The styles of overcoat (and how to design one)

Friday, November 6th 2020
Share
||- Begin Content -||

Anyone interested in buying or commissioning a new coat will be thinking about styles right now - what they are, what they’re called, what their relative advantages are. 

In this piece I’m going to set out the basic options, and my brief opinions on them. On formality, warmth, and other aspects of practicality.

It will focus on tailored coats - so nothing more casual like a trench coat, blouson or duffle. Those are usually best bought ready-to-wear (though a future article on an outerwear capsule will include them).

And it will not go into detail about cloth. There is a much more comprehensive article on that here.

The first thing to say about names of coats is, don’t assume everyone uses the same ones, or indeed has heard of the names used in online discussions. 

Different countries have different cultural references, and hence different names. Tailors know the styles they make and the styles they were taught. Their frame of reference is often no wider than that. 

Names are useful, because they put a label on the image you have in your head. They collect together a bunch of characteristics under a single term. 

But don’t assume that everyone knows what a guard’s coat is. If you stride into a tailor and request a paletot, you might be met with looks of confusion, even bemusement. 

So, I recommend focusing on the constituent parts of these styles. Break down what you want into its characteristics: single or double breasted, peak or notch lapel, length and cloth and buttons and so on.

This article will be organised along those lines, with the styles being mentioned more as examples.

Length: Overcoat or topcoat

The first decision with an overcoat is what weather you want it for. How cold does it get where you live, and when during the year do you want to wear it? 

This affects several things, including cloth and double vs single-breasted. But the first thing it determines is length. A shorter coat is - all other things being equal - less warm than a longer coat. As a result, coats intended for warmer weather are traditionally shorter - usually on or just above the knee. 

A coat of this type is usually referred to as a topcoat. It’s usually in a lighter weight cloth, but can be single or double breasted. The example above was made by Michael Browne.

Other types of topcoat include a covert coat (above), which is defined by the covert cloth it is made from - a tightly woven twill that is also great for trousers (though it can be a little shiny, so fairly formal).

This cloth makes the covert coat very hardy, harking back to its country origins. It is often in colours like fawn and olive too, and has multiple lines of stitching on the cuffs and hem, intended to prevent rips getting out of hand. 

The coat often has a fly front, and sometimes has velvet on the collar (another practical addition - as the velvet could easily be replaced). 

Double breasted or single breasted

The second choice to make is whether the coat will be single or double-breasted. 

Personally, I’m a huge fan of double-breasted coats. This is because DB tailoring is so flattering and stylish (particularly if made bespoke) yet a coat is one of the last ways it can be worn. Anyone can wear a DB coat to the office; not everyone can wear a DB suit. 

A double-breasted coat will always be a little smarter and more formal than a single, but not as much as with a jacket. It will also be warmer, and easier to add style details to (such as a belt or cuffs). 

It is often thought that a double-breasted coat must be longer as well - an overcoat rather than a topcoat. But that isn’t necessarily the case, as you can see with my DB topcoat from Ettore de Cesare, above. 

Peak lapel or notch lapel 

As with a jacket, a double-breasted coat will always have a peak lapel. But a single-breasted coat can have a peak or a notch - and it is perhaps more common to see a peak lapel on an SB coat than on a jacket. 

The only real factor to consider in that choice is that a peak lapel is more formal and a little more rakish. If you want something more stylised, a peak lapel is a good way to do it. If not, a notch should be the default. 

And a notch can be more or less stylised too - compare the Vergallo coat on me above, with the Michael Browne one further up. 

There is also an important difference between peaked lapels on a DB coat: many styles have a peak which points horizontally across the body, if not slightly downwards. 

(You could argue that this is not really a peaked lapel, but it does have the peak’s lack of space  - or notch - between the lapel and collar. So it probably belongs in the same group.)

The reason this lapel is more horizontal, was originally so that it could be fastened across the chest, creating a double layer of cloth in the same manner as a pea coat. And even if the coat is not cut to do this, the lapel does allow the collar to be worn up against the wind, without the peaks poking the wearer in the neck. 

The best-known style featuring this lapel is probably the Ulster coat - an example of which I’m wearing in the image above, made by Sartoria Ciardi. Originally a Victorian coat with a cape, often in casual wools like tweed, the Ulster has come to mean this style of DB overcoat, often with a belt and turn-back cuffs. 

