Experimenting with the smock, or anorak

Friday, January 13th 2023
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Fifteen years ago, I wrote a piece called ‘Enjoy your fashion cycle’. Ten years later, in 2018, there was one called ‘How I filter fashions’. Today, I find myself thinking along the same lines as we explore casual (but often no less traditional) aspects of menswear. 

The central theme of those articles was that just because something is a fashion, you shouldn’t dismiss it. Feel free to adopt the sceptical raised eyebrow of an experienced dresser, but keep an open mind behind it.

There are several reasons for this. One is that it just breeds happiness: when a sceptic becomes a cynic it turns them sour. 

But more relevantly to menswear, chances are the new fashion is nothing new - it’s just an old thing coming round again, and being played around with by every creative friend, stylist and brand you know.

It's a stimulating opportunity to see how a tweed cap, a duffle coat or a monk-front shoe can be worn, and whether it might work for you. In that 2018 piece, I gave examples of Aloha shirts, gurkha shorts and oversized knits, and explained why I had adopted one out of the three. 

In the past year I’ve done so again - with both fun and enjoyment, not fuss or stress - with smocks.

The Real McCoy’s had some, then so did Bryceland’s; Nigel Cabourn added to ones they’d had for a while. Hiking versions fitted with the outdoor trend of the past few years, sometimes referred to as Gorpcore. See also hiking boots, fleeces and the recent New Balance Rainier (above)

Smocks or anoraks have been around since at least the nineteenth century, and have two origins: as workwear, particularly for farming; and as expedition clothing, with explorers like Armundsen adopting the Inuit ‘annoraaq’ made from furs, and then having Burberry make gabardine versions. 

The expedition clothing led to military applications, with paratroopers wearing them to cover up their equipment, and the US navy issuing them for deck work. Then after the war, they became popular for newly fashionable outdoor pursuits, including hiking. 

Originally, a hiking smock didn’t have a hood and an anorak didn’t have a chest pocket. But the designs and terms have long since been mingled. 

When I tried the new versions, the key issue I had was shape. 

A smock is deliberately cut square and straight - to make them easy to get on over bulky clothing and with the workwear versions, to make them easy to construct. 

If you’re slim and tall, this isn’t that flattering. Ideally you want something slimmer - still in keeping with the piece’s style and practicality, but made for you rather than a one-shape-fits-all average. 

The Bryceland’s Anorak, for example, is lovely and looks great on both Ethan (below) and Tony. But I look better in models that are less square, and have a cinch at the waist rather than the hem. 

I eventually found a vintage one I liked from Jojo at Rag Parade in Sheffield - posted by him on his Instagram and bought after a few messages establishing chest width, length and material. 

That’s it pictured at top and below. It’s Italian, dates from the 1950s in Jojo’s estimation, and comes complete with a couple of badges showing locations in Switzerland and Italy. 

I don’t care how old or rare it is, but I do like the fit (with the waist cinch), the design, and the things that come with wear - softness, washed-out colour, and little snags and repairs. It cost £350, which isn't cheap but less than the new high-end versions. 

I've found it’s a useful casual, bad-weather piece. I wear it with jeans or chinos (brown Rubato ones here), boots and a baseball or watch cap.

With the former, it has something of the terraces about it; with the latter it’s more outdoors-y, particularly with hiking boots. Either way the black colour makes it a little more urban.

It isn’t as practical as a modern version in at least two ways. One, the hood doesn’t have the peak that a modern waterproof would have, and so in the rain is best with a cap. And two, it’s a tightly woven cotton but still only cotton, and so not waterproof. 

It would originally have had a light wax to make it more so, and I might experiment with adding that later (trying first on a hidden area, perhaps inside). But as with most leisure clothing this won’t be worn for long walks in the rain, let alone for actual hiking. It’s just fine for journeying between buildings and different forms of transport.

I’ve enjoyed exploring this trend, filtering this fashion, playing afresh with something old. 

It should emphasise that more trends get rejected than adopted in this process. Those hiking-style trainers aren’t for me - I prefer boots; I like natural knitwear rather than synthetic fleece; gnome-like beanies still look ridiculous on my head, no matter how good they might look on others. 

