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Dropping Knowledge: The Duffle Coat

By the editors of MSN Living Oct 15, 2012 7:59PM

Jake Gallagher, GQ Magazine

With each passing year, it becomes increasingly clear that the peacoat is the unofficial fall jacket of the everyman. Step outside on any given crisp autumn day and I can guarantee at least half the men you'll come across we be wearing the style. And why not? The peacoat is the old standby; a coat for rugged midshoremen, runway models and everyone in between. The downside to the democratic silhouette is that awkward moment when you're walking down the street seeing every single guy in the exact same jacket as you. And that is why we've recently seen the peacoat's younger brother, the duffle coat, get some much-deserved exposure as a welcome alternative to the double-breasted peacoat monotony creeping across our cities.

Much like the peacoat, the duffle coat comes from a military background. It made its first appearance on the backs of British Navy officers during World War I. The original duffle coat was actually not made in navy, which has become the dominant colorway these days, but in a lighter camel hue. The coat's name was taken from the town of Duffel in Antwerp, the location where the outerwear piece's thick wool was produced. It is this dense "Duffel wool" that made the coat so ideal for naval officers who needed a jacket that could withstand blustery sea winds. The British military continued to tweak the duffle coat during the '30s, and by World War II, the design was finalized as a knee-length wool topcoat with all the details that remain today: three or four toggle closures running down the front, two pockets on the sides and a massive hood up top.

In the postwar period, companies went around snatching up surplus of the style. One of them was a British brand called Gloverall that began reselling the military issue duffle coats to the public. The coats became so popular that in 1954 Gloverall began making their own versions based on the original British Navy specs. Duffle coats were particularly popular among the younger generation, a fact that was immortalized in the pages of Gentry magazine and, later, in such films as "Dead Poets Society." In the '60s, the duffle coat's military provenance was turned on its head as protesters and members of the Beat generation adopted the style as part of their daily fall uniforms. In those years, the cut of the coats was long and wide but, like so many menswear pieces, designers and brands began taking in and cropping their duffle styles to cater to a more fit-conscious customer. With the barrel cut gone, the duffle coat has grown into a perfect complement to any fall outfit, staying close to the body while giving a nice nod to the Ivy Leaguers of the past and their horn button closures. Best of all, though, with a duffle you can be sure you'll stand out in that sea of peacoats.

Jake Gallagher writes the blog Wax-Wane. He lives in Manhattan.

 

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