

Though the coat originated in England, the double-breasted style really developed in the US, where retailers such as Brooks Brothers popularized it in the 1920s. It soon became associated with prep schools and “Ivy style” - that distinctive, American style of dress that involves tweed jackets, penny loafers, and Shetland sweaters. With the ups and downs of Ivy style, so went polo coats. They fell into obscurity in the ‘70s or so, but had a revival in the ‘80s. You see the coat much less today, but that’s true of all traditional outerwear. With fewer people wearing tailored clothing comes fewer customers of “dress coats.”

I like the idea of having one if only because the polo coat stands out as one of the few coats you can wear both formally and casually. By formally and casually, I don’t mean the extremes, of course - tuxedos on one end, jeans and flip flops on the other (is this guy wearing one in his boxers?). I mean that it’s something you can wear with a suit in most industries, or with a sport coat and a pair of wool trousers if you’re going out to a really nice restaurant. Compare that to coats that are much more formal, such as Chesterfields, or ones that are too casual, such as many of the sportswear styles you commonly see today.  

Where to Get One

Unfortunately, like all good dress coats, polos are expensive, even more so than your standard piece of outerwear (which can already be pretty pricey). For new and off-the-rack, you’re looking at about $1,000 to $1,500. If you have that kind of money, you can find some handsome ones at places such as O’Connell’s, Ben Silver, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren. If you can afford bespoke, some tailors can make you one for about the price of a suit. For traveling outfits that visit the United States, that price ranges anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000.

That’s a lot of money. On the upside, heavy coats such as polos hold up really well over the years, which means if you’re patient, you can find one on eBay or at your local thrift store for pennies on the dollar. Jesse wrote a great thrifting guide you can use for this. I’m not as experienced as he is in thrifting, but even in my few trips, I’ve seen some nice dress coats selling for about $100 or $200. Set aside a little extra money for alterations and cleaning, and you can have a very nice garment on your hands.  

A note from Jesse: I bought my own polo coat, which is from the 1930s, for $35 on eBay. Not a tailor on Savile Row wasn’t pawing at it when I wore it to our shoot there last year. There’s a decent overcoat right now in a quarter of the thrift stores in America, and with some patience, there are plenty on eBay as well.

Oh, and one other note: the good folks at Howard Yount have a shorter, lighter (and more lightly constructed) version of the polo coat at $899. Thanks to NickelCobalt for the tip.)

There’s Nothing More Classic Than A Pea Coat
I bought my pea coat at a yard sale in Portland. I was in high school - maybe 15 or 16. A nice woman was selling some of her late grandfather’s things. He’d been a navy man in his day, and she was excited that the coat fit me. I think I paid $25.
That pea coat saw me through some drizzle-soaked outdoor makeout sessions my junior and senior years of high school in San Francisco. It came with me to UC Santa Cruz, where it protected me from the winter chill and from soft thinking. It’s still in my closet today, and while the collar and cuffs are a little more worn than they were back then, I still wear it whenever it’s cold.
The pea coat is probably the military garment which has made the smoothest transition into civilian life. Without insignia or rank patches, it can be (and has been) worn by everyone from former military to peace protesters to preppy lacross player types. It’s also been knocked off by every fashion designer ever. But nothing beats the real thing.
Luckily, buying a real US Navy pea coat is the cheapest way to cover yourself in melton wool, and not just the most authentic. Few are the vintage stores that don’t have a rack of decommissioned coats. You can also find them on eBay, and on sites like this one. This guide on Fedora Lounge will help you date yours - the golden age runs from WWII through about 1970.
When buying, expect to pay $50 to $100, depending on condition. Buttons can be sourced and replaced pretty easily, but if there are moth holes or excessive cuff wear, those are much harder to manage.

There’s Nothing More Classic Than A Pea Coat

I bought my pea coat at a yard sale in Portland. I was in high school - maybe 15 or 16. A nice woman was selling some of her late grandfather’s things. He’d been a navy man in his day, and she was excited that the coat fit me. I think I paid $25.