Double-breasted coats with a more standard, upward-pointing peaked lapel are given various names, including a guard’s coat (above) and a paletot. Personally I don’t think the styles are that relevant, given how divorced they are from their origins, and the fact that a main difference was how fitted they were - which is rarely a factor today. 

However, what they all have in common is that they are more formal, and as a result tend to have no belt on the back, flapped pockets, a 6x2 button arrangement (so the top row does not fasten) and no cuffs on the sleeves. 

It is this formality that should be your first consideration when designing a coat. It would be incongruous to have a smart, peak-lapel coat from the front that was cinched and belted at the back, no matter what the original styles might have been called. 

Shoulders

This is a brief section, necessitated by the existence of the raglan coat. 

While all other overcoats will have a regular, or set-in, sleeve, a raglan sleeve runs right up to the collar, with no shoulder section between the two. An example is shown above. 

It shouldn’t surprise you to know that the raglan is more casual, and suited to coats that are worn with just knitwear, as well as tailoring. It’s also a style that there’s less point having made by a tailor - because its lack of shape means the tailor has less to add, and because it’s surprisingly tricky to do. 

There are also variations, such as a half raglan (which looks like it has a set-in sleeve on the front) and designs with a slimmer sleeve at the top, almost like a saddle shoulder on knitwear. 

Pockets

Now we get into design details. Pockets are an obvious one, and there are three basic options: flapped (straight or slanted), patch (with flap or not) and postbox (a combination of flap and patch). 

Flaps are smarter and go with smarter coats; patches are more casual and go with more casual coats. A postbox pocket (pictured above) is pretty bulky and so belongs in the casual category. 

I rather like postbox pockets on casual coats such as an Ulster, because a patch can seem rather too simple for something made bespoke. But I would have flaps on most smart coats. 

Ticket pockets on coats look a little out of place to me, though they are rather practical. And although some leave them off, I would usually have a welted breast pocket on an overcoat. It’s very useful for gloves. 

Belts 

It is often said that the back of an overcoat is where the sexy stuff goes on. I think the front should look good too, but there are certainly more design options on the back. 

The first is the belt. A smart overcoat, as mentioned, should have no belt at all on the waist. But most others have a half belt: one or two strips of cloth, either stitched to the material or left loose, and if loose then fastened with buttons. 

The style of belt is not a big decision - it’s unlikely to look out of place whichever you choose. So pick the one you like the most, and if you’re unsure go with the classic ‘Martingale’ of two strips and two buttons (shown above). It’s also not a hard thing to change later. 

There are ways for this belt to be functional, with extra buttons and buttonholes, but having done that a couple of times on my coats, I no longer request it. I just find that little cinching doesn’t make a big enough difference to what I can fit underneath. 

Pleats and vents 

Above and below that belt there will often be pleats, as a way to put more room into the back and seat, and therefore give you greater freedom of movement. 

A box pleat in the middle of the back is attractive, as are pleats either side of it - radiating from the belt - that look like actual folds made by the tightness of the belt (though they will probably actually be sewn down). 

Again, as with belts, there is minimal difference in terms of formality between these options, but I would say that if in doubt, go for the simplest style that you like. An overcoat is a big piece of tailoring to get wrong (as I have found to my cost in the past). 

At the bottom of the coat, there will then usually be a single vent that runs all the way down, making it easier to walk. There are different ways in which the coat can be pleated here, but the major choice is whether to have buttons enabling the vent to to be fastened, or not. In general, a smart coat would not have buttons, and a more casual one could. 

Cuffs and swelled edges

Other design elements on coats include turn-back cuffs on the ends of the sleeves. These would seem to be a casual choice, but have been included on a surprisingly large number of formal tailoring styles over the years, including evening wear. 

Personally, I wouldn’t have turn-back cuffs on a really smart coat though - nicer to leave it clean. 

The same goes for swelled edges, where there is a row of stitching a few millimetres back from the edge of the coat. This can be an aesthetic detail, though it was also seen as practical in terms of stopping fraying or rips running too far. 

As you’d expect, this is a more casual detail, and most often seen on Ulster coats or Polo coats. The latter is an interesting case in terms of style definitions, given how many different versions there have been over the years. In the end, it was a garment for a purpose (keeping warm after sport) rather than a defined design. 

