How’d that random jacket of yours go from being another incidental item on your hallway hooks to your go-to coat of all seasons? Easy answer: there was nothing arbitrary about it in the first place.
Flick through some mental images. Think the head-to-toe dungaree getups the Joads might have worn. Think burly, wind-blown Hemingway look-alike dude on a boat circa the avant-garde ’50s buttoning up a double-breasted peacoat off the coast of Maine. Think a stylish bloke on his way to his office gig circa anytime, downtown NYC, wind at his back, trench coat collar pulled up to keep the sideways rain from pouring in on him.
What do these imaginary gentlemen have in common? They’re sporting awesome, all-American jackets. The jean jacket, the peacoat and the trench coat are each part of the lexicon of American sartorial iconography. They’re classic garments not just because they’ve been through the wringer and come back out no worse for it — in fact they’ve come out maybe slightly distressed in that it’s-only-cooler-slash-you’ve-been-around show of wear. Utilitarian outerwear, with its echoes of Depression-era stamina, World War I heroics and Navy Seal–approved toughness, might just be the backbone of American style.
Here are four key pieces to work this fall.
The Jean Jacket
Denim has been around since way back in 1873, when Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss invented the rugged textile. Jeans, designed for cowboys, got especially trendy in the U.S. in the 1950s. Today there’s hardly anything more iconic than a great pair. But trousers aren’t all denim’s good for. The jean jacket’s a staple for slightly chilly weather casual wear. And it’s an easy go-to: blue-jean blue looks good with everything.
How to wear it: Don’t gussy up your jean jacket. Avoid bells, whistles, tassels, fringe, acid-washed, bedazzled or bestudded what-have-you. Get yourself a straight-shooter from — who better? — the folks who invented it in the first place, Levi Strauss. Feel like a variation on the theme? Try the jean shirt instead. Tucked, untucked, on top of a T-shirt or by itself, it’s a great everyman piece.
The Army Jacket
The army jacket style that’s trending pretty heavy these days is a version of what was known to allied forces in WWII as the flak jacket — yeah, like an “I ain’t takin’ no flak” flak jacket. The flak jacket was originally designed to be part of the RAF’s standard-issue uniform, but became de rigueur for U.S. troops when the piece was deemed too bulky for British pilots. Though the original was supposed to be bullet-resistant…and wasn’t so much, the jacket has, if not protected us against ammo, at least survived the test of time, style-wise.
How to wear it: The trick to keeping the look modern is in the fabric. Cotton twill has a heaviness that washes and wears well. The coat looks great when paired with jeans, corduroys or chinos.
In short, if you don’t wear your army-style jacket with camouflage pants, sport a Che Guevara hat, carry around a copy of The Activist in your breast pocket or pull a balaclava over your face, then you’re pretty much rocking this look.
Our Pick: J. Crew Fatigue Jacket.
The Trench Coat
Both Aquascutum and Burberry claim to have designed the first trench, with Aquascutum’s designs going back to the mid-nineteenth century and Burberry’s patents popping up in documentation sometime about 1901. Lucky for us, we don’t have to choose between these two well-established British classics of outerwear — they’re both winners.
How to wear it: Nix the double-breasted style or else you’ll look like Columbo, bless him, or someone who should really put some pants on. The single-breasted, mid-thigh length is ideal for all gents, ranging from the casual to the well-heeled.
Basic yet rakish, the peacoat, originally worn by European and later American sailors, is made of heavy wool and is generally navy colored. References to the peacoat in American culture go back as far as the 1720s, which definitely establishes it as a constant in American style.
How to wear it: You want this coat to keep you warm, so don’t scrimp on a good quality garment. Look for lambswool, merino wool or cashmere for quality, warmth and durability.