Coats of all shapes and sizes have always been treasured by British men. It’s probably because we have a climate that suits the coat perfectly well – it’s a little bit cold and damp and our shores are regularly buffeted by winds that can trace their origins back to the Arctic Circle. But that’s not to say we’re at the extreme end of the spectrum, either. The kinds of coats that British men have made their own would hardly be warm enough for our northern brothers, who pioneered the animal skin coat and the parka, and would be sweltering for the guys of the Mediterranean, who are more at home in a light jacket or occasional raincoat.
So given this need for a moderately weighted coat, there’s a fine tradition for making functional outerwear that’s also pretty stylish, bedecked with collars, lapels and a wealth of inside and outside pockets to stash our goodies. Materials range from finest woollens for warmth to the classic all-weather waxed cotton loved by agricultural workers and other countryside types.
Another popular source of inspiration in the coat world has been the military; greatcoats, trench coats, raglans and pea coats all carry the hallmarks of military wear, both for ceremonial wear and for the battlefield. And overcoats became synonymous with another branch of military services during the Second World War: the friendly neighbourhood spiv, who is traditionally portrayed opening up his coat to reveal an Aladdin’s cave of cigarettes, nylons, prime cuts and booze. Coats once again proved perfect for the prevailing climate.
Overcoats have a definite social element to them, namely that they are for outdoor wear only, and there’s a whole branch of etiquette attached to them that people from non-coat-wearing societies might trip up on. For example, leaving one’s coat on when visiting someone’s house almost reaches the height of rudeness. If a guest has not removed his coat after ten minutes of arrival, hosts might well wonder (a) if he intends to stay; (b) if their house is warm enough; or (c) if said guest is wearing anything underneath the coat. Insisting that the guest removes his coat might just attain peak rudeness, though, so the stay is bound to be awkward, especially if the guest is waiting to be asked.
One of the best known catch phases of the 1990s plays on this situation. The Fast Show’s Mark Williams pioneered the phrase “I’ll get me coat”, meaning “I’d better go”, after putting his foot in it during some delicate social moment. The phrase has entered common parlance and is still heard today, usually to defuse an awkward situation.
With such a tradition of coat-wearing in the UK to evade the weather, the law or the odd faux-pas, it’s not surprising that we’ve got a rich vein of such outer garments in our collective vintage clothing culture. The coat is a perfect way to create a look as it can cover three-quarters of the body or more with one simple item, and they’re roomy enough to slip over more or less anything, from a tee shirt to an Arran sweater. The only rule is don’t wear an overcoat over shorts – that can get you in trouble.
Rosie thinks that mens vintage coats
are the perfect way of spending money on a truly useful vintage item. A classic coat from a respectable vintage clothing
store can not only look great, but can also give many years’ worth of great service.