I think this Chapal jacket holds the record for the review most frequently requested, yet never fulfilled. I do apologise – the past two winters I have meant to shoot and cover it, and things have always got in the way.
The upside of the delay is that, I think, the jacket now qualifies for our ‘How great things age’ series. I’ve had it for five years, and even if it has never been worn intensely, it has been consistently.
So how do I feel about it now?
In brief, it is a truly luxurious item of clothing which I hugely enjoy wearing. It’s also unique – I’ve never seen or tried a leather jacket using these kinds of materials, that has this feel.
On the downside, I found it quite a ‘reproduction’ military look for a while, and that sometimes stopped me wearing it. That was improved when I started wearing it more without the fur collar (as here).
And, I probably made a mistake when commissioning (it was made to measure) in keeping it fairly short. This means I find it’s really only functional with mid- to high-waisted trousers.
The jeans I’m wearing here are the Full Count ones covered recently in this Anthology piece. They have a back rise of 17 inches, which is pretty high.
If I wear anything lower, the tight ribbing of the Chapal jacket rides up above the waistband of the jeans – pushing them down, showing some T-shirt/shirt, and becoming less comfortable.
There’s nothing wrong with the ribbing itself. A blouson style is meant to have a tight waistband, so it stays in place while the voluminous material above allows you to move around.
That blousy cut is also, I think, rather flattering. It gives you a particularly small waist and big back – the greatest ‘Atlas’-style proportions possible.
An old-style flight jacket is an extreme example. The proportions are exaggerated by the jacket being particularly short in the body, big and pleated in the back, and in a thick material.
But I do think proportions like this are worth tending towards, in contrast to the tight-fitting jackets that have dominated the 20 years or so.
And, I should say, in contrast to my own purchases in the past – particularly this Purple Label jacket. Six years later, I still think about buying the wrong size.
We’ll probably return to that theme later this year. It also applies to my old linen bomber, which would have looked better and in fact been cooler were it roomier. I even had a tailor slim it down: this was a mistake, and later led to me selling it.
Returning to the Chapal jacket, I won’t go into the history of the company here, as I covered in previously in this article, when I visited the Paris atelier.
I also won’t detail the make of the jacket, or the made-to-measure process, because again, I covered them previously here.
Instead, today’s piece is purely a reflection on my experiences with it, and an answer to the question: would I recommend it to readers?
The point about experience to focus on is that this jacket feels like no other to wear.
The outer is made from a veg-tanned sheep leather that Chapal makes in its own tannery. It is thick but soft, robust but easy. I have horsehide jackets that have a similar strength, and calf ones that are just as soft, but nothing combines both in this way.
The reason the leather is so different is that Chapal has been tanning since 1832, and it still owns that tannery, which gives it control of production. It knows the original formulas and it can fulfil them.
Sometimes it’s hard to point to ways that owning your production creates a better product, but with Chapal, here, it’s pretty obvious. It’s also a good case for paying to develop your own materials, rather than picking from swatches.
The lining of the jacket is not unique, but it’s still pretty unusual.
Mine, the standard lining, is a heavy tan gabardine with a padded backing. This adds to the luxurious feeling when wearing it, and to its warmth.
There are other (in theory more luxurious) linings available. You can have it with Fox flannel or with silk. But I think the gabardine is the nicest, and probably best suited to the leather.
The jacket’s ribbing is a cashmere/wool mix that, while soft, is heavy enough to be very strong. The hardware is all brass, and my favourite untreated one at that – so it tarnishes, but can be brought back up to a shine if desired.
In conclusion, would I recommend it to readers? I think yes, but only if the style is you, and price isn’t too much of an issue.
Style-wise, a suede jacket like my Himel Bros is easier to wear. It has less of a repro look, is more subtle in style, and goes with a greater range of clothing. A Valstarino-style suede would be more versatile still.
But it is easier to wear than many horsehide jackets, including my own brown Real McCoy’s. That has an asymmetric, biker-style cut, but even a straight A2 from Real McCoy’s or Aero leather can look quite unusual, and I know many guys don’t like the stiffness of horsehide.
The Chapal USAAF is expensive. When I bought mine a ready-made jacket cost €3120 and today it is €4600 (both including VAT). But Chapal is a small brand, and the quality is top notch: that money is all going into the product.
