This post describes the design of the original duffle coat. It includes its history from military uniform over fashion statement to mainstream and eternal classic item. Read to recognize an authentic version when you see one.
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A Coat Named after a Town
Originally, the duffel coat was made from a coarse, thick, woolen material called duffel. This name refers the town of its origin Duffel, Belgium. Thus, the American way to write duffle coat is actually a misspelling in regards to the coat’s origin
During the Great War, the British Royal Navy issued a camel-colored duffle coat with a bucket-type hood. This military coat reached to the knees for protection from winds and cold weather. The original British style duffle coat had a genuine double weave duffel with tartan pattern on the inside. First, the closure featured three, later four wooden or buffalo horn toggles with leather loops.
During World War II, the duffle coat featured a revised design. At that time, the duffle coat got the name convoy coat or Monty coat because Field Marshal Montgomery wore a duffle coat. After WWII, the manufacturer sold their large stocks of surplus duffle coats to the public at affordable prices. Due to their high quality and good weather protection duffle coats became popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1954, the British company Gloverall started their own version of the duffel coat that has two large outside patch pockets with flaps. Later pancake type hoods became popular. Today duffel coats are available in all lengths from to the knees to just covering the bum. Modern duffel coats, like many other high quality coats, are often made from a softer wool fabric with distinct nap than duffel. Modern duffel coats often don plastic toggles for easy closure. Some designers use carabiner hooks like my new duffle coat featured in this post at the link (in case you missed it).
The Original Duffle Coat Cut on a Woman Is a Men Repeller
Duffel coats are classic, stylish coats. But their straight cut does nothing for your shape. In my opinion, they look great on men. For my money, they leave something to desire when worn by women. However, for a straight-up-and-down slim and tall gal, a duffel coat can be a great choice as an additional second coat, sort of a Men Repeller like statement piece when it comes to protection from the cold, rain and wind. It also may work for a pregnant woman.
But why would someone spend so much money on a coat for just one season?
I usually prefer the original cuts because they are more classic ones. However, when it comes to a duffle coat for women in mid-life, I would recommend to look for slight twists on the theme. Go for the highest quality you can afford when it is your primary coat, read work horse, and look for a cut that is slightly nipped in at the waist. In case, you have to master the challenge of being top-heavy, look for pieces with darts for your girls. If you can’t find one with these adjustments, keep looking or skip the look.
The examples below show various versions of how designers adapted the original duffle coat for women beyond just the side of closing.
Which Famous People Wore a Duffle Coat?
First General Bernard Montgomery comes to mind. However, since the coat is a Euro Chic classic the list of celebrities is long. It includes, among many others, Paul McCartney and the teenage Prince of Wales. In 1965, then Prince Charles wore the coat when leaving Inverness old High Church after the rehearsals of the Gordonstoun school orchestra. The iconic Monty was often featured in the movies in the early second half of the last century. Recall Art Garfunkel, Jack Nicholson or David Bowie. Of course, it also found it’s way into the literature, just think of Burton Miles‘ Crime Club Detective Story. Last but not least, the Paddington Bear wore one in Michael Bond‘s book A Bear Called Paddington.
Previous posts of my Fashion History series covered the pea coat, the original Fair Isle sweater, and the Irish fishermen cable-knit sweater.
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Bond, M. (1958) A Bear Called Paddington, London: Collins.
Burton, M. (1956) Death in a duffle coat, London: Collins.
Photos: N. Mölders
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