Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Intro to Overcoats

This is a topic I've been meaning to discuss for some time now.  It's fitting that I post this piece on the day the Midwest is receiving not just a winter storm but a blizzard.

Perfect timing.

Overcoats.  What does that word do to you?  What pops into your mind when you first hear it?  Do you picture an overcoat as being heavy, bulky, stiff and itchy or soft, warm, sleek and comfortable?

The category that is represented by the word 'overcoat' is vast and full of many different styles of coats.  So whether you pictured the big, bulky overcoat or the stylish, sleek coat your idea was probably correct, if limited.

click images to enlarge

Comparison: the overcoat of the 1940s and a 'modern' one of the late 1950s.

The overcoat is an old garment with one simple goal in mind: keep the wearer warm.  Now, that doesn't mean it can't be jazzed up a bit to look stylish, just that the main goal is warmth and that style is secondary.  If it succeeds at the latter but fails at the former, well, it makes a poor coat of any kind.  The overcoat has its roots in the military with the Greatcoat, hence its utilitarian purpose.  But the overcoat would not have survived so long had it not grown to be stylish.  From the dull military garment made of rough, thick wool with brass buttons to the stylish and gentlemanly garment of the 1930s, the overcoat has gone through many different rebirths.  

Yesteryear the overcoat was a staple of the wardrobe.  It provided, obviously, warmth on a cold day and most often looked quite snappy.  There were many different and unique styles of overcoats back then, especially during the Golden Era.  The late 1920s to the early 1940s was the apogee of overcoat design.  The materials, construction, styles, price, and availability of overcoats were all outstanding.  Even department stores like J.C. Penney's and Younkers carried interesting and well constructed overcoats back then.  The overcoat was a necessity, and a stylish one at that.  Every man had one, whether he was a wealthy businessman or politician right down to the homeless man on the street.

No more.

The overcoat of today is not only rare to see in its natural habitat (being worn), it's also boring, rather poorly made, and usually very high priced for what you get.  Maybe that's why so few men wear them.  When was the last time you saw a modern overcoat with a belted back?  A loud yet attractive plaid fabric pattern?  Pleating and an impeccable fit?  Not today unless you spend $600+ for a made-to-measure or bespoke overcoat.  But not many of us can afford something like that.

Yawn.  Wake me when it at least grows some peaked lapels.

In the next few posts of this series we'll take an in-depth look at different styles and examples of vintage overcoats and see just what the overcoat was really meant to be: not only warm but also classically stylish.

1 comment:

Gentleman's said...

Sounds promising. In regard to pricing, black overcoat fabric is cheaper because it is produced in great quantities, whereas heavy plaids are usually run well only by smaller mills who use better wool bringing the price just for the cloth up quite a bit. Many of the cheap overcoats are made of nylon, polyester and recycled wool.
If you are on a budget, try to go vintage - better styles, heavier fabrics and affordable prices.
For more information about individual overcoats, you may want to take a look at the overcoat guides I wrote.


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