The duffle coat

Friday, March 9th 2018
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It was freezing in London last week. Temperatures below zero consistently; more snow than we’ve had in a decade.

Of course, it’s nothing compared to the US east coast - or Scandinavia - but it was rather a shock.

I had an odd feeling on the second day of the snow, when I set out for the photoshoot pictured here, with Jamie.

Although the weather was still very cold, the wind chill factor seemed to have gone. It felt like 0 degrees rather than -5.

It was the duffle coat, which I had had for a few weeks but never worn in high winds. The thick, combed wool/polyamide mix was extremely wind-resistant, and although a loose coat like this doesn’t trap heat inside, the lack of wind chill was extremely welcome.

I only started wearing a duffle for the first time this winter.

Historically I had associated them with Paddington Bear and my daughters (whose school coats are both duffles); and while I could see the heritage appeal, I didn’t think they would work sartorially.

Of course, you regularly see the Japanese wear duffles over tailoring, but that is more fashion. Not for a regular guy in a regular office.

(Image below taken from The Style Guide.)

I changed my view when I bought this navy Gloverall duffle - the original Monty style - from John Simons on Chiltern Street.

It was fantastic value, at £225 reduced from £450 (sale still on I believe), and was something of an impulse buy.

I was interested to try such an iconic piece of menswear, and see what it could work with.

I find it works over most casual tailoring - so sports jackets and trousers, or casual suits like corduroy or tweed - as well of course more casual things like jeans and knitwear.

Here I am wearing it with my Cifonelli green-tweed jacket, an Everyday Denim shirt and grey-flannel trousers.

The navy is so deep and dark that it looks relatively smart (certainly far more than camel - the other colour the Monty comes in). And this despite the fact it has jute-and-wood toggles rather than the leather-and-horn of most other models.

I do find, however, that it looks best with a scarf at the neck. The duffle sits so open around the shoulders that it can be a little unflattering on someone with a long neck like myself.

Mine is a washed-kishorn scarf from Begg & Co via Trunk.

A duffle coat is also of course extremely practical.

Not only is it windproof, but it holds up well in rain, with the brushed finish stopping too much water soaking into the cloth.

Like most (largely) natural-fibre coats, you just have to hang it up if it gets soaked, and let it dry fully before wearing it again.

The Monty is also long enough to go over any jacket, but short enough to be able to cycle in comfortably.

And it has a hood - something you almost never have with sartorial clothing - which means you don’t need to carry a hat or umbrella.

I had dinner with Michael Hill and the guys from Drake’s on Tuesday, and Mike was wearing exactly the same navy Monty over an olive-cotton suit.

He’d just come back from Italy, and praised it for exactly these points of practicality.

Many other brands do a duffle coat. But looking at them all this past season, I find I prefer the Monty, even if some of its design points are a little quirky.

For example, the Monty’s throat latch leaves a gap between it and the body when fastened, which lets in unwelcome cold air. It also sits very square when undone, and can get in the way of the toggles.

Designer versions tend to iron out these issues. Polo Ralph Lauren had a model this past season, for example, with a throat latch that left no gap, and which buttoned back under the hood when not in use.

Its method of tightening the hood was also nicer, where the Monty’s poppers are a little crude.

But the Polo version also lost a lot of the traditional style along the way.

Its buttoning was centred, rather than asymmetric; it was neater in the shoulders, rather than oversized; and perhaps most important of all, the material was a smooth twill with none of the brushed, 900g character of the original.

That oversized style, by the way, is something I also didn’t get at first.

I originally bought a Small, finding that it fit better (or rather closer, neater) on the shoulders and chest.

But it seemed to lack something, and not have the appeal of the styles I had seen on Japanese gentleman. I swapped it for the Medium (pictured here) and that was much better.

It can be hard sometimes to give up the bespoke-driven assumptions we have about the ‘right’ fit.

I think the important thing is to first try and understand why a particular design has such appeal - such as the duffle coat - and only then compare it to those principles of tailoring. That way you recognise the similarities (such as a strong, extended shoulder) and understand the differences (a straight, tubular fit through the waist).

I had a chat to the Gloverall team after this shoot, to learn a little bit about the production and the direction of the company.

It was nice to know these coats are still made in the UK (even though I always say location doesn’t matter) and to learn that they do a repair service to replace toggles when they break.