I am very, very glad I own mine, and would do so again. It wouldn’t be the first leather or suede jacket I would buy, and I wouldn’t hugely stretch my budget to reach it, but it deserves its reputation as a piece apart.
In the outfit, by the way, I’m wearing the jacket with a grey thermal T-shirt from Adret.
Because of the shortness of the jacket, it needs a shorter or waisted piece underneath, as most T-shirts would drop beneath the hem. (This isn’t necessarily wrong, just a different look, and not mine.)
You could tuck the T-shirt in of course, but the Adret thermals (although predictably expensive) have the advantage of ribbing at the bottom, like a sweatshirt, which keeps them sitting higher.
They also have the look of a sweatshirt, and I like this look under a variety of casual pieces, from blousons to overshirts. It looks neater than a T-shirt, but still sporty and not as smart as a knitted tee.
Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt
Boots shown are the Cranleigh from Edward Green
The USAAF jacket is available in other materials including black and charcoal leather, brown suede and boiled wool. Made to measure is available in Paris but also online, through digital consultations.
Made to measure costs €500-€1000 on top of the ready-made price. Completely original designs in collaboration with the team are also possible, for a larger add-on.
Very cool jacket.
The cropped, boxy silhouette really makes for Atlas-proportions, as you say. My biggest gripe with most leather jackets are that they are to slim and to long in the body. This takes away from them being able to enhance the wearer’s physique, I think. Your suede Himel Bros-jacket, though really cool, would look even better with a shorter length, I think. Any thoughts on that?
Simmons Bilt has an MTM-option, though significantly cheaper than Chapal. I guess what I would loose out on is the luxuriousness of the leather, lining and ribbing. But would be able to create a similar silhouette and fit.
I think the Himel is great at that length, but it’s also a different style, not being elastic at the bottom. That would never sit tightly and allow the jacket above to fill out, if that makes sense. It’s also rather stiffer.
A Valstarino could work well in that kind of cut though, and I think that shows it could work in suede too
I’ll check the body length later. We did also slim the body a touch too!
You could certainly take these ideas of cut and apply it to another jacket. Obviously a lot of the pleasure is the materials though, and as you say those are the things you’d miss out on
If im not mistaken, this jacket was a made to measure but based on a Medium which you’ve increased the volume of the jacket?
did you find the jacket to have expanded at all ?
Reason I ask, I actually bought the size small off the rack online but when it arrived. i find the jacket to fit quite trim so im hoping if i wear it enough and put stress on areas I’d expanded, im hoping it will expand…
I haven’t really found it’s expanded at all Petre, no sorry
I find that most leather goods stretch much less than salesman trying to push us out of the door would have us believe – I’d be surprised if a leather jacket expanded noticeably.
I think it’s hard to generalise in my experience. A soft calf or kid suede without much else going on in the design could stretch, but a heavier coarser leather won’t. But yes you’re right, stretching is not much of an issue generally
Something which has always put me off this style of jacket is the combination of materials, and the belief that the ribbing cannot possibly last and age as well over time as the leather. Surely the cashmere/wool mix will wear out far sooner than the leather, particularly on the cuffs? If you are paying £3120-£4600 for a leather jacket, it should last a lifetime, and that can’t be the case for the cashmere/wool. Or would the makers replace worn out ribbing?
They would replace it, yes, though to be honest it’s shown no signs of wear so far.
The Chapal 1914 Vest is the item I never knew I needed.
I agree with you about the fur collar. Removing it moves the jacket into a modern look.A cushman sweatshirt would really complement it.
I have (Too) many horsehide jackets and much of the pleasure is in the leather itself; with that in mind sheep leather can seem weak and delicate in comparison. (Its not weak I know) This morning though I wore a sheep leather jacket (cafe racer style from Coach) and as with what always happens, I put it on and love it, how much lighter and easier it is to wear and of course it does not feel weak and delicate at all. There be a place for all leathers and suedes in the wardrobe. Your Chapal does look nice, I have a horsehide (eastmans) G1 and an A2 that are similar but I do like this slightly civilianized version with the wearable sheep leather. Very nice, I remember you having it made and liking it then,
I think think is a great jacket Simon and flattering. I completely agree with the comment about size – I think tight leather jackets can be tricky to pull-off stylistically once you get to a certain age (I am roughly the same age as you) and can smack of all the clichés around mid-life crises etc.