That pea coat saw me through some drizzle-soaked outdoor makeout sessions my junior and senior years of high school in San Francisco. It came with me to UC Santa Cruz, where it protected me from the winter chill and from soft thinking. It’s still in my closet today, and while the collar and cuffs are a little more worn than they were back then, I still wear it whenever it’s cold.

The pea coat is probably the military garment which has made the smoothest transition into civilian life. Without insignia or rank patches, it can be (and has been) worn by everyone from former military to peace protesters to preppy lacross player types. It’s also been knocked off by every fashion designer ever. But nothing beats the real thing.

Luckily, buying a real US Navy pea coat is the cheapest way to cover yourself in melton wool, and not just the most authentic. Few are the vintage stores that don’t have a rack of decommissioned coats. You can also find them on eBay, and on sites like this one. This guide on Fedora Lounge will help you date yours - the golden age runs from WWII through about 1970.

When buying, expect to pay $50 to $100, depending on condition. Buttons can be sourced and replaced pretty easily, but if there are moth holes or excessive cuff wear, those are much harder to manage.

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)

Field Guide to Field Jackets
In the last couple weeks at Put This On we’ve set up midcentury utility- and sportswear as ideal for easy, versatile, and durable casual clothing—check out Jesse’s take on the gray sweatshirt and Derek’s post on Levi’s 1947 model 501s. I didn’t want to leave out the third pillar of a wardrobe based on repurposed gear: military surplus. Specifically, jackets. I’m focusing today on non-leather jackets; I’ll get to leathers later this week.
MA-1
Years in service: 1950s to 1980s
A nylon, synthetic-fill, knit-collared jacket developed for the pilots of modern jet aircraft, the MA-1 has been a civilian favorite for decades. MA-1s are lightweight, warm, and usually cheap. Replacing older, leather flight jackets, the mil-spec models changed some over the years—modifying fabrics, adding pocket flaps and bright orange lining—but the cropped, almost turtle shell silhouette has remained. MA-1s became popular with punk rock kids and skinheads in the 1970s and early 1980s, and the complex subcultural connotations have made them a prime source for designer and high-street-shop interpretations from Helmut Lang, J. Crew (women’s, in this case), and many others. This Third Looks feature on the history of the jacket goes into more detail. They tend to run roomy in the chest and shoulders compared to most civilian outerwear, and give even waifish wearers the appearance a hulking upper body. Writer William Gibson is semi-obsessed with the MA-1; shown above is a meticulously detailed version he worked on with Buzz Rickson.

M-43
Years in service: 1943 to 1950s
Introduced late in World War II, the M-43 was a durable uniform for soldiers in the field that evolved from pre-WWII uniforms, which seem closer to modern “dress” clothes than battlewear. (Many jackets are designated by the year they entered general service; in this case, 1943.) The jacket from the M-1943 uniform has real lapels rather than a shirt-style or stand-up collar like later field uniforms—I hesitate to say you could wear a tie with it in a modern context, but it would be less out of place than with an M-65. The M-43 was the first uniform to use tightly woven olive drab cotton sateen rather than lighter, less weatherproof fabrics. At the Front, a shop that specializes in supplying re-enactors with accurate representations of period uniforms, has a history page with deep details on the M-43. They also sell a repro version; I can’t personally vouch for the quality, but ATF is clearly serious about their mission. They’re of course available vintage.

M-51
Years in service: 1951 to 1960s
The M-51 field jacket was made from the same cotton sateen as the classic field trousers/fatigue pants.  The jacket had a shirt style collar that took an attachable hood, and closed with buttons and a zipper (older field jackets used buttons only). Although not as popular as the similar and ubiquitous Vietnam-era M-65, the 51 is a great jacket and a clear evolutionary marker between older field jackets, which look almost Edwardian, and modern BDUs. Orvis currently sells a nylon version; Schott has a lightweight take; I prefer vintage.

M-51 fishtail
Years in service: 1951 to 1960s
Searching for M-51 field jackets can be confused by the predominance of the M-51 fishtail parka, perhaps the ideal case study of a mil-spec garment adapted by a subculture—in this case, mods. These hooded, cotton sateen jackets were designed with an elongated back ending in two points (hence fishtail), intended to be fastened to the front of the jacket when worn to provide additional protection against the elements. Of course, no one does that; it seems more complicated than it’s worth. But it helps that the parkas, worn long, fit over sharp suits and protected Vespa-riding mods from road splash. Since the 60s peak of mod music and style, the fishtail parka has endured, and designer versions like Raf Simons’ above abound. Vintage models can get pricy as there’s a lot of demand, but new civilian takes are widely available. (Other fishtail parkas exist, but the M-51 is generally considered the go-to model.)