This is what the wide world of casual clothing is all about. Principles, yes, but also personality and play. 

Photography: Milad Abedi

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Matthew V

I like it! I was investigating smocks / anoraks, considering Hawkwood Mercantile who seem to make to order. Similar detailing.

SAO

Very interesting. I can feel the eyebrows raising.
For me, this is a look that can easily appear over-the-top or off. The vintage smock is very nice in itself – appreciably different. But it’s a delicate balance to avoid looking too try-hard when wearing them. Something of the terraces is the right term.
To go full fabric nerd for a moment, I’ve been interested lately to learn about Ventile as a contemporary technical fabric for outdoor smocks (as opposed to “heritage outdoors”). In respect of proper outdoor equipment – for walking and mountaineering etc – synthetic technical fabrics, like assorted iterations of Goretex, are overwhelmingly dominant. And for good reason. Yet cotton Ventile still has an ardent fan base – especially among the more bushcrafty types. The reason is that it doesn’t rustle and is more comfortable to wear for long periods – while still having good water resistance. In the form of “double Ventile” (two layers) it is even claimed as fully waterproof (though rather heavy, especially when wet).
Have a look at the smocks made by Hilltrek in Scotland. Clothing – Smocks – Page 1 – Hilltrek Outdoor Clothing. No, its certainly not elegant menswear. But a genuine alternative to the crackly tyranny of Goretex, all the same. I have a single Ventile smock from them that I have found very useful for mountains. It’s especially good for damp and windy but not torrential type conditions; the UK norm, in other words.

Colin

Hilltrek make superb Ventile garments, up there with PWVC from a make perspective but more for the hills than town. They also offer mtm/bespoke and given each garment is made to order you can make small changes at no extra cost

Gary Mitchell

Had and have smocks to my memory all my life from a small boy, through orange outward bound stuff, military issued and self purchased. Of the few I have around an old Rohan one is excellent, I like them a lot… but for streetwear? No not even slightly tempted, for me its just wrong on the urban front and at worst it has a whiff of the hooded drug dealer about it. Right item, wrong place, wrong style. Hey but thats only my opinion which matters not a lot in the rich tapestry of life.

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Peter Hall

As you say.Ventile is king here.The old UK military issue desert windproof is the baby to look out for, but prices are very high and rising. The old style buffalo is great and vintage paramo is top drawer.

It’s a little too military for my wardrobe ,but they are great ffor camping.

A PS walking stick would be a fine addition. Perhaps with regular issues of those little badges .

Good stuff ,Simon.

Hello!

1982 guy is out here looking awesome.

Kev F

I love these; I have a few I use for outdoor photography but also regularly wear them just for casual every day use. They can be a bit boxy in shape but careful sizing can sort that out. The Scandi outdoor brands do particularly good ones often in more muted shades. I also have quite a heavy anorak in ventile which various firms offer often MTO. With regard to waterproofing ventile will take quite a downpour and Fjällräven for example have waxing blocks you can do yourself. One of the pleasing aspects of the cottons used is they look better the older and more battered they get.

Jakob W

As far as I know, both Hilltrek and Hawkwood Mercantile do MTO. Yarmouth Oilskins did in the past offer custom sleeve lengths and possibly also body lengths for a surcharge, but I don’t know whether that applies to their smocks as well. Lancashire Pike’s kit used to be MTO, but I don’t know if that included tweaking the sizing.

Peter Hall

Mountain Method in Cumbria ,Simon.

StuartR

Hi
This maker in Milan will do MTO I think
https://www.connectionknitwear.com/product/eiger/

Kev F

As mentioned above there is Hilltrek who will alter specs around and a company called Mountain Method who claim to do MTM as in altering lengths, widths etc to order. I don’t know what range of colours are available; first appearance is that they look well made.

Kev F

Responding to some of the queries and comments particularly about style and alternative options to the anorak we need to remember particularly in wet/cold conditions that function is the prime concern so features of style we might prefer in other casual clothing might not be relevant. There’s no reason why such clothing can’t look good though (thinking of Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris[?] in Heroes of Telemark, for instance). Also for those drifting toward the ‘Barbour’ style I wonder if anyone has experience of English Utopia based in York? Only seen it on the website but they appear to have a range of more luxurious jacket styles. The founder used to design for Barbour, I believe.