I bought a similar jacket – both style and colour – from Cromford (which i discovered through PS) and despite my initial reservations, I love it and wear it a lot. It is also a roomier cut which makes you much more at ease. Cromford also had a range of discounted items in-store which PS readers may be interested to know – mine was half retail price which was a significant saving – so well worth popping in and exploring…
Aha, yes good point. Definitely worth a look if anyone is walking Chiltern Street.
By the way, you probably saw it but we talked about issues with leather jackets and age in this recent piece too. Just in case you missed that one
How does Chapal compare to Alfredo Rifugio and Sartoria Melina, Mr. Crompton? Chapal seems more fashion forward to me.
I suggest having a look at my previous article on Chapal, where I compare them to Seraphin – both French, both top quality, but very different aesthetics.
Rifugio and Melina are more similar to Seraphin in that regard, but while Seraphin is certainly more fashion, Rifugio and Melina are more tailoring-driven and classic in style.
Simon, I have a leather jacket (similar to yours) bought many, many years ago from Willis & Geiger (now defunct). I have had three complete linings replaced,and have had the cuffs and bottom replaced at least twice. Originally the jacket was a close fit, but over time the leather has stretched so that now it hangs almost straight with little of the boxy Atlas-proportions remaining. (That is ok as I too have little of the Atlas proportions remaining.) The leather is distressed, torn and repaired, darkened – all evidence of its age. Leather is after all, a skin, and like any natural material will change over time. Your readers should be prepared for these changes. More than any other item of clothing, however, my grandchildren covet this jacket because of its obvious and apparent histories.
i’m wondering about the utility of the pockets on this type of jacket. do you find it uncomfortable to use the patch pockets, as opposed to the slanted pockets? i tried on a suede jacket with a similar cut from No Man Walks Alone, but it only had patch pockets, and i found they were a bit too high. more appropriate for storage rather than for protecting your hands against the cold – and it would have to be quite cold for me to wear a leather jacket, especially if lined.
Yes, the patch pockets here are certainly not a good angle to use from the top. They’re just for storage really
I think it’s interesting that you find yourself tending toward larger upper-body proportions. You said the same in your “How My Jacket Style Has Changed” article last year, and I’ve noticed it with my clothes. Having gone for slim tailored shirts and smallish jackets, I’m finding they look much better and are more comfortable a bit looser and roomier. They’re also more forgiving generally to activities and weight changes.
It strikes me whenever I look at period clothing, especially the 1950s. Typically they are a classic, masculine silhouette with loose (blousy even) fitting shirts and longer, more generous jackets. As you say, it makes for a stronger upper body and smaller looking waist.
After years emphasizing skinny looks, I wonder if we might see a broad turn back in that direction for the sake of comfort?
I agree James, and I think we are. Tailoring might still look quite skinny, but everything else is much larger in proportions – big flannel shirts, large hoodies or fleeces. I think tailoring just has to catch up.
Doubtless when it does, GQ will have it on its cover and say whichever brand it is has come up with something revolutionary. Instead of the truth, which is that it’s a look that dominated 30 years ago, and has been favoured by guys like us for a good while already
It makes me realize I’m more prone to current trends than I’d like to admit. Or at least, it’s taken me some time to parse out what is enduring and permanent about style vs what is presently fashionable. The principles you and others have shared about the effect of proportion, leading lines, etc. have been fixed points in an otherwise shifting sea, and I realize I’d do well to prioritize them.
I’ve had two similar flight jackets in the past and I’ve had to sell them on because I couldn’t get them to work in my wardrobe. Like you said, the shorter length forces you to wear a high rise trouser, and wide rib tops like a Cushman sweatshirt or the one you’re wearing. And you end up looking like James Dean. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but personally I want to borrow elements from 1950s and put them in a modern context. I find Perfectos are far easier to ‘modernise’ in that way.