M-65
Years in service: 1965 through the 1970s
The M-65 was the field jacket of the Vietnam war, and in part because casual wear of military garb spiked in the post-war 1970s, it’s pretty much the jacket you’re thinking of when you think “wearing a surplus Army jacket.” It’s the Travis Bickle jacket and the Lindsay Weir jacket. Serpico wore one. It has roomy front pockets, a hood that stows in the stand-up collar, and shoulder passants. The M-65 zips closed and its cuffs can be adjusted with velcro. Like many of these field jackets, M-65s are cut large to accommodate liners, so if you’re buying vintage you can often afford to buy a size down, although you risk short arms. Alpha was the primary contractor making M-65s when they were issued, and they still make a decent version today. I really like the M-65-influenced field coats that Patrik Ervell has been designing for a few seasons; in moleskin or wool, they are more refined in fabric and cut than more faithful repros, and they’re pretty expensive. Like anything else though, they can occasionally appear on ebay or discount sites.

N-3B
Years in service: 1959 to 2000s
The distinctively fur-trimmed N3B parka (or snorkel parka) is likely the warmest of the surplus jackets. The original parkas were intended for wear in prohibitively cold conditions, and are longer and heavier than most other jackets listed here. They have slant packets at the chest and flap pockets lower on the coat, and a panel that fastens with loops across the zipper to keep out wind. Most modern versions use synthetic fur around the hood. Vintage versions aren’t quite as in demand as fishtail parks, and so aren’t as expensive as one might think (although vintage fur can be, frankly, gross).

F2
Years in service: 1980s and 1990s
This French jacket is the only non-U.S.-originated piece on my list. It started popping up more in a civilian context in the mid 2000s when people were looking for a more fitted milsurp jacket than they had in the past. Hedi Slimane designed an F2-style jacket for Dior Homme in 2005. Widely available in European surplus shops, it was also a rarity in the United States, adding to its appeal here. F2s have pointed lapels that arguably look best turned up, two vertical zip pockets on the chest near the buttoned closure, and two lower flapped pockets. The hem and cuffs are trimmed with some elastic, which can wear out on heavily worn models. Vintage models are sized by chest size and generic lengths (i.e., short, medium, long), and they definitely fit smaller than U.S. jackets in parallel sizes. Brands like APC regularly make versions of the F2, their sizes are more reliable.
Shopping for jackets
Almost all of these jackets are available vintage (e.g., previously issued to and worn by the military), new civilian (e.g., Alpha’s slim fit models), or designer (e.g., the Raf Simons fishtail parkas). Your best choice depends on what you value in a jacket:
Vintage models can be cheap, well-made, and full of character (and sometimes cigarette smoke) but condition and fit are widely variable.
New civilian models often fit well and reliably, but construction and materials are sometimes not as strong as the originals on which they’re based. If you want your military jacket made in the United States, few jackets in this category are.
Designers interpret originals in interesting ways, and such models can be made to very high standards, but they’re expensive. And more refined fabrics can also be fragile relative to military surplus.
If you’re shopping vintage, a few things to keep in mind:
These jackets have been made for actual military use, but also specifically for civilian use for decades. So vintage does not necessarily mean made to military specifications.
Some vintage jackets retain patches and insignia from previous owners, and wearing genuine military patches as a civilian is controversial, especially among veterans.
Most of these pieces weren’t designed to be worn with jeans and a tshirt; they were supposed to be worn as part of an ensemble issued for specific deployments. Because they were meant to fit over or under other layers, vintage pieces can be tough to size. Check measurements and for best results be a little more flexible on fit than you would be for a sportcoat.
High prices often mark an item high in demand by collectors, who know what details mark rare or desirable jackets. Collectors sometimes seek specific pieces from specific contracts between the U.S. military and manufacturers. For normal wear you don’t need to be that picky.
You should be able to find a decent condition version of any of these jackets for under $100.
-Pete

Field Guide to Field Jackets

In the last couple weeks at Put This On we’ve set up midcentury utility- and sportswear as ideal for easy, versatile, and durable casual clothing—check out Jesse’s take on the gray sweatshirt and Derek’s post on Levi’s 1947 model 501s. I didn’t want to leave out the third pillar of a wardrobe based on repurposed gear: military surplus. Specifically, jackets. I’m focusing today on non-leather jackets; I’ll get to leathers later this week.