This list, for me, is the best way to break down the styles of a tailored overcoat, rather than getting into paddock coats, chesterfields, great coats and surtouts. 

Such references can be useful, but they’re just as likely to get in the way. 

Often they can make a good starting point, rather than a clean definition. Edward Sexton and I referred to the coat we made in 2016 (below) as a great coat, for example, because of its intended length and warmth. But the pleats and seams on the back wouldn’t have been seen on any traditional great coat.

Hopefully running through all these sections will help define exactly what you want, in a similar way. 

(I can also do more detailed posts in the future, if people want. Eg illustrations of all the pocket options, or pleat options in the back. There isn't really room for that here.) 

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
90 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jonathan

Over the years I have owned overcoats in several different styles; double breasted, single breasted with a fly front and covert coat. In the end the only style that I wear these days is raglan and I apply this to raincoats as well. I find the raglan cut the most practical to use and comfortable to wear. A raglan is designed to be buttoned to the neck in inclement weather without changing the cut or line of the coat in a way which cannot be found in other types of overcoat with the exception of a traditional ‘trench coat’ style raincoat, but in this latter example buttoning up the coat is more complex and alters the shape of the coat over the chest. A raglan is also the easiest coat to slip on and off and looks good with both casual clothing and tailoring, provided the coat is well cut.

Veda

I’m in the similar opinion and found myself commissioning raglans everytime for bespoke coats due the convenience of buttoning up at the neck. They also work best with any kind of clothes and look cleaner as well.

William Nixon

Another great article, Simon! I’d love to read more articles about overcoat details! I’ve found there aren’t an awful lot of sites out there that discuss the finer points (pleats and vents in particular) so it’s always nice to read about, though maybe it has more to do with my love of overcoats!!

Noel

+1 on pleats. I had trouble explaining to the tailor the kind of pleat / vent I wanted below the belt, so an article about them would be useful.

Incidentally, I’d say the buttons on the vent on the PS Donegal coat make it easier to sit down as the cost is likely to stay still. A minor point perhaps.

Karol

Pretty much what Jonathan said. The coat of choice for me would be casual raglan in a shade of charcoal, brown or green. I don’t wear suits at all, mostly casual or sportcoats with cotton trousers or jeans. And I find navy quite a sharp colour, which doesn’t always fit the rest of my wardrobe. While the same could be said for charcoal, I love how it works with earth colours elsewhere. It also plays much better with more striking coloured sweaters, such as burgundy, bottle green or mustard yellow.

gsk

Thank you for this. One thing I’ve noticed in the last few years or so is the popularity of the camel overcoat with many rtw brands. I don’t know why but a camel overcoat just screams new york celebrity to me, it would stick out too much in a largely grey urban setting such as london hence I’ve been reluctant to purchase. What kind of climates/settings would camel suit?

Flynn

Hello Simon. Another very useful article. Thank you.

Just a couple of questions for clarification, if you will. So, a half-belt like a ‘Martingale’ is more casual than no belt at all? If so, where do you place your beloved Cifonelli cashmere navy piece on the sliding scale of coat smartness/formality?

Kind regards.

Hugh

I hunk there is an argument to be made for regular welted pockets you can plunge your hands into, like on a pea coat. Less aesthetic, maybe, but if bespoke, in the exact right spot

Jonathan

Yet another reason why a raglan is the perfect cut.

Nick

Hi Simon, would you wear a navy ulster with jeans and chinos?

David

Interesting how turn back (‘gauntlet’?) cuffs feel more formal on a jacket but more casual on an overcoat. Any reason for that do you think? (In fact, is a turn back cuff the only example of extra features/detail increasing rather than decreasing formality?)

Mike

Hi Simon,

You write: “ It’s also a style that there’s less point having made by a tailor – because its lack of shape means the tailor has less to add, and because it’s surprisingly tricky to do.”

I have two questions: 1) Aren’t there other valid reasons for asking a tailor to make a raglan coat? 2) Why is it tricky to let a tailor make a raglan coat?

Roberto

Hello Simon. Great article as always.
Would you recommend Cordings Follifoot coat for casual wear?
May i ask what size is yours?

Ben

In terms of strikingness, Michael Browne’s piece just blows the others out of the water. Looks almost architectural.

zo

i think the edward sexton one does. that last shot could be straight from the matrix..