Interesting isn’t it? A perfecto is definitely a stronger style than this one, but it feels like it could be easier to wear because you see them around much more (though mostly on women)
Personally I don’t think this look is too James Dean, but it goes in that direction when you wear a white T-shirt under
I recommend you write Managing Editor Jim Dean and Senior Editor Gordon Duff (who published his photographs walking in the Scot Highlands) at Veterans Today and tell them you want background information by persons who wore your jacket. Please remember USAF didn’t exist until around 1948. Your jacket has a much longer history and if you tell Mr Dean and Mr Duff you need exchange with Army Air Force pilots who wore your jacket, you could meet veterans who know it and so you will be able to understand it deeper in every detail.
PS: Barrister Michael Shrimpton is expert on military history and can help you learn about your jacket, too. You might ask him for an appointment in London to discuss why this jacket was invented and its relationship to Royal Air Force.
Mr Jim Dean, Managing Editor, Veterans Today [email protected]
Mr Gordon Duff, Senior Editor
Barrister Michael Shrimpton
All three know me and I’d be grateful if you say hello for me
hi simon, im interested in that thermal, havnt seen anything like that before- can i ask how much is ther thermal?
I think it was £220 John. Adret is quite expensive
Hi Simon. It’s certainly a glorious jacket. I was thinking, and I wonder if you’d agree, that it is a touch feminine? Not saying that negatively of course. I think the look comes across the most in the photo of you in profile.
It might just be how the jacket billowing comes to a sharp stop at the bottom, relatively high on your body. Emphasizing a “slender” waist.
Yes, I can see how some people might see that as a feminine aspect. But it’s very much a question of period – for most of the twentieth century, trousers were worn higher on the natural waist, and this is wear functional jackets like this ended too. You get similar proportions (but not the same size of back) on something like a denim jacket, or indeed a fitted waistcoat with wider trousers
I take your point Simon. We’ve obviously had 70-odd years of Women taking on what was then traditionally male clothing. I suppose that’s caused me to associate some of the classic male styles with women’s wear.
Yes, well put. I think you see that particularly around vintage and repro enthusiasts today – women are more likely to wear the real high-rise trousers and really short blousons
It looks great Simon. Based on what you’ve written, would you make it a tad longer?
I’ve tried their M size when I was in Paris and I thought I was too short (my trousers are mid-rise mostly). Did you change the length from the M?
I don’t think I did Noel, no, though it’s been a few years so it’s hard to remember for certain. I would add about an inch to this, yes, just so it was a little more comfortable with mid-rise trousers
Associations are personal, but in terms of reproduction the average person might not think too much about WWII pilots, they’re more likely to have something like Indiana Jones in mind!
Wearing it with jeans and a chunky t-shirt pulls it away from these associations.
Simon thats a great jacket and im sure you will wear it for many many years, maybe not as everyday jacket but sure in some good ocassions. Can you tell the difference between the one you have and this one ? https://therake.com/stories/style/chapal-for-the-rake-usaaf-jacket/
I haven’t read all the text on that Rake one, but as far as I’m aware the only difference is the lining, and the fact mine was made to measure.
I have that fur collar, as mentioned, but just don’t use it much
I bought a new A2 from Cockpit this year. It is goatskin. I am anxious to see how it looks in a couple of years. Of course, I have had similar in cowhide but goatskin is a new experience for me. Like you mentioned, the banding fabric cinches the waist. I am attempting to lose about five pounds from my waist so that will help. The jacket is size 44 and the jacket fits me perfectly.
I have my fathers orginal A2, he was crew chief and gunner on a PBY during WW2..he had the cuffs and bottom elastic knitting redone twice, the jacket is in excellent shape. The cut of the jacket runs slimmer for a trim look; for those that serve know what I mean. I wear it occasionally, to remember the sacrifice that generation made and to honor them.
Amazing, thanks Robert
Lovely leather jacket but AGAIN seems a bit off on an older gentleman, sorry. Perhaps it is the 70’s sitcom ‘happy days’/fonzie connection or perhaps it could be the james dean iconography that just seems daft in a man of a certain age.
No worries, thanks for the view. As on the black jacket discussion, I wonder how many of those references are only in the older guys looking at it
A wonderfully insightful article and a truly superb piece of clothing. Simon, you mention above different types of leather jacket. I wonder if you’ve written a piece on “if you only had five leather jackets” and if not if that’s something you’d consider?