MA-1

Years in service: 1950s to 1980s

A nylon, synthetic-fill, knit-collared jacket developed for the pilots of modern jet aircraft, the MA-1 has been a civilian favorite for decades. MA-1s are lightweight, warm, and usually cheap. Replacing older, leather flight jackets, the mil-spec models changed some over the years—modifying fabrics, adding pocket flaps and bright orange lining—but the cropped, almost turtle shell silhouette has remained. MA-1s became popular with punk rock kids and skinheads in the 1970s and early 1980s, and the complex subcultural connotations have made them a prime source for designer and high-street-shop interpretations from Helmut Lang, J. Crew (women’s, in this case), and many others. This Third Looks feature on the history of the jacket goes into more detail. They tend to run roomy in the chest and shoulders compared to most civilian outerwear, and give even waifish wearers the appearance a hulking upper body. Writer William Gibson is semi-obsessed with the MA-1; shown above is a meticulously detailed version he worked on with Buzz Rickson.

M-43

Years in service: 1943 to 1950s

Introduced late in World War II, the M-43 was a durable uniform for soldiers in the field that evolved from pre-WWII uniforms, which seem closer to modern “dress” clothes than battlewear. (Many jackets are designated by the year they entered general service; in this case, 1943.) The jacket from the M-1943 uniform has real lapels rather than a shirt-style or stand-up collar like later field uniforms—I hesitate to say you could wear a tie with it in a modern context, but it would be less out of place than with an M-65. The M-43 was the first uniform to use tightly woven olive drab cotton sateen rather than lighter, less weatherproof fabrics. At the Front, a shop that specializes in supplying re-enactors with accurate representations of period uniforms, has a history page with deep details on the M-43. They also sell a repro version; I can’t personally vouch for the quality, but ATF is clearly serious about their mission. They’re of course available vintage.

M-51

Years in service: 1951 to 1960s

The M-51 field jacket was made from the same cotton sateen as the classic field trousers/fatigue pants.  The jacket had a shirt style collar that took an attachable hood, and closed with buttons and a zipper (older field jackets used buttons only). Although not as popular as the similar and ubiquitous Vietnam-era M-65, the 51 is a great jacket and a clear evolutionary marker between older field jackets, which look almost Edwardian, and modern BDUs. Orvis currently sells a nylon version; Schott has a lightweight take; I prefer vintage.

M-51 fishtail

Years in service: 1951 to 1960s

Searching for M-51 field jackets can be confused by the predominance of the M-51 fishtail parka, perhaps the ideal case study of a mil-spec garment adapted by a subculture—in this case, mods. These hooded, cotton sateen jackets were designed with an elongated back ending in two points (hence fishtail), intended to be fastened to the front of the jacket when worn to provide additional protection against the elements. Of course, no one does that; it seems more complicated than it’s worth. But it helps that the parkas, worn long, fit over sharp suits and protected Vespa-riding mods from road splash. Since the 60s peak of mod music and style, the fishtail parka has endured, and designer versions like Raf Simons’ above abound. Vintage models can get pricy as there’s a lot of demand, but new civilian takes are widely available. (Other fishtail parkas exist, but the M-51 is generally considered the go-to model.)