Matt

As always an very informative article. Do follow up with a more detailed post please and if I may suggest one thing also please touch on the subject of good combinations of such details and what combinations that wouldn’t necessarily go well together.

Thomas

Simon, I am thinking about a classic navy Martingale which I believe is typically a double breasted coat. Being 5’ 8’’ what do you think?

Matt H

Not Simon, but I’d advise you to consider all of the well-dressed Japanese men who wear coats like you describe (just check Instagram). Many or most of those men will be no taller than you and have to trouble pulling off any type of coat.

Adam

I really enjoy the overcoat posts so thanks for this. A navy DB ulster coat was my first piece of bespoke tailoring and I wear it as much as I can throughout the winter. I didn’t even know the term ulster coat when I went into the tailors, but I wanted a double breasted overcoat and the staff guided me in the right direction. The buttons are in a 6×3 arrangement but can be buttoned as a 6×2 just as easily. The top buttons being closer together works better for my slender frame. I also think it helps keep the coat a bit more casual (and most importantly, my girlfriend likes it).

If I can add my opinion to the jeans question, I do wear mine with jeans – but I find it’s better suited to very dark indigo denim rather than blue or faded denim.

Nuno

Great article as usual. I thought there was one missing possibility in terms of lapels and buttoning, which is a coat that buttons all the way up with just a collar stitched on at the top and no lapels. I do not know the name for such a coat but I find them quite elegant, especially when the buttonholes are hidden, such that only the top button shows when buttoned. Perhaps you consider this style too informal?

Thomas

Yes. Apologies for not being clear Simon. I am not sure it would suit me given how tall I am.

Matt H

Interesting article as usual. Simon, how much difference would there normally be in dimensions between coats intended to be worn over tailoring and coats that you’d wear over only a shirt/jumper? Would you say it is essential to decide what will be worn underneath before purchasing a coat?

Also, what would you say the main differences are between an Ulster and a polo coat? They look essentially the same to me. (Which I know is why you’re saying not to get hung-up on names).

James

Yet another great guide, Simon!

I’ve recently been playing with the idea of drawing up a very casual looking top coat, to be worn over knitwear and jeans/cotton trousers. I’ve been thinking a wool herringbone, or perhaps a donegal with a nice texture, in a green-brown tone. Not overly heavy – mostly geared towards a mild fall/spring But in particular I was contemplating a four-pocket design, like an oversized safari jacket, to really accentuate its casual nature.

I’m not sure if a four-pocket design like a safari would work at a topcoat length though (or even at mid thigh), as I haven’t seen much like it before. The idea may seem too niche, but if it worked well I feel like I might reach for this more often than other tailored options, since I frequently put on what I think feels most appropriate warmth/weather wise, but then abandon it for something less suitable (e.g. shorter) but which looks more relaxed.

Matthew

You gotta share with me what the brand/style the very first (brown) coat is!

I own three tailored coats that are put to shame by that very beautiful onr!!

JB

Overcoats and outerwear are arguably the most fun part of the male wardrobe.
While I haven’t ventured into bespoke yet, I have a few mtm ones that I really like. There’s something reassuring about a great overcoat. It goes with virtually anything and it adds a bit of dramatic flair. I love it.

For me, being 6.3, somewhere between lower knee and mid-low calf is the perfect length., and I’ve always preferred a clean back even on casual coats.

Mansy

Given the understandable love for raglan above and the relative lack of good options out there (the PS raglan being a notable exception of course!) I wonder if anyone is doing some kind of simple MTM service on raglan coats? Pick your cloth, standard shape (which you can alter by going up or down a size), adjustable sleeve and coat length. Done.

I think Stoffa and Saman Amel have their offerings but any other recommendations would be great!

Alexander

So this style, peak lapel on the front, belt at the back is “incongruous”?
https://www.piniparma.com/collections/coats/products/blue-polo-coat-made-in-italy#mz-expanded-view-287647689556
In other words: if you want a cinched back with a belt, you would want an Ulster collar in the front? But the ulster collar could still be called a special form of a peak lapel (?).