Yes I can, and others have raised it. I think it might be the wrong thing for that format – I don’t think anyone needs more than one or two – but I can certainly lay out the different options and their styles
Have you seen this article by the way David? It looks at the styles of suede jacket in a similar way
Thanks Simon on both counts. Taking your comments in reverse: yes, I’ve seen the casual paradigms article, which is very useful. In the case of the former, I think an understanding of styles and options would be truly useful. The leather jacket world can be hard to get a sense of, so if that article were at some point forthcoming I think it would be very beneficial as a complement to the casual paradigms article you kindly link above. Thanks again Simon!
OK great, thanks David
what is that on the back for? and what is its name?
You mean the half belt, or the pleats on either side of the shoulders?
Great looking jacket. The A-2 style is fantastic and flattering as long as you’re not too big in the body. In its purest form it’s a very an unfussy pattern – three body panels, a couple of pockets, no gussets or buttons – and on a larger body the lack of any seams to break up the expanse of leather can draw attention to one’s girth.
I’ve owned a few, but my current one, a made-to-measure in russet leather by John Chapman at Good Wear, is my go to summer jacket: light, easy to dress up or dress down, extremely flattering and looks better with every passing season.
To me, the USAAF jacket got a bad rap during the 80s, when everyone was running around in oversized blousons. When you look back at pics of the originals, they ran long or short but never oversized. Personally, I tend towards Steve McQueen in The Great Escape when it comes to my preferred fit.
Nice, and thanks for the recommendation of another maker Craig
Whenever I have worn a smooth leather top with suede footwear I have got some feeling of mismatch. Don’t you?
On a different note, is some kind of mending other than altogether replacement possible when cuffs lose their tautness and the maker can’t be reached? If yes, what kind of crafts person would you look for?
Not particularly, no. I think there is a risk there of one being much more smart or casual than the other to be aware of, but not merely in a difference of textures.
I don’t think cuffs can be mended like that, no. To the best of my knowledge they would have to be replaced.
Hey Simon, hope all’s well.
Such a good jacket, big fan of both Chapal and how this looks on you. I particularly like the look of the slightly more relaxed jeans and the shorter jacket proportions, very masculine to my eyes and as you mention, proportions worth leaning towards going forward.
I’ve tried the brown on before and while I love the jacket and cut itself, the brown is just a touch too light in colour for me. I have black in mind and firmly on my list. Now, I know I know, brown would be more versatile for most people but my justification is, I’m a cold colour guy, all the time. Grey, more grey, some navy, dark denim, olive if I’m feeling really adventurous. I’d wear it with dark denim, knitwear in the colour range mentioned, and white sneakers/converse or suede boots. Flannels and suede boots with a western shirt occasionally maybe.
As is the way, my inspiration doesn’t exist in isolation. I’ve seen a couple of guys recently wearing this classic style in black. One in particular was on a recent trip to NYC. I like the fact despite being black, it feels removed from a biker or racer jacket, without any bells whistles etc. I think that lovely brass hardware helps separate it further.
Would a black Chapal USAAF along with say a brown Valstarino offer pretty good coverage in the leather jacket range? I can’t see what more I’d need after that
I think it would, yes, and I agree with your thinking elsewhere too. Sounds like it would be a good choice
Simon, one thing I notice, despite being a neat/trim jacket, the shoulders and chest here fit you perfectly, with some nice room, nice broad but subtle V shape from the shoulder edges through the body. I think that’s half the beauty of a jacket like this, nice broad shoulders and chest proportions.
I saw Someone comment on instagram recently on the proportions of The Flat Head leather jackets, and sure enough, I noticed the generous shoulder measurements when I checked, helping explain why their proportions look so good (to me at least). It’s only an inch or so, but to me it makes the difference between a nice jacket and a cracking one.
I noticed on the RTW size medium, for me at least, the shoulders were coming up a tad narrow, also a little close in the chest, which to me ends up looking a little constricting/unflattering, but the waist/body was perfect, size large was the other way round. I know this is a similar issue you find at times.
My question is, when investing in a once in a lifetime purchase like this, is there an argument to just push it a bit and go made to measure while I’m at it?
If it is truly a once in a lifetime thing, then yes there is a good argument for that. However, I would want to have tried them on a couple of times to make sure I loved the style before making that kind of commitment
Solid advice, thanks simon
What sort of maintenance did you do to this jacket over the years ?
