Belted polo coat, from Whitcomb & Shaftesbury

Wednesday, January 16th 2019
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So this was an interesting experiment.

My idea was to make my first overcoat with Whitcomb & Shaftesbury as a belted wrap coat.

So no buttons on the front, just a belt. A jigger button inside to keep the inside layer fastened, but none on the outside.

And a cloth that was soft enough to be happily cinched, but also heavy enough to have drape and flow when untied.

Importantly, it would be an experiment I could back out of.

From the very beginning, we discussed the design of the coat as one which could be reversed later on.

Buttonholes and buttons could be added to the front at any point, making it look and function the same as a normal double-breasted overcoat.

This would involve considerable work of course. But it would be possible, and a lot cheaper (and less wasteful) than having to abandon the coat entirely.

I like to think I’ve learnt a lesson here. Experiments are fun, but it’s very frustrating and expensive when they don’t turn out as intended.

Things of mine I’d put in that category are my Huntsman shooting suit (just too much in every way) and Gieves & Hawkes gilet (not quite functional enough - more on sucesses and failures here).

Whenever possible, I find it’s best to build on something you’ve seen elsewhere, rather than starting from scratch. To restrict experiments to things that are less expensive (relative to what you have available to spend). And to make them reversible, or at least adaptable.

The design of this coat was vaguely modelled on my navy Cifonelli.

It is still very English in cut, with more drape and structure than Cifonelli would ever have, but there is a similar approach to the width and shape of the lapels, and to the design of the pleats and sprat’s heads in the back.

The only additional style details were the swelled edges and split sleeve of a classic polo coat: some points of which my Cifonelli has (eg turn-back cuff) but not all.

These, added to the pale-biscuit colour of the cloth, made it feel much more like a classic polo coat of the type that would be thrown over the shoulders after a chukka, or after a tennis match.

Which also fitted with the soft, louche feel of the wrap design.

When it came to the cloth, my key aim was to use something more versatile than the camelhair I used for my first polo coat – made with Graham Browne in 2010.

While there were other issues with that coat, the most pernicious was the colour, which was the strong tan of normal, undyed camelhair.

I found this made the coat stand out even more than the length, and hard to combine with other things (the last thing you want in a coat).

So this time I chose a colour that, while certainly in the same colour family, was subtler and more greyed. That was 779205 from the Dormeuil overcoating bunch (650g).

One really useful feature that Suresh and Sian at Whitcomb & Shaftesbury suggested was having the jigger button loose, on a strip of lining on the inside of the coat.

You can see that in the image above. The strip is sewn in under the sleevehole, then runs through a loop below the in-breast pocket, before attaching to the buttonhole on the other side.

The advantage of this – over a standard jigger button, fixed onto that same side of the coat – is that when the coat is untied, both sides can move more freely.

So you basically have three options for fastening the coat: tied with the belt, fastened a little more loosely with the jigger, or unfastened completely.

You can see how that middle option looks in the image above. The coat feels and looks loose, but it’s not hanging completely open.

The look works best when you have your hands in your pockets – either of your trousers or of the coat itself.

Most of the time the strip of cloth doesn’t show, but even when it does it’s quite tonal and doesn’t look odd.

The belt itself also gives you a few different ways to wear the coat - varying by how open you leave the coat before tying it.

You can wrap the two sides completely, and tie it together so the silhouette is the same as a normal overcoat (above).

Or you can leave it open and loose before tying, creating a more casual and slouchy silhouette.

I think the latter looks particularly nice when the whole front edge of at least one side is folded back and tied down – as shown below. Suddenly the whole thing is one long lapel.

A last permutation that I requested from Whitcomb & Shaftesbury was the ability to fasten the coat under the neck, making it more practical.

Not all my coats have this, and I wouldn’t insist on it if there were a danger of changing the line of the lapels (as would have been the case with my Liverano ulster coat).

But here it worked fine, and presuming the belt stays fastened, the whole front of the body is protected from the wind and the cold.

It also shows how nice a variegated horn button is on this cloth – and perhaps how it would look with a normal 6x2 button configuration on the front.

That last point about the belt brings me onto the downsides of the design.

First, the belt doesn’t stay tied all the time. This is not the fault of the cutter or tailor – it’s just impossible with cloth that doesn’t have a lot more texture.

(We did, however, have the foresight to set aside a strip of the cloth – so the belt can be re-made at some point if it becomes frayed.)

That means you have to fairly regularly re-tie the belt You can use a double knot, but that looks bulky and inelegant.

You just have to get used to the fact that this is that kind of coat: a little sloppy, never perfect. It’s a look that women are much more used to doing, in scarves as well as coats.

Men tend to struggle with it though. We generally tend to prefer everything tied down and buttoned up.

Second, such a sloppy look would arguably better suit a softer construction.

This is how women’s wrap coats are made – more blanket that coat, just loosely brought together at the waist.

In most people’s memories, this is also what the key reference piece is like: the wrap oat made by Giorgio Armani for Richard Gere in American Gigolo.

However, while that coat certainly had less canvas and structure than this one, it still has strong, square shoulders - which is the difference between this and most RTW options.

So I’m unsure on this point. Which of course, is one of the great reasons why the experiment is reversible.

Third, some of the details make the coat a little too showy. And this is a note for Whitcomb & Shaftesbury.

The thread they used for the swelled edges and for the sprat’s heads on the back of the coat is lighter than the body, and makes them stand out.

This wasn’t discussed when the coat was being made. I didn’t ask either, but the onus is more on the tailor to ask the customer’s opinion – as they should be aware how much difference it will make to the overall look.

We’ve discussed this already, and Whitcomb have offered to change the colour if I want, at no cost.

Equally, design choices like the ends of the belt have already been changed when they weren’t what I wanted – they were originally rounded, but look better (and are more standard) as an asymmetric point.

I must say, however, that the quality of the work on the coat is superb.

Double stitching all around those swelled edges, beautiful sprat’s heads, Milanese buttonholes on the lapels, and if anything it’s even better inside: there are lovely touches like a bellows-construction to the poacher’s pocket on the left hip (above).

This is all made in Whitcomb’s Indian workshop, under their Classic Bespoke offering – so cut and fitted in the UK, but with all other work in southern India.

As with the two suits I reviewed before from Whitcomb, the result is even better than that made on Savile Row, but at a much lower cost: £1825 + VAT for this coat, where a Row equivalent would probably be over £3000.

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Monday, October 19th 2015

In the pictures I’m wearing the coat with jeans, a button-down shirt and cashmere crew neck.

This was because I wanted to look at how casual the coat could be. It will suit a suit, certainly, but I also think it could be nice as something worn casually at the weekend.

If it could work - traditionally - over a polo shirt and tennis shorts, surely it can work over denim? (Though perhaps darker and straighter than my Cone-Mills Levi’s, pictured).

So what do you think? Did the experiment work or should it be reversed? I’m erring towards keeping it as it is, but I’m still not entirely sure.

I think I’ll have to wear it with more things, probably over the rest of the winter, before I know.

Then I can give it back to Whitcomb for just a clean and press over the summer, or for a re-tooling.

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

The overcoating from Dormeuil isn't available this season unfortunately. However, nice alternatives could be 83926 (650g) in camel hair or 83918 (580g) in cashmere, both from Harrison's.