Style / December 2017

The History Of The Double-Breasted Overcoat

If double-breasted outerwear isn’t already a major part of your winter sartorial arsenal, it’s time to wheel in the big guns – at the double!

Roger Moore’s navy chesterfield overcoat in Live and Let Die, 1973, is finished with a velvet collar and completes the attire of a sophisticated gentleman.

When some prescient designer within the Camplin Family, suppliers to the British Navy in the 19th Century, decided that Her Majesty’s senior military seafarers should take to the waters in double-breasted ‘reefer jackets’ (aka ‘officers’ coats’), he would surely never have imagined that his simple idea - overlapping front flaps with two vertical columns of buttons - would become a civilian outerwear genre all of its own, with notables of subsequent ages such as James Dean, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig all helping cement the form’s iconic status.

To this day, the pea coat’s ancestors continue to punch well above their weight, according to Kit Blake Founder and Creative Director Chris Modoo: “If you think about classic overcoats, so many of them are double-breasted; the greatcoat, the pea coat, the British warm, the Ulster coat, the polo coat... As well as the obvious benefit of having extra cloth to keep the wearer warm, they also have larger lapels that look great when ‘popped’. It’s no surprise that double-breasted coats have remained popular even in those periods when double-breasted suits and jackets were rarely seen.”

Indeed, take a stroll along Savile Row on a winter’s morning, surveying its window displays along the way, and you’ll be reminded of the double-breasted overcoat’s eternal credentials as a formal staple. But the bespoke option, while always enticing, is not imperative. The traditional Paletot – possibly paired with a half-toked ciggie and wistful gaze into the middle-distance, a la Serge Gainsbourg – is just one timeless off-the-peg option for a formal ensemble, with the scope, as 2017 draws to a close, now wider than ever.

Chester Barrie’s greatcoat, crafted out of a rich tobacco wool herringbone, is hefty on both the elegance and practicality fronts; Falke’s Grey knitted Merino trench takes the formality down a notch or two, but remains a worthy top layer for traversing the streets of Tribeca or Chelsea during the winter months, the latter’s belted waist affording its silhouette a pleasing hourglass effect while the epaulets give a subtle nod to the military heritage at play here. The Cromford Leather Company’s chocolate brown Eastwood suede coat, whose ten-button arrangement, a deviation from the usual six, gives the wearer a kind of vertiginous elegance, is another twist on the conventional form.

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