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War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. (Apart from your wardrobe.)
Much (if not most) of what you wear on a daily basis started out life doing battle. Your trusty white T-shirt, those chinos, that bomber jacket – all of these pieces have their roots in military uniform rather than designers’ moodboards, having gradually transitioned from war zones to civilian wardrobes over the years.
For 2016, it’s the field jacket that’s fronting the ranks. Lightweight, cut in a slightly boxy, resolutely masculine fit and proffering more pockets than you can shake an unpinned grenade at, it’s a lean, mean, style-enhancing machine. Which is probably why designers from Brunello Cucinelli to Craig Green have co-opted it in a bid to make it SS16’s must-own garment.
Sparing you the history lesson we’re not qualified to teach, the field jacket first emerged in 1938 (in the form of the olive drab-coloured cotton M-1938), with the subsequently released M-1941 and M-1965 jackets offering updates on the original design.
While you’ll still find faithful reproductions, they tend to come off a little too Taxi Driver to look contemporary. Instead, it’s designers’ current takes on the four-pocket, water-repellent M-1965 field jacket (widely used in the Vietnam War) that should be topping your hit list – whether that’s an authentic funnel-neck style or something that skews more safari jacket (a shirt-collared, sometimes belted variant of the field jacket).
What Should I Look For?
Liberated from its original olive green waxed cotton guise, the field jacket today comes in a slew of different colourways and fabrications to up your style threat.
“You should never scrimp on a jacket or coat,” says Oscar Pinto-Hervia, founder of, and Chief Buyer at, luxury Manchester-based store Hervia. “These are investment pieces – if they are poor quality, they won’t stand the test of time. Plus, if they start to look shabby, this will have a negative impact on your entire outfit.”
Just as important as not being stingy is steering clear of costume: “The nod to the military should be strong but not too fierce – you don’t want to look like you’re on day leave from the barracks!” explains Pinto-Hervia. Which makes camo versions overkill.
When it comes to colour, take your cue from the fighting ground and bin bright shades to avoid unwanted attention. (And boost the number of looks you can pull together with your jacket.) “Although field jackets can come in bright hues, I think it’s best to keep it relatively neutral,” says Pinto-Hervia. “Khaki is the obvious and classic choice, but light grey is a stylish alternative. Versatile and great for spring, this colour will ensure you’re keeping up with this key trend, without going OTT.”
Next up, find your fabric. “A waxed canvas outer is the sign of the classic field jacket,” explains Pinto-Hervia. “Fit for the traditional purpose of the country gent, this exterior repels rain, retains heat and protects from thorns and bushes. However, a more lightweight fabric such as cotton is perfect for a relaxed weekend vibe, particularly with spring’s warmer weather.”
And, finally, make sure it’s built for battle. “Look for a good, substantial lining, as this suggests the jacket is of a high quality.”
How Do I Wear It?
Testament to the field jacket’s adaptability, it’s just as effective in the urban jungle as the actual one. Not only does its lightweight fabrication make it a dead cert for layering, but its structured/unstructured look means it’s just at home with a pair of beat-up jeans as a smarter trouser.
“It’s the field jacket’s versatility, and the way it marries form and military-inspired function, that’s fuelled its recent resurgence,” says Giles Farnham, Head of River Island’s complimentary personal styling service, Style Studio.
Here’s how it’s done:
The field jacket – like most menswear pieces on leave from army ranks – skews more casual than smart. Which means it meshes best with the low-key elements of your wardrobe like tees, casual shirts, knits and jeans.
“The simplest and most relaxed way to wear the field jacket is with a classic crew neck T-shirt or polo shirt, jeans and a pair of crisp white sneakers,” says Farnham.
“Keep it simple,” says Pinto-Hervia. “Although the field jacket may be neutral, it is still a statement piece you don’t want to detract from. Classic suede Chelsea boots, blue jeans and a crisp Oxford shirt is the perfect way to wear this trend.”
Best suited to lightweight cotton styles, this way-to-wear allows you to double down on defence from out-of-season winds, and look like a total don while doing it.
It works best executed with an unstructured blazer (either buttoned or unbuttoned); simply layer your field jacket over your smart-casual ensemble and leave undone to reveal the nattier gear beneath. Consider it your new high-low summer go-to.
Suited And Booted
Teaming an olive drab cotton field jacket with a navy two-piece is hara-kiri. But that’s not to say field jackets with tailoring is entirely restricted territory.
“With the introduction of field jackets in luxurious fabrics like suede, you can now wear this utilitarian piece to more formal affairs by ditching the blazer and pairing your jacket with a white Oxford shirt and tailored trousers,” says Farnham.
The trick is, as Farnham recommends, selecting a field jacket in a plusher material and a trimmer fit, but also ensuring your accompanying suit fabric doesn’t jar. Cotton and cotton-linen tailoring has a slightly rougher texture that best complements the structure of a field jacket.
Will you be forward marching towards a field jacket this season? And how will you be deploying yours?
Or is this outerwear that skews too utilitarian for you?
Take sides below.