M-65

Years in service: 1965 through the 1970s

The M-65 was the field jacket of the Vietnam war, and in part because casual wear of military garb spiked in the post-war 1970s, it’s pretty much the jacket you’re thinking of when you think “wearing a surplus Army jacket.” It’s the Travis Bickle jacket and the Lindsay Weir jacket. Serpico wore one. It has roomy front pockets, a hood that stows in the stand-up collar, and shoulder passants. The M-65 zips closed and its cuffs can be adjusted with velcro. Like many of these field jackets, M-65s are cut large to accommodate liners, so if you’re buying vintage you can often afford to buy a size down, although you risk short arms. Alpha was the primary contractor making M-65s when they were issued, and they still make a decent version today. I really like the M-65-influenced field coats that Patrik Ervell has been designing for a few seasons; in moleskin or wool, they are more refined in fabric and cut than more faithful repros, and they’re pretty expensive. Like anything else though, they can occasionally appear on ebay or discount sites.

N-3B

Years in service: 1959 to 2000s

The distinctively fur-trimmed N3B parka (or snorkel parka) is likely the warmest of the surplus jackets. The original parkas were intended for wear in prohibitively cold conditions, and are longer and heavier than most other jackets listed here. They have slant packets at the chest and flap pockets lower on the coat, and a panel that fastens with loops across the zipper to keep out wind. Most modern versions use synthetic fur around the hood. Vintage versions aren’t quite as in demand as fishtail parks, and so aren’t as expensive as one might think (although vintage fur can be, frankly, gross).

F2

Years in service: 1980s and 1990s

This French jacket is the only non-U.S.-originated piece on my list. It started popping up more in a civilian context in the mid 2000s when people were looking for a more fitted milsurp jacket than they had in the past. Hedi Slimane designed an F2-style jacket for Dior Homme in 2005. Widely available in European surplus shops, it was also a rarity in the United States, adding to its appeal here. F2s have pointed lapels that arguably look best turned up, two vertical zip pockets on the chest near the buttoned closure, and two lower flapped pockets. The hem and cuffs are trimmed with some elastic, which can wear out on heavily worn models. Vintage models are sized by chest size and generic lengths (i.e., short, medium, long), and they definitely fit smaller than U.S. jackets in parallel sizes. Brands like APC regularly make versions of the F2, their sizes are more reliable.

Shopping for jackets

Almost all of these jackets are available vintage (e.g., previously issued to and worn by the military), new civilian (e.g., Alpha’s slim fit models), or designer (e.g., the Raf Simons fishtail parkas). Your best choice depends on what you value in a jacket:

  • Vintage models can be cheap, well-made, and full of character (and sometimes cigarette smoke) but condition and fit are widely variable.
  • New civilian models often fit well and reliably, but construction and materials are sometimes not as strong as the originals on which they’re based. If you want your military jacket made in the United States, few jackets in this category are.
  • Designers interpret originals in interesting ways, and such models can be made to very high standards, but they’re expensive. And more refined fabrics can also be fragile relative to military surplus.

If you’re shopping vintage, a few things to keep in mind:

  • These jackets have been made for actual military use, but also specifically for civilian use for decades. So vintage does not necessarily mean made to military specifications.
  • Some vintage jackets retain patches and insignia from previous owners, and wearing genuine military patches as a civilian is controversial, especially among veterans.
  • Most of these pieces weren’t designed to be worn with jeans and a tshirt; they were supposed to be worn as part of an ensemble issued for specific deployments. Because they were meant to fit over or under other layers, vintage pieces can be tough to size. Check measurements and for best results be a little more flexible on fit than you would be for a sportcoat.
  • High prices often mark an item high in demand by collectors, who know what details mark rare or desirable jackets. Collectors sometimes seek specific pieces from specific contracts between the U.S. military and manufacturers. For normal wear you don’t need to be that picky.
  • You should be able to find a decent condition version of any of these jackets for under $100.

-Pete

I enjoyed seeing Reddit user Manoucher’s process in creating a waxed cotton Swedish Army anorak for himself. It cost him, in total, about $35. Of course, this style of anorak is much more freely available in Swedish military surplus shops than our own, though a search on Google or eBay for “Swedish Parka” or “Swedish Anorak” reveals a few affordable options.
The basics: bought the Parka for about $15. Altered the sides to make it a little trimmer (it’s designed as snow camoflage overwear). Dyed it using $5 worth of dye. Then proofed it with a $12 bar of wax and a hair drier. The result looks pretty darn good.

