The Duffle Coat

All I need now is a red bucket hat in order to essentially Disneybound my favorite bear. It’s just so cozy!

If there’s a topic that my blog seldom talks about, it’s outerwear. Like real outerwear. Coats.

It seems that every menswear blogger tends to come up with some sort of GOAT list of outerwear for recommendations; they usually tend to live in places that require them. Unfortunately for all you hopefuls out there waiting for my take on coats, I live in the greater Los Angeles county, where low temps are just as rare as inclement weather. Even if it was dreadfully cold, there’s nothing that a good vintage sweater (with some vintage alpine styling) or leather jacket can’t fix.

Now that’s not to say I don’t have some outerwear (I’m still a menswear guy after all). You probably remember my Rainy Day Attire piece, where I detail what I wear whenever we have some elements to brace. My M-43 gets me through most (until I get a Barbour) while my Uniqlo block tech takes the brunt of most rain. Of course for actual warmth, I have my 1940’s balmaccaan, which gets worn with everything, from jeans to full suits. It’s pretty much an exercise in forced-versatility, where I can’t really justify buying anything else.

Obviously, I do find myself wanting every now and again, drawn in by things I don’t currently own, which for the realm of outerwear, is big. I can say that I definitely don’t need an polo coat or an exquisite piece from Coherence, but man I’d love to. It’s hard when you’re into menswear, especially when picking vintage plays a big part into my personal style (and how I’ve acquired most of my outerwear wardrobe). I got that balmacaan on a whim during a visit to Paper Moon Vintage; the M-43 (along with my trench coat) was found at Joyride; my Joyce belted balmacaan trench was a gift.

So despite not really needing a variety of outerwear, I actually have a decent collection, helped by the fact that most were acquired cheaply (and not too often). I keep this at the forefront of my mind every time I go out picking or randomly peruse eBay- as much as I love menswear, there is no point in buying something you are not going to wear, no matter how cool it is. I obviously have failed a few times, as I bought a 1940’s peacoat (for $50) two years ago that has only been worn a handful of times. After that, I knew that I had to control myself.

And then, during a hang out with Chris at Old Towne Orange, I bought a Duffle Coat. And man, do I feel cozy.

The Duffle Coat

The Duffle Coat is another menswear darling, a cool practical piece with interesting details and a heritage past. With it’s hood (usually), spongey wool cloth, and toggle closure, this coat stands apart from the rest. Sure a balmacaan may be preferred since it’s different (and slouchier) than a guards coat or polo coat, but the duffle is in it’s own category! It feels vaguely military and certainly British, forming an outerwear piece that only has unique character (without being avant-garde), but can actually be practical and versatile, at least when classic menswear is involved. And best of all, its not the awful top coat that guys wear with chelsea boots.

The appeal is found everywhere in our classic menswear circles. The duffle coat is an ivy staple (no doubt due to it’s British roots), which then becomes worn across anything that references ivy: rugged Americana, workwear, milsurp, and more. I’ve also noticed that it has an Asian twist in its styling, as tan duffels can be seen in K-dramas and Japanese magazines every fall/winter. It’s starting to make a comeback in the world, though in a very “if you know, you know” type of way.

Now guys have been wearing duffle coats for years- you can certainly see some sharp guys rocking the look at Pitti every year. I personally think the “resurgence” it’s been having has been mainly due to Drake’s, who has always been at the forefront of making a lot of ivy-prep quirks popular in the mainstream menswear world. I distinctly remember seeing their take on duffles two years ago. Their version seems more streamlined and less “chunky” than the original, removing the hood and adding a outer breast pocket (a weird choice).

The marketing from Drake’s was great as expected, and you could find images of their models and shopkeepers wearing the iconic coat all over social media, reposted by iGents ad infinitum. Perhaps that’s why Simon got his (though its from Gloverall), as he also only started wearing his recently as well. Then, the rest of menswear followed, either buying Drake’s or finding their own version of it, though quite obviously vintage Gloverall (or any vintage model) was the grail for most.

I can’t blame everyone for jumping on the duffle trend. The chunkiness of the original Gloverall and other vintage variations is extremely practical, keeping you warm and cozy; the hood actually providing shelter from the rain (or snow). The big patch pockets are good for fisting and carrying items you don’t want to put in your jacket pockets. It’s modern (or vintage) penchant for being available in vibrant colors is delightful, with the pilled wool calming the saturation in a way that isn’t possible from a smooth finish. And let’s not forget the toggles, which are easy to fasten and unfasten, at least compared to normal buttons.