In fact, there is a collection of deadstock toggles at the factory that visitors can pick from when they need replacements, which was enough on its own to make me want to visit.

Gloverall, of course, did not invent the duffle coat. It was used by militaries across Europe during the 19th century, and got its name from the thick, coarse material, which originated in Duffel, Belgium.

The British Navy was best known for wearing it, but it was Army officer Lord Montgomery who became the best-known individual wearer, and the Monty is named for him.

Gloverall (a combination of gloves/overalls) was given a load of Army surplus duffles in 1950, and they sold so well that it started developing its own version - the first with those leather-and-horn toggles.

Since the company has been the best-known maker, and has generally kept the original, Monty version of the coat in production in the UK.

The red watch cap, by the way, is an old one of mine from school, which still seems to fit pretty well (and is also worn by my daughter on occasion).

Red makes for a great pop of colour in a hat, and is probably a better use of the colour than in a handkerchief or tie. It also means you can channel a bit of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

The gloves are tan carpincho from Merola - a wonderfully soft material, although like suede not very practical in a glove, as it gets dirty quickly (and doesn’t look as good as peccary when it does - more dirt than patina).

Although I love the gloves, in retrospect they were perhaps a little too bright for this outfit, given the brightness of the hat. Dark brown might have been better.

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

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L.N.

Great post! It’s really good to read you reflections around the duffle, as usual they help me put my own impressions into clear ideas, thanks. The idea of having a hat with a splash of color was a really good idea, I’ll have to try that. I recently bought one from Invertere that I’m really happy with, maybe an alternative for those who like 100% wool and leather toggles with horn buttons.

Tim

Great article Simon. I bought the same coat, at the same shop, in the same sale and absolutely love it. Along with my Filson Mackinaw wool jacket, it has made the winter a real joy. On another point, I wonder if you have ever done an article on John Simons. His shop was my real introduction to clothes when I first moved up to London as a student in the mid 80’s. After years of travelling and moving, I finally relocated the shop this year and felt myself at home. When I told the manager that I had been a long time customer I was welcomed as a long lost friend. A stark difference to the feeling I had at another known men’s shop a few doors down, where me and my Ethan Newtonesque physique felt out of place. As you may know a film on John Simons and his shop will be coming out in a month or so, and I wonder if you will be doing more about him. Thanks again.

Tim Cahill

Great thanks!

James Marwood

Tim, I have had exactly that same experience in that same shop a few doors down.

Don Ferrando

We had minus 8 to minus 13 for a whole week here in Munich and I was happy wearing my duffle coat over a 3-piece suit. I kept me warm. Compared to a regular overcoat the hood gave extra warmth to the head.
Mine is a John Partridge in classical sand color which I have now for many years and still am very happy with it.

Alex

Always liked the look of these but been put off because they aren’t 100% wool.
Is there a reason for this and does it matter or am I being fussy?

Kenny

Gloverall also sells a 100% wool duffle coat in the Monty style. It is made from Italian Casentino cloth that gives it iGent appeal – https://www.gloverall.com/mens/bastong-x-gloverall-duffle-coat.html. It was discounted substantially in the January sale.

S

Oh no Simon. I bought this exact coat (in medium) from John Simons only two weeks ago but now people will think I copied you!

S

G

Duffel coats to me always look a bit awkward for city living. But they’re a great worker at piece. Difficult to pair with attire other than casual, but the duffel has its place.

Hugh

Feeling very “on trend”, having also bought a duffle coat this winter. I went with the SEH Kelly model based on it being 100% wool (a very heavy overcoating- from Fox, I think); I have a probably irrational aversion to synthetics. It also has a combination of pale brown, mottled horn toggles and jute which I haven’t seen on other models. A small thing but I rather appreciate the handsome horn toggles, in my eyes reminiscent of the buttons you see on tailoring.

Juan Antonio Rodríguez Ortega

I’ve been using a duffle coat for ages since I was a young student. Mine it is an YSL black duffle coat which works pefectly after all these years of ups and downs. The duffle coat is my ready to go coat when temperatures are serioulsy worsening and I find that presents an interesting balance between a formal and informal look. As a teacher, a duffle is a good option for covering a blazer, however I find that a tailored double breasted coat would be a very pretentious option that I would consider for other occassions. Best regards.

Anonymous

I can quiet understand why you opted for the medium Simon.A snug fitting duffle feels very tight because of the straight cut from the waist and just looks as if the wearer is just too constricted …a looser look is infinitely preferable.