I enjoyed seeing Reddit user Manoucher’s process in creating a waxed cotton Swedish Army anorak for himself. It cost him, in total, about $35. Of course, this style of anorak is much more freely available in Swedish military surplus shops than our own, though a search on Google or eBay for “Swedish Parka” or “Swedish Anorak” reveals a few affordable options.

The basics: bought the Parka for about $15. Altered the sides to make it a little trimmer (it’s designed as snow camoflage overwear). Dyed it using $5 worth of dye. Then proofed it with a $12 bar of wax and a hair drier. The result looks pretty darn good.

Harrington Jackets for Spring

As I’m traveling across the West, I’ve left one jacket unpacked for my trip: a Baracuta G9 in cream. I bought it last year in mid fall and didn’t get a chance to wear it much. But now that winter’s left and spring is bringing warmer weather with cool breezes, it’s a good time to give it its due. 

The Harrington-style jacket is light enough to not overheat you, but blocks the wind considerably well. The best ones have a two-way zipper that lets you open up the bottom while sitting down. 

Grenfell and Baracuta are considered to have made the original ones. My Baracuta is nice, an original G9 model, but it could use some improvements. For one, I wish it had more interior pockets and perhaps one with a zipper closure to keep a cellphone or card wallet. 

Still, the jacket is quickly becoming my casual go-to choice with a pair of jeans and an oxford-cloth button-down shirt. Of course, my choice isn’t as cool as Elvis’ look, with a roll-neck sweater. The one thing The King’s jacket has that yours likely will not? Buttoned cuffs. 

-Kiyoshi

Harrington Jackets for Spring

As I’m traveling across the West, I’ve left one jacket unpacked for my trip: a Baracuta G9 in cream. I bought it last year in mid fall and didn’t get a chance to wear it much. But now that winter’s left and spring is bringing warmer weather with cool breezes, it’s a good time to give it its due.

The Harrington-style jacket is light enough to not overheat you, but blocks the wind considerably well. The best ones have a two-way zipper that lets you open up the bottom while sitting down.

Grenfell and Baracuta are considered to have made the original ones. My Baracuta is nice, an original G9 model, but it could use some improvements. For one, I wish it had more interior pockets and perhaps one with a zipper closure to keep a cellphone or card wallet.

Still, the jacket is quickly becoming my casual go-to choice with a pair of jeans and an oxford-cloth button-down shirt. Of course, my choice isn’t as cool as Elvis’ look, with a roll-neck sweater. The one thing The King’s jacket has that yours likely will not? Buttoned cuffs.

-Kiyoshi
The Beaten Barbour
The jacket I wore most frequently this past fall and winter was my Barbour. I rewaxed it myself (a messy process I don’t look forward to repeating) and I enjoyed wearing it for its functionality.
The game pocket is great for stashing gloves, hats and scarves. The handwarmers are a relief if you were too stupid to remember gloves. Plus, there’s that awesome waxed cotton smell. 
The Rugged Club posted photos of this vintage Barbour Border jacket you see above, which has been around since 1987. At around a quarter-century old, it’s still performing for him. Beaten, but not dead, it’s impressive for any garment to last so long. 
Barbour jackets aren’t cheap, but you can find them regularly on eBay — we list them quite frequently on our eBay round ups and Inside Track — which is where I found mine. If my Barbour lasts this long, then I think it’ll have been worth the price. 
-Kiyoshi

The Beaten Barbour

The jacket I wore most frequently this past fall and winter was my Barbour. I rewaxed it myself (a messy process I don’t look forward to repeating) and I enjoyed wearing it for its functionality.

The game pocket is great for stashing gloves, hats and scarves. The handwarmers are a relief if you were too stupid to remember gloves. Plus, there’s that awesome waxed cotton smell. 

The Rugged Club posted photos of this vintage Barbour Border jacket you see above, which has been around since 1987. At around a quarter-century old, it’s still performing for him. Beaten, but not dead, it’s impressive for any garment to last so long. 

Barbour jackets aren’t cheap, but you can find them regularly on eBay — we list them quite frequently on our eBay round ups and Inside Track — which is where I found mine. If my Barbour lasts this long, then I think it’ll have been worth the price. 

-Kiyoshi