My Favorite Thing is a column where Put This On asks stylish, interesting, and otherwise cool people to name their favorite item of clothing or accessory, past or present. In this installment, we asked British menswear writer Eric Musgrave.
I’m guessing the US Navy N-1 deck jacket came into my life in the summer of 1977. I can’t remember where I bought it, but I suspect it was at a thrift store or vintage outlet somewhere in Los Angeles or San Francisco. I was on my second summer stint that year working as a roustabout for the Klein Amusement Company. In my free time, I liked to browse second-hand clothing stores looking for things that weren’t available back home in the UK – bib-and-braces overalls, painters’ pants, varsity jackets, American football shirts, and baseball shirts.
Ever since I started buying my own clothes as a teenager, I’ve always like ex-military clothing. They’re practical, unfussy, and have an unspoken air of derring-do and adventure. Back in my high school at Leeds, old Royal Air Force coats and olive green combat jackets were considered particularly cool.
Clearly, the N-1 appeals for similar reasons. The tightly-woven fabric has a sort of Bedford cord quality to it. Designed to keep wind and water off a sailor’s back when he’s on the deck of a warship, it’s so robust that you can almost stand the jacket up on its hem.
Extra warmth is provided by the teddy-bear fur lining (also present on the collar), while the hidden, knitted storm cuffs keep wind from blowing up the sleeves. To close the jacket, there’s a chunky brass zipper for your first layer of protection, then a flap covering the zip (secured by a row of well-sewn buttons) to keep out the chill. On the outside, there are two slant pockets for your hands, lined with a cozy, brushed cotton, and a hem with drawstring protection (although I never felt the need to use it).
Unfortunately, just as I can’t remember when I met the N-1, I can’t remember when I said goodbye to it. It served me well for the years it was with me – being a great wind and (near) waterproof piece of outerwear – but I got too fat for its snug contours (I was skinny in 1977!). Still, it was a good friend to me, and looking at the prices originals sell for on eBay, maybe I should have kept it. Even though there are some good reproductions nowadays, they’re not The Real Thing.
In the photo above, you can see me wearing my N-1 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (picture was taken on September 20th, 1977). My lasting memory of it was when I was standing in a queue at a London supermarket. The guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned around to face him, he said with an American accent: “That’s a great jacket you’ve got on there, buddy. Those were the best.”
I had no reason to disagree with him. – ERIC MUSGRAVE
Eric Musgrave has been writing about the fashion business since 1980. He was an award-winning editor twice while in charge of Drapers, the UK’s leading fashion business magazine. He’s also the author of Sharp Suits (Pavilion Books), a pictorial history of men’s tailoring. You can follow him at his blog, The Musgrave Manifesto, and Twitter.