Nick

I wonder if this is a predominantly UK thing, as I have not seen anything along these lines in Australia. Looking at the photos and reading the article, I feel I would wear a Barbour (Bedale) in these situations. Simon, what’s the appeal for you for this garment; the style or it being vintage?

Jack

I’m from Australia too – This article is timely as I ordered a ventile smock from private white VC the other day and then had second thoughts..! I had seen a friend wearing one recently with shorts and looked good. The discussion makes me feel like it’s going to be alright though, I was aiming for it to be a bit of a layer in the hot/warm season if it rains, and ventile sounds breathable

JH

Interesting perspectivas, thanks Simon. I am afraid I don’t understand the meaning of the parase “something of the terraces”. Could you please elaborate?

JH

Thank you for your reply, Simon. Always good to learn something (else) new!

Rowan Morrison

Weren’t casuals called casuals because they were one of the first fashion tribes to war casual clothing as opposed to traditional tailored menswear like mods, or heavily stylized looks like glam/punk? That’s what I’ve always imagined anyway.

SamS

I believe they were called casuals because they would wear casual clothes rather than team colors or other articles of clothing strongly identifying them as supporters of a team.

Markus

Taking the anorak a good occasion to post a comment, as an Austrian with a passion for snow and skiing, I always felt there is one article lacking on Permanent Style.
My starting point is this: While much of the winter fashion featured on Permanent style may be perfect for English winters (damp, but not too cold), it does not suit the alpine regions of Europe (Austria, Switzerland, parts of France, Italy and Germany), Scandinavia or cold parts of North America. Winters are much colder, with snow and ice instead of rain, and in addition there often is also a distinct outdoor culture where people spend many weekends in the snow and mountains, going skiing, ski touring or cross country skiing.
While there is no shortage of companies producing waterproof functional clothing and shoes for sports (e.g. Bogner, Ortovox and Löwe in Germany, Mammut in Switzerland, Zanier and Dachstein in Austria, Helly Hansen in Norway, Fjällräven in Sweden, Scarpa in Italy, Canada Goose, many North American brands, etc), it is in my experience difficult to find companies that specialise in elegant menswear made for real cold and ideally also somewhat snow/water resistant for large cities but also elegant ski resorts (think of Lech or Kitzbühel in Austria, St. Moritz or Zermatt in Switzerland, Chamonix in France or Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy). The only brands I have found so far are Moorer and Herno, unsurprisingly Italian, and alpine leather boots like “Edmund Black” of Scarosso.
Therefore, my question: Do you think it would be helpful for your readers, who might live in cold places and also go to elegant skiing resorts in winter, to do an article on how to dress elegantly in the (real) cold with snow and ice including brands that provide such clothing? I remember you did an article once on how to dress in the heat / hot summers, this article would be the exact opposite.

Nick

I would second Marcus’ suggestion.

Northwall

Great idea! I would love to read about this.

ajbjasus

Frauenschuh is worth a look Markus,

Some of it might be a bit “designer”, but its a real Austrian manufacture craft company.

Arcterryx technical wear has somne pared back, subtle models, but Im not sure about the quality these days.

I’ve always found Bogner way over the top, both price and design wise.

RSM

I, too, second Markus’ suggestion.
Although, in my experience (living in Scandinavia), dressing for the cold, at least when being physically active, is mostly about layering (knitted wool is my preference) underneath a shell that protects from the wind and (ideally, at least to some extent, and when it is not so cold that all moisture is frozen) also from the wet. This means that the principles for dressing for PS readers will probably not be very different when in cold environments than they are when pursuing other outdoorsy activities in temperate climates (the difference being the number of layers required). In line with this there is perhaps also a potential for a broader article on how to dress elegantly for the outdoors?
Admittedly, being physically inactive in cold weather is somewhat different: One will then have to add something in addition, probably in the form of down or furs.

Ray_Bentos

I love a smock and think they almost always flatter the wearer, but I certainly expect some resistance from classic menswear enthusiasts.