Zy

Simon, apologies I am not sure where the right place for this to go is. But, whenever I try to “view all active threads” on the main PS page, I get a note about a critical WordPress failure (“There has been a critical error on your website. Learn more about debugging in WordPress.”) This is unfortunate, as I enjoy following conversations in various places on here, as I imagine do other readers, so I thought I would bring this to your attention.

Tony

Simon, I’m like to hear your thoughts on shawl collars on coats.

In my mind they seem to fit perfectly with fairly unstructured, drapey coats with a belt and raglan sleeves in a soft hand fabric like cashmere/flannel/camel, but that doesn’t seem to exist in the market, so I’m wondering whether I’m missing something.

Tony

I guess there’s louche, and then there’s looking like you had to jump out of the shower to sign for a package.

On the question of not sweating the sweater or suit fit, would you say a raglan sleeve gives you the best of both worlds in that it doesn’t matter so much if there’s a bit more or a bit less shoulder inside it?

PK

Great article! Does a velvet collar add to the formality? My gut feeling says it does but usually adding practical features reduce the formality?
How about combining velvet collar and a belt/half belt, potentially elegant or clash of formalities?

Rogey

A bespoke overcoat has got to be one of the best things a man can commission. It is much more than something handsome, practical. When, for example, you wear your Edward Sexton long coat, Simon, do you not feel you could tramp through the Balkans in winter? A man in a Loden coat is seen on a street in Vienna, headed for a dinner of schnitzel and the opera. A man in a British warm signs treaties.

I got my first bespoke overcoat this year. Mine is quite similar to Daniel Day-Lewis’ overcoat in Phantom Thread. Single-breasted, buttons showing, turn-back cuffs, but it is not a raglan coat like his. It is fitted and the shoulders are tailored. The cloth is a great Harris Tweed, from the same Holland and Sherry book that I believe your Liverano Ulster is from, the swatch one tick off yours. Mine is No. 892021, the same reddish brown as your Ulster, but with a black and amber overcheck. I wondered how it would make up, as the cloth is only 16 or 18 ounces, but it made up into a heavy, robust coat that is impenetrable to wind and weather. I obsessed about all of these choices–the possibilities are endless in designing an overcoat–but my guess is that whatever style and cloth someone chooses, the pleasure of wearing it will be the same.

Leiito

Does anyone know where to find a classic minimalistic raincoat, single breast, impregnated cotton or such like, in dark navy, the kind you wear over suit. All I keep seeing is car coats, raincoats that look too heavy and raincoats trying to be different. Officine Generale had one I liked last year but by the time I decided to pull the trigger it was sold out and is no longer available.

Massimo

Great Article! Thanks, Simon. I really like Overcoats, always smart and stylish

Rudy

What about epaulettes? How does it affect its formality?

James

Great article again!. Any thoughts on shawl collars on overcoats? Something like a longish coat in dark navy with a wide shawl collar (possibly velvet covered) with the idea of being able to flip up and wrap the collar around the neck when it’s very cold, ideally so it can be used both for quite formal occasions like over a black or white tie outfit and more casually with jeans and a sweater. Length along the lines of your Sexton coat. A bit like a more formal tailored version of a traditional thick silk dressing gown with its wide velvet collar. a number of questions then arise: whether it should be single or double breasted, normal or raglan shoulder, how to button or belt it, etc.. Any ideas/images/suggestions? Or is it a totally mad idea that is unlikely to work well?

James

Many thanks for your comments. I have a few normal coats so taking a chance is OK, as is being a “little” dramatic (your Sexton coat is also somewhat dramatic), but doing something obviously mad is not the intention. I have seen a few pictures from the 1920’s showing some coats with shawl collars, and was wondering if you have some images in your library that might give mo inspiration, or some thoughts on design ideas.

Arndt

Hello Simon

Lovely blog-post as ever and very informative!

I am very much in love with that oversized grey herringbone overcoat from Connolly (https://www.permanentstyle.com/2019/04/a-connolly-tonal-outfit-cream-grey-and-brown.html), which unfortunately is no longer available. I am thinking of having it replicated by my tailor but I would say that given its loose style it might be better bought as a RTW item, which given the fact that it is no longer available is a bit of a problem. I would be interested to know what you would do.

Thank you and best regards
A.

p.s. No chance you would ever sell yours I suppose?! 🙂

Bernie Leung

Hi Simon,

What top coat styles offer neck protection? I get cold easily and have both the charcoal and dark brown PS Donegal Overcoat. I find the throat strap to be a game changer.

