RRL flight jacket


If I have an addiction outside of tailoring, it is not shoes or ties but outerwear. Leather jackets, suede blousons, trench coats: I love the ability of such big pieces to radically change a look and a silhouette. Leather, cotton and their derivatives have just as much appeal as wool. 

Of course, the problem with such casual pieces is that they look so much better when they are aged. And if you have a lot of them, they don’t age quickly. Which leads one onto vintage outerwear.  

One of the interesting things about RRL – the brand set up in 1993 by Ralph Lauren and initially inspired by the ranch he runs with his wife Ricky (hence RRL) – is that it sells real vintage clothing alongside vintage-inspired designs. Most stores only use vintage as decoration. It is implied that the new clothing retains the value of the old, though that is rarely the case. RRL, by contrast, is happy for the two types of clothing to compete. 

I interviewed the RRL designers in New York as part of a piece on The Rake website recently, and it was interesting to note how deliberate the choice was to share retail space between the old and the new. It demonstrates a lot of the design and construction features that have been borrowed from old pieces, and shows a genuine love of vintage clothing.

RRL vintage


The problem with such vintage clothing, however, is the fit. Practical outerwear is often roomy, both to accommodate equipment and a multitude of shapes. Genuine workwear was usually cut square, both because it was easier and because fit was of little concern. Finally, some pieces were made for very specific purposes that make them impractical today. 

The vintage pieces at the RRL store in London – which is worth a visit in any case – bring this home particularly strongly. The WW2 flight jacket shown at top, for example, is a beautiful piece of engineering. Made of  thick shearling, it is incredibly warm and insulating. But it is also cut with inserts under the arms so that they sit at right angles to the body. When you wear it you can barely hold your arms at your sides; you certainly can’t pop up the collar. It was not made with such piffling concerns in mind. It was made for a man to sit in a cockpit for hours an end, and survive the wind and the cold. It is not an urban entity.

The two waxed jackets below demonstrate the opposite problem. The one on the left is a Barbour fishing jacket. It is beautifully aged and has nice touches of wear without sacrificing practicality – as with all the RRL pieces. But it is also aggressively A-line. It is pinched at the back here, as several vintage pieces are, to suggest more shape. In reality you could fit two small children under it alongside you. 

RRL ralph lauren


The wax jacket on the right is RRL’s recreation. It is a lovely piece, with great detailing on the pockets and sensitively if artificially aged. But it doesn’t have the charm of the vintage Barbour.

So what’s the solution? Find new pieces from brands such as Ralph Lauren and wear them intensively. Wearing them in the rain always helps, as does keeping them crumpled up in a bag. (No need to run them over with a tractor, as some Barbour owners are renowned to do.) Or, if intensive wear is not an option then find good, hand-applied distressing. Just don’t buy distressed jeans – it doesn’t take long to imprint your own patina on a pair of jeans and they look so much better for it. 

[Below: a DB chalkstripe suit that The Rake’s Wei Koh is enamoured with and I also admire. It is of course RTW, and I only wear bespoke tailoring, but we should never underestimate the ability of brands such as RRL to come up with better fabrics than most of the mills (big brands have far greater commercial freedom and resources) and better designs than even the best tailors or their bespoke customers.]

RRL double breasted suit

 
Photos: Luke Carby

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Anonymous

Speaking of the big companies and their ability to have superior designs and wool patterns quite often what is to stop one (if I was extremely wealthy) from buying something from a shop and requesting a tailor to copy it with bespoke touches?

Anonymous

Why could one not go to the mills that people like RL have their clothes made and ask for some? or are there exclusive agreements? Is there a future in a company who can source these harder to find fabrics? Or introduction of more haute couture tailors who are able or willing to spend a hell of a lot more on finding unique fashionable fabrics?

Anonymous

would be very interesting to have a tour via PS of some of these mills, and get an idea of what clothes they produce! always fun to have a different perspective

Anonymous

When you say it is aggressively A-line do you mean because of being clipped to the manikin (as alot of rtw is portrayed in advert), or that it was originally designed that way with a skirt cut. thanks.

Anonymous

Hi Simon
Do you know of any high quality tailors outside of London in the UK? Could you ask aorund about them? Whilst your posts are good they really are only concerned with those in London, and we arent all southerners!

Anonymous

As I’m based in Edinburgh Peter Johnston could well be the answer!

Rob

Don’t forget Thomas Mahon (ex Andersen and Sheppard) in Brampton Cumbria (http://www.englishcut.com/) or Steed Bespoke (http://www.steed.co.uk/en/) in Carlisle Cumbria. Both excellent. – Rob

Juan Manuel

One option for people that buy Barbour or leather jackets and want to antique them quickly is using them in house, sometimes I take naps wearing my new Barbour International, it works.

Anonymous

Hello Simon,

I see that you have written ‘most mills’, and therefore you aren’t saying that big brands best all the mills out there. What about Dormeuil or Holland and Sherry? I have seen some pretty daring stuff from the former.

John K

Brian Smith (ex A&S) who is based at Fox Flannel is also well regarded. He made me a lovely pair of flannel trousers last year and I hope to get him to make me trousers and waistcoat in a dark ble flannel to wear with a pair of dark brown ‘pebble grain’ oxford shoes that I am having made by Jason Amesbury.

John K

Hi Simon,

I think Brian Smith is still operating from Fox Flannel. I spoke to him about 6 weeks ago. Interesting to read your comments on his work. I am based in West Wales and rarely get up to London. When I do I tend to favour John Pearse where the atmosphere is more to my liking than Saville Row. As a ‘poor provincial’ I find Brian Smith’s prices a little easier to digest, however.

Hal

A great article! There’s a lot of good stuff described and pictured here. Outerwear is probably my “addiction” – why is it so neglected by British men?
But please don’t use the expression “outside of” as you do in your first sentence. The “of” is redundant and therefore incorrect: the sentencer would have better read ” an addiction outside tailoring”.