Keeping warm – lessons from the front line

WWI troops

Troops like this British WWI machine gun crew tested their clothing and equipment to the limit.
Image source: Everett Historical

Proven on the battlefield and the high seas, many of our best-loved coats and jackets have a military heritage. Here we take a look at some of our favourites – coats which work because they really were designed for the toughest of conditions. Wear your poppy with pride.

The Peacoat

Some say the peacoat gets its name from the Dutch, pijjekker, used to describe a type of coarse woolen twill. Others claim it’s the American military’s ‘P-cloth’, a 70:30 wool acrylic mix, that’s the source of the peacoat’s moniker.

Either way, it’s the British who popularised the coat. By virtue of the size and scope of our Royal and merchant navies, and given the penchant among seamen for a “run ashore”, we took the peacoat everywhere we went, which is pretty much everywhere.

A marvel of practicality, the peacoat is perfectly adapted to the needs of mariners and matlots. Tight fitting through the body, it doesn’t flap in the wind, while the flared lower section gives you room to move as you mount the futtocks.

The Bomber Jacket

The bomber gets its name from the Second World War American flight crews who took to the skies to bomb the Germans. Because pilots flew in unheated cockpits, the originals were made from leather or sheepskin. The close-fitting cuffs and waistband, together with a wind flap covering the zip, also helped stop freezing air blasting the crew before they’d blasted the enemy.

But despite the coat’s warmth and comfort, if it got wet from perspiration or condensation, it would freeze solid at high altitude, making the air crew’s life uncomfortable, not to say dangerous.

Subsequent iterations of this trusty favourite featured a cotton, or later, a nylon outer, and during the Korean war, the colour changed from navy blue to khaki. The bomber jacket, and the British version, the Harrington, became de-rigeur for punks, but now represents a smart-casual option with clean lines and a heritage to fly for.

The Trench Coat

Man 4 wearing Olive Trench Coat from Samuel Windsor

Featured product: Olive Trench Coat from Samuel Windsor

There’s some dispute over who invented the trench coat. Aquascutum, which literally translated from the Latin, means “water shield”, say they invented it in 1914, for use by the British military in the foul trenches of the First World War.

The coats, were advertised as waterproof, yet self-ventilating. But since they were only issued to officers, that wasn’t much use to your average Tommy, who had to make do with sodden, louse-infected woollens.

The other claim to the title of creator of the trench coat is Burberry, who are said to have invented gabardine in 1879. This fabric, with its tight weave offers a degree of rain protection, which made it the obvious choice when, in 1912, Thomas Burberry ran up plans for a raincoat for soldiers – again – officers only.

The Parka

The humble parka kept the inuit and other peoples of the far north warm and dry for generations before it was co-opted by the American military during the 1950s and ‘60s. The yanks switched natural animal skins for nylon, and for a nod to the arctic fox, added a fur-lined hood.

A practical all-rounder, scooter-riding mods loved their parkas which kept them toasty on the way home from smashing shop windows in Brighton. Today’s military wear a wide range of parkas in combat hues from camo to snowy white depending on the application, making the coat the ultimate in utility and comfort.

Modern parkas are a rugged waterproof, breathable all-rounder. The perfect choice for a winter coat with military roots – and an added bonus – even squaddies and civilians are allowed to wear one.

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Posted in Men's coats.