An issue is that one of most prominent modern day smock-wearers is Liam Gallagher and that one of he most popular manufacturers is Stone Island (which comes with its own connotations in the UK).

For me, smocks are a distinctive item of clothing that not everyone will feel comfortable in (as opposed to jean or crew neck jumpers, which in general wont make you stand out even if you don’t like wearing them). I feel the same about polo neck jumpers. While I’d happily wear a smock, I’d never consider a polo neck jumper as in my mind they have a ridiculous “milk tray man” association. Horses for courses indeed.

Kevin

The sneakers the man is wearing in the orange smock are nice. Where can I find them!

Lee

I think those sneakers are made by US Rubber.

Lee Richardson

For some reason my post was ghosted. I believe the sneakers are from US Rubber. Why the drop on my post? The information may have been helpfull. However, it disappeared quickly.?

Stephen

Hi Simon
An interesting read. ‘Fashions/looks’ tend to be cyclical in the last century or so. I’m in my late sixties and I wear a M-1951 parka from the Real McCoys which a replica of an original that I wore in the actual late sixties!
Personally I think sometimes it’s possible to overthink styling a bit, as self image and how others see you can be very different.
I see an older gentleman when out walking on a local common who wears a smock, who looks extremely natural and well styled without the appearance of any effort. I hope my M-1961 looks the same.
I think it just comes down to what looks and feels right for the individual. I think the look is good on you and is nicely understated.
All the best.

jack williams

Hi Simon, An interesting article. I have a beautiful anorak made by a small company in St John’s, Newfoundland years ago. It is real oilskin, wax, so has a slight but pleasant smell. The company was call Rigor and made several jacket styles as well. If anyone of your readers know of the brand, I would welcome their comments as it seems to have disappeared. The color of the fabric was what set it apart – it was a rich fawn or tan color that was unique In fact, I liked it so much that I had them make a trench coat made of the same material – in a classic trench coat design that I wear with a brown Locke fedora often in the CIty.
The anorak works with a Yankee’s baseball hat, a watch cap, with turtlenecks. I also wear it with grey flannels or brown cords in a high-low combination. I have used it many times on canoe trips in continuous rain and snow and the laced front and neck works to keep the wet out on portages. The anorak was developed by the Native Americans, I believe, in the Arctic for use in conditions that required hands free activity and that would not tolerate buttons or snaps because of the cold and heavy mittens. It is one of those words and article of clothing, like parka, that has come to us from the Native Americans, via the French in Canada, that now appears on the street in London. Talk about in and out of fashion over a long period of time!
Jack Williams

FS

That’s a very cool vintage piece, Simon. As you mention, the boxy cut of most anoraks would not flatter my frame. For that reason, I’ve long had my eye on the “Alpine Anorak” from Alps and Meters, which is a slimmer cut. I want something that would be functional for outdoor pursuits, but also stylish. The only issue for me is I don’t know how much I’d actually wear it, so the price has served as a deterrent. Perhaps vintage is the way to go.

Michael Thompson

My biggest issue with anoraks is less about proportion and more about the ease of use. Much easier to regulate temperature on an Autumn or Spring day with zipper or button front. On/off is also a lot easier with a full zip which makes sitting down at a cafe or getting into a car much easier. It’s those reasons that an anorak has never made it into my coat closet. Absolutely love the patches on yours though.

Georgios

This article came exactly the time my casual jacket got stolen from a bar i was with some friends. Would you think a peacoat could work as a casual coat ? Could you suggest one ? Im not really sure thats the style i like a lot but i could imagine it fiting well with many styles.

Peter K

I have a Goretex anorak that I use for outdoor sports like skiing, snowshoeing and hiking. It has aged beautifully and I haven’t noticed it being stiff or rustling as others have commented. Maybe I’ve had it so long and have become so used to it that I don’t notice.
It’s too boxy and brightly coloured to wear casually but for outdoor pursuits it is perfect. I have never come across anything that I would consider replacing it with.

Robert

My, that New Balance ad desperately needed a proofreader…

Skeamo

Simon I would suggest that you start wearing hats rather then caps at your age. If your going to start dressing down so much you really should be thinking about taking the plunge into more sensible head wear to compensate for your informality.