There are a few downsides, which aren’t really deal breakers but at the very least show that you need to at least have one or two other coats for other situations. Firstly, I’m not a big fan of how there aren’t any interior pockets; this means its best worn with tailoring or at least with an inner jacket to hold your phone, keys, and wallet. The duffle also has a shorter length (which technically varies from brand to brand), which makes it easy to wear but not as elegant as a balmacaan. This also plays into it’s traditionally oversized fit, which prevents it from being worn across every outfit in men’s fashion. By this I mean that the duffle works with all aspects of classic menswear (primarily with tailoring), but you’d be hard pressed to compare it to the versatility and graceful charm of a balmacaan.

As such, you typically see it worn best by guys with tailoring. It has that barbour-esque vibe, where it introduces as slightly rugged British charm to what you pair with it. It makes the most sense with tweed jackets and flannel trousers (jeans work well too), but its pretty fun to see it against a solid suit. Smooth worsted wool may not be the best partner for the duffle, but cotton twills, corduroy, and flannel certainly are. On that note, knit ties and repps with OCBDs are good to wear under a tailored jacket, but chunky knit wear is also nice, echoing the visible weight and texture of the duffle coat. I also love how some men wear a hat with it, typically a beret or a knit cap; it makes the duffle look a little less bold and leans into the cozy-yet-utilitarian nature.

In terms of specific era vibes (which you know plays a bit part into my POV) it seems delightfully mid century, maybe even 60s-70s, working equally with white socks + penny loafers and jeans and a slick chelsea boot. I know that it existed before then, but according to photographs, it didn’t really catch on until later. All of the vintage illustrations and advertisements show a shorter length, making it a heftier version of a car coat, which helps it straddle the line between a barn coat and a full length balmacaan. The hood and big patch pockets also make it look like a woolen version of a rubber rain coat, which also has a midcentury vibe to me.

It’s hard not to convince yourself that you could use a duffle coat after looking at all this inspo! Its just so approachable and cozy. Sure, it’s still a bit #menswear, but in a way that isn’t stuffy at all.

From BB.
From BB. Love the tyrolean hat.
From Berkeley Breathes.
Not mine.
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Nguyen with his duffle from Uniqlo!
A quilted variation.
The blue is so good.
Producer Matt is a big fan of duffle coats.
The tan works if you have contrast.

My Duffle Coat

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So yes, I did succumb to my desires and picked up a duffle coat; looking back, I think the decision was two-fold. Firstly, I felt like I had grown tired of my outerwear. Yes, I enjoyed my rain wear, but I wanted a coat to wear out more often, as a finishing layer over a sportcoat or suit. The balmacaan was nice, but a bit too formal, especially to wear with knitwear on its own. Secondly, I didn’t want to waste my money, so I told myself I’d get a duffle if it not only fit me, but was a negligible cost. Focusing on the second point saved me from buying the random ones I’d see at the flea markets. If they fit, they were expensive. If they were cheap, they were often too large.

Thankfully (or unthankfully?), both points were fulfilled by this one. This vintage (of unknown era) Gloverall duffle coat was only $50 and fit me well. I bought it from a vintage store in Old Towne Orange that always had good stuff but never anything in my size (though I don’t think I’ll support going forward due to all the pro-Trump/blue-lives-matter stickers that I oddly missed on earlier visit).

In terms of fit, the length in the sleeves was perfect. The short length was a little concerning, but I had to remind myself that this wasn’t a traditional overcoat. Plus, I knew I had to get over my fear of “short” outwear, not just because of the horrors that #menswear did to overcoats, but to prep for my future Barbour, which typically are shorter than most overcoats. You can see in the following pictures that while the fit in the body and the shoulders is pretty roomy, it actually fits just as its supposed to; it does not need to end right on the shoulder seam like a sportcoat. This makes the duffle coat perfect to wear as an slouchy outer layer, which I was definitely excited about.

The duffle is also a great shade of navy blue, a great color that can work with nearly everything, from casual attire to full tailoring. I knew that I’d wear this more than the popular tan colorway (which feels a bit too milsurp and might clash with how much I wear typically wear brown), but I’m sure I’d really love it if this was in an even more vibrant blue or a red or green. It would have been a cool challenge for my style that admittedly, might have been too Wes Anderson, but in the best way.