John

When it comes to the Duffle coat it has to be Gloverall, nothing else comes close for wear-ability and authenticity. I don’t think I have been without one since school. Personally I think the leather tabs and horn buttons add a degree of sophistication that misses the point of a duffle.

Juan Manuel

Nice article, thanks.

I never liked Duffle coats when I was a hoy… they looked too ‘boyish’ to me, so I gave them up as an adult… and I must also say I dress extremely formal for my extremely formal work (not that I don’t like formality, but…). After a ‘real’ winter this year, winds, freezing temperatures, and a couple of articles on this coat, it is definitely growing on me. Yours is extremely timely (and good…) and it has taught me some interesting characteristics… I now know how to appreciate the garment!

David

Hi Simon, a quick question on gloves. Do you like them lined or unlined, and why? Thanks

Anonymous

Completely agree, but I find it incredibly hard to find a good selection of unlined! Any suggestions welcome

Ed

Simon, how does the fabric feel on the Gloverall, and how low are the armholes?

Browsing through Mr. Porter during the past Christmas, I picked up a duffel by Mackintosh on sale; but the fabric was so cardboard-stiff (100% wool) and the armholes so abominably low, that I ended up returning them fearing discomfort.

I wonder if there are other more refined iterations available, without resorting to overpriced fashion labels like RL, Burberry or some such…

Anonymous

Small typo, second para after toggle image…’but it was army offer (?) Lord Montgmery’. Thinking ‘officer’ (or more accurately Field Marshal as the rank sits above general officers)? Looks good in blue (love the hat) and a great feature for all wardrobes, though still prefer camel for the country.

Mark R

Very much an officer, and the rank doesn’t get any higher than Field Marshal!

Michael K.

Interesting piece, and also very interesting about the gloves — I got myself a pair of Merola unlined carpincho gloves a couple of years ago, but even just the wear and dirt from driving the car or riding the bus in them discoloured the fingers to the point that they look awful. I had to relegate them much too soon to walking the dog in the rain duty, where they at least bring a pop of smart colour to the similarly battered Barbour jacket I inherited from my dad.

lives in suffolk

No. Not convinced. I gave up wearing Duffel coats when I no longer had to wear school caps.

Kingston Lim

I see a lot of similarities between duffle coasts and pea coats, and I believe both have origins in Belgium. What would you say are some of the key differences between the 2?

Anonymous

Would you consider buying a Parka…..Canada Goose?Maybe a bit warmer in bitter weather.

Anonymous

Any thoughts about buying a Parka…might be warmer?

Paul Brough

Gloverall, Korean-owned I think, have some interesting brands in their stable with Gloverall, Lochcarron (“World’s leading online retailer and manufacturer of Scottish tartan”) and Peter Scott to name three that I am aware of, but not much to do with the sort clothing Permanent Style espouses, occasional duffel coat notwithstanding.

SY

How about a bespoke duffle? I remember Richard Anderson made one before.

David

Very nice, Simon, thanks. I have a sizing question – if one is, say, a 42 chest in RTW suits, and average-ish height (5 ft 9), would you recommend a medium? I read that in sizing an overcoat, you should go with the same size as one’s sports jacket / suit? Thanks, David.

A.

What do you think about a royal/electric blue duffle coat?

Paul Brough

I love my Bastong Gloverall collaboration in green Casentino wool, and so do my friends and colleagues, but I do endorse the comments about the neck area (and the hood is enormous!). It’s funny how one forgives some clothes their imperfections but not others.

JUAN

Good afternoon Mr Crompton, I am about to ask my tailor to shorten the sleeves of my Gloverall duffle coat as they cover almost all of my hands. The question is, where should the cuff end?
Thank you very much indeed.

Martin

You mention your daughters´ duffle coats. Could you tell me which ones they have and if the quality is reasonable?

Maël

Hi Simon,

What do you think of light gray for a duffle coat ? I was leaning more towards camel but SEH Kelly are about to launch their light gray and navy ones and I’m not sure which to choose. I already have navy coats so I was wondering about the light gray.

Thanks !

R. G.

Dear Mr Crompton,

Where should a duffle coat ‘land’?

Is your Duffle Coat at Knee Length?

What height was the ‘Monty by Gloverall’ designed for?

Thank you very much