That being said, the peacock and double breasted coats all look so tempting but I am not sure how that would work in terms of neck protection. Would love your thoughts, thanks!

Bernie Leung

Makes sense, thank you!

John Brennan

Hi Simon,

I enjoy your posts very much and find them informative and entertaining. I was disturbed therefore to come across an eBay seller using your photos to advertise their knockoff merchandise. Perhaps they have your permission. In any case, I thought you and your lawyers should know. Here’s the link:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/164549546112

Best,

John

Brandon O

Hi Simon. Do you know of anyone making full-length coats that are shearling lined? I’ve often felt this would be an enjoyable, very warm option, with a rustic but appealing look. There are probably true leather coats from fur along these lines (e.g. an entire bearskin or the like), but that seems a bit much…

Kostas

Hi simon , how are you ? I have a fabric from Lovat Ettrick bunch . It is a beautiful Russel Glenhurt. I have taken it to my tailor asking him to make it a balmaacan coat . He is strongly insist that it would look better in a double breasted coat. It is an idea that i like , but i don’t know if such a pattern is sutable for a double breasted project. Do you think that such a pattern would look good in a double breasted coat ? My daily attire is prety casual. Thanks

Kostas

Thank you for your reply. You think as single breasted would be ok ? Thanks.

Kostas

Thank you.

Juan

Good evening Mr. Crompton, thank you for the article. Searching online for an overcoat I found a double breasted vintage one, made in Czechoslovakia. Its cloth is patterned with thin diagonal stripes in charcoal and light grey colours. Some time ago I used to have a SB made with the same cloth, and as you take more distance from the garment, It seems to be solid charcoal grey. What are your thoughts on this pattern (and colour) for an overcoat? Thanks in advance.

Nick

Hi Simon, I am thinking of commissioning and overcoat, however given the circumstances I want to focus on London tailors. I have scrolled through various instagram pages and my impression was that stylistically London tailors were less consistent with overcoats than with jackets. I also get the impression that they are more focused on standard db peak lapel coats than ulster coats. The latter they tend to cut with razor sharp lapels and I prefer softer, more rounded lapels like you Liverano. These were just general thoughts from about 1 hour of research so I am not claiming to have a comprehensive view on the matter. I suppose the question is if you were to commission a navy overcoat in London who would you turn to?

Hugh

Could you elaborate on that, Simon? Did they mimic Cifonelli on your wrap coat, or are you thinking of something else?

Anonymous

Hi Simon, what advice do you have for dressing a formal navy wool coat down (like sneaker level down)? I’ve seen one or two pictures of Akamine Yukio doing it. It’d be super helpful if you could even write an article about this, especially for people starting to build a wardrobe slowly and only have one coat!

Georgios

hi Simon, i am looking for my first coat after a long time wearing only sport jackets. Im leaning to a raglan cause i read that its the easisest to wear but would you have any suggestion on the brand and color ?

Sam

Hi Simon, I’m getting my first coat (and indeed, first bespoke item) made. I’ve had a read of the above and have a fairly clear idea of what I want. I’d very much value your view on whether I’m getting something wrong in your opinion, or if you have any suggestions.
I’m broadly looking for a coat that is generally to wear with smart casual, but can be worn over a suit in a pinch. Definitely DB. Therefore I’m thinking of a Ulster-like coat: 6×2, horizontal peak lapels, turnback cuffs, half belt, and flapped patch pockets. Cloth wise I’m thinking a Dugdale 25 oz charcoal herringbone. Length wise to the widest part of my calf (so 4 inches or so below the knee). I think I’m avoiding any pleats and just going for a split below the waist on the back (no buttons).
Any tips? I’m hoping this works with chinos/chelsea boots, as well as a navy suit and black shoes (likely loafers as I tend not to wear Oxfords) in a business environment. As always, your time is appreciated. Thanks!

Sam

Fantastic, thanks Simon! It’s a relatively light charcoal so I think probably already within your recommendation but I’ll take another look. And yes, that’s what I meant on the buttons. As always, thanks for your time.

Veda

I had my tailor removed all the half belts and tightened the waist up a bit if necessary. A lot cleaner look without the belt breaking up the heightening illusion.