Dante

I don’t really see how “dressing down” works if you’re going to try to offset it with out-of-place formal accessories. Especially in the age of high-low dressing, where that combination could send an even more subversive message than a simple casual outfit.

Alex O

I agree completely with that suggestion. For backpacking, I wear a brimmed canvas hat under rain jacket hoods that lack a sufficient peak to better keep rain off my face.
Although I like the clean front on an anorak, I generally prefer a full zip for convenience and temperature regulation. The only one I still have is a mildly outlandish mid-weight down article with slender stretch fleece panels at the side seams. It was designed for Nordic skiing in extreme cold, which was my original application.

Dante

I was, but I may have jumped the gun and misunderstood slightly. I took “brimmed hat” to mean a fedora from the likes of Optimo. There is definitely a middle ground between that and a watch cap.
I was confused because of Skeamo’s idea that dressing down necessitates compensating with “sensible head wear”. If that’s true, I don’t really see how dressing down would work, which led me to speculate that Skeamo’s issue with this post is the fact that you are dressing down to begin with.
Apologies to Skeamo and readers if I misinterpreted those points and took a different message from it than intended, or caused any other confusion.

And

wearing brimmed hats, which are already almost completely out of modern fashion (not just this year’s fashion cycle), to try and inject some formality in an outfit that lacks it, seems like a recipe for complete disaster.

Dan James

I’ve been following a man on Instagram ( x_75shoes) who dresses extremely well and he has a wonderful anorak by Ten c which is in OJJ (Original Japanese Jersey). Their anoraks are very understated and would seem to fit in with much of the ethos here. They are not cheap but perhaps best to be seen as a long term investment for several years wear and use.

Peter S

”When a sceptic becomes a cynic it turns them sour.” That’s some great writing right there, Simon. I’m going to steal that line.

TM

Do you know of any plans for Rubato to bring back this brown option?

Dan Grove

It’s not really fashion but for raw practicality nothing I’ve had comes close to my Patagonia waterproof jacket as a “throw on over everything else” solution. The windproof quality is perfect for average UK weather when a sweater is too cold but a coat is too warm. Mine’s grey and I think it looks fabulous (plus it matches well with everything) while also being excellent at keeping me dry.

I lean a lot more towards practicality rather than style these days (I have to be outside a lot for my work so comfort/weather considerations usually trump all) but I really enjoy finding practical stuff that I like and that suits my needs exactly (even/especially if it looks “terrible”). I’ll be the first to admit that I rarely look stylish (although I like to think I look curated) but my look is very personal to me at this point and I think that’s what matters most.

Dante

Glad I’m not the only one that noticed how trendy smocks became! In Vancouver they’re EVERYWHERE. Not for me personally but I can see how you’d feel more protected in something with a fully sealed front.
I did quite like the Soundman one that Andy had in his reader profile though. Simon I’m curious of your choice of waterproof if you ever go full-blown camping in the rain?
I just picked up a Helly Hansen sailing jacket to get me through the winter and a North Sea Clothing Diver in ecru (the first PS-featured piece in my wardrobe I think!) to be my insulating midlayer on extra cold days. Hopefully next winter if I can budget for it I’ll find the perfect Ventile hiking jacket. Hilltrek and Frahm both seem very interesting. I read all of these good things about Ventile, but no one ever seems to talk about the main reason I’m interested in it — trying to have a plastic-free outdoor wardrobe. Even if you ignore PFAS, if you own Gore-Tex/polyester/nylon weatherproof fabrics long enough you will see them shed the way synthetic fleeces do. I could go on about this but if anyone has had any particularly good experiences with Ventile hooded shell jackets I’d love to hear!

Dante

Fair enough, can’t really blame you for that. For some days in the elements it’s a safety issue as much as anything else.

Geoff Oakes

As a dog owner, I spend quite a lot of time in the rain and my current zip-up rain jacket does tend to let rain through the zip. When it needs replacing I’ll definitely check out some of the smocks mentioned. I’ve always loved this style. I think if you have a real need for the item’s function, you’ll feel comfortable with the look – not affected. Some of these smocks have loads of pockets which great for all the dog stuff!

Owen

Not sure about this one. As ever, it’s