Nothing at all actually. It’s not been that heavily used that it’s needed anything
I have a similar jacket and I wonder what would it need in the future? I enjoyed your series about suede jackets and I wondered how does one take care of a leather one like this one? Should it be conditioned after a certain number of years if it feels dry for example? Is waterproofing ever required?
Normally the only issue is drying out, and that’s after years of wear unless it gets soaked a lot. But every leather (and how it’s dyed) is different, so talk to the manufacturer really. With this one, I’ve seen them after years of wear and no treatment at all and they look great. So that’s what I would plan to do
As nice as all this is Simon, I think you’re losing touch a bit. Bespoke tailoring these days is irrelevant. Very few people wear suits and ties and if you really must, choosing a fine fabric such as Loro Piana for a sports coat and going made to measure will give you all the fit and fabric you need.
Similarly, how many people can blythely part with thousands of dollars for a leather or suede bomber jacket?
I have several in both from Roxa leathers via ebay, which cost around £60 new. Perhaps I’m just a good fit for their products but in my view they look as good as anything which to me signals pretension as much as anything.
Roxa are sturdy, comfortable, varied in design, well-styled and long-lasting – and mine have not developed the visable droopy drape which does your dark brown suede Valstar (?) no favours.
Oddly enough Rob, I actually get more criticism these days for not writing about bespoke tailoring rather than writing about. But there you go, you can’t satisfy everybody.
I think suggesting a £60 leather jacket is anything like one that costs over a thousand is a little naive I’m afraid. You could certainly make an argument that for a few hundred pounds you’d get to the point with the quality of the leather where the diminishing returns drop off too much. But a leather jacket at that price will be of the cheapest split of hide, treated and artificially finished.
I’m sure you’re correct about the appalling quality of £60 suede jackets bought from India on Ebay. I’ll let you know when I actually discover it.
Have you ever examined such a downmarket item or are you making assumptions? In any case, I find them strong, comfortable and nicely styled.
A nice bomber jacket does not have to cost €4000. Surely that’s something which is relevant to about 3pc of the population. And not too many people with money to burn actually care enough about the way they look to burn it on clothes
Regarding bespoke and made to measure, your remark about getting more not fewer queries, the precise opposite is true in Australia.
Parrick Johnson, with whom you had a rather, er, dubious experience, said they were only able to stay afloat during three years of pandemic with so many people working from home by switching to made to measure leisure and casual wear – denim, sweaters, even track suits, albeit in high quality fabrics.
There was precious little call for suits and jackets with much of the workforce at home.
It’s odd to me that two countries with a virtually identical approach to work attire should display such contrasting experiences.
Yes I have examined such jackets, and commented on this on the article last year on Massimo Dutti.
Perhaps more importantly, I also have quite a bit of experience now with sourcing leathers for the different collaborations we’ve done, and talked to both makers like Cromford and Valstar and to tanneries.
On the suit question, I think you misunderstand me. I said I get queries about bespoke. Not MTM or RTW.
This jacket is amazing, however I would argue that with the size of your wardrobe doesn’t qualify as an aged item. I think you should have done it when the piece hit the 10 year mark.
Yes you’re probably right
It’s a lovely jacket. I have a similar one and I’m wondering how I can wear it with different outfits.
How would you dress up this jacket? Perhaps for going out in the evening?
Would you wear flannel trousers like you’ve done with suede jackets?
Would it work with a rollneck knit? If so in what colours?
What about a Dartmoor in olive or navy ?
I wouldn’t say it’s that versatile a jacket, because it’s a specific style. I wouldn’t really wear it out in the evening, though I can see it might be good with flannels and a knit underneath. A rollneck would work but could look a little too strong a vintage look perhaps
Thank you Simon. I agree that it’s not the most versatile jacket but I believe that more than one outfit is hopefully possible.
Would you ever wear a shirt with it? Perhaps a PS OCBD? Either with jeans or chinos.
I also forgot to ask about shoes, besides trainers and boots, would suede loafers work? Or would we need something more casual like Alden’s Col 8 LHS?
Yes I’d certainly wear an Oxford like that with it, though probably not with loafers