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This outfit above, an OCBD, sweater, and chinos has really been my go-to for rocking the duffle coat. It’s just so easy and warm! It acts almost like a sportcoat alternative, except that it’s chunkier and much more interesting. Despite many guys preferring duffles in bold colors like green or red (or even the tan), I actually like the somber vibes of the navy blue. It might feel a bit boring, but I’ve really been digging simplicity in outerlayers.

It actually looks a bit collegiate here, a slouchy spin on the ideas of ivy! Swapping out any of the pieces for alternatives (jeans, workshirts, rollnecks, and so on), still work. If I wanted to go full dad-ivy, I would just add in a cap! After all, the duffle is great for that kind of vibe and I knew it would be easy to wear with casual pieces; I actually think its cozier than my balmacaan!

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The real test was seeing how the duffle coat worked with tailoring. I know it looked nice with my bow tie outfit when I initially got it, but what about with a proper suit?

As expected, it looked just fine! Despite it being shorter than all my other coats (except my barn coat), it works quite well. It’s not really about the sweeping dramatism of a balmacaan, but rather the duffle’s succinct utility and “chunk”. The look it creates, being worn with a rather mid century ivy look (subverted with the beret), has an approachable vibe instead of the stark slouch of other outerwear. Then again, a brown suit is already quite casual, especially when done in a hearty cotton twill.

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You can see how the shoulder seam goes beyond where my shoulders actually are.
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This look, specifically the clothes worn under the duffle, was crafted before the outerwear was picked! I had wanted to do a vintage look for quite some time, especially one that utilized sweater vests. It’s pretty tough to get motivated to dress up while working from home (specifically in your bedroom), but there’s something cool about a shirt, tie, and sweater vest- it makes me feel like I’m some sort of intellectual writing essays about philosophy rather than about old threads.

Anyway, the outfit I created looks like something a guy would’ve worn in London during WWII: tweed jacket, pale shirt, repp tie, argyle sweater vest, and sensible grey flannels. Even though the eras might seem incongruous, it still works! Adding the duffle coat feels like a natural choice, almost re-emphasizing just how British this looks (at least in my eyes). I definitely love the contrast of the navy against the light browns of the tweed and the orange/yellow in the sweater vest. I think playing into the contrast is a good move here.

Who knew that there could be outerwear that was perfect for separates!

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With my purple cord suit. I don’t really like it if the outfit underneath is dark.

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Contrast is the way to go!
Portra 400-12
Portra 400-2
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The odd use of the duffle with a fedora doesn’t make much sense (since the coat has a hood) but I like it. It feels cozy and bundled up.
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Conclusion

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I’m not sure what the entire point of this piece was, other than to say that Duffle Coat is pretty popular in menswear and if you can find one that fits you (and is cheap), you should definitely cop it. It’s not as versatile or sleek as a balmacaan, but it gets the job done. It just has this casual demeanor that works for guys who have a more rugged approach to menswear. This coat just looks so chunky and fuzzy, being a true garment that you can actually curl up into and take a nap in.

It could just be because its my newest piece of outerwear, but I really have been wearing it quite a bit this fall/winter. Like I said before, I think that the duffle coat probably doesn’t work with a crewneck and sneakers like a balmacaan does, but that’s not really a problem for me; maybe I just need to try it out and see if it jives. In any case, the pandemic has reinforced my love of tailoring and this coat is perfect for that invigorated passion. I can wear it out to the store and it doesn’t feel too out of place. In fact, it even makes me feel slouchier for wearing it, though in a different way. It’s less about a standoffish ease, but more so about true comfort. It feels warm and makes you look warm!

Maybe that’s why the best bear in the world loves wearing his duffle.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan M. Wong

3 comments

  1. Pingback: The Duffle Coat in Classic Menswear « Fashion
  2. david_bok · March 16

    Assorted thoughts: Wooden toggles over horn. / Finding a longer length duffle coat is possible (in Japan). / One of my grail pieces is the collared & hooded duffle. Gloverall, has produced these in the past and they look really cool. / Currently, waiting for the Invertere duffles to go on sale, maybe cop one, but they retail for over 1,000 bucks. They are one of those recovered Japanese brands, like Rocky Mountain Featherbed, but English instead of American. You can check out second hand ones from Yahoo Auctions (JP) here :https://tinyurl.com/93hu7tyt

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Going Out and Wearing Cool Clothes Around People Again | a little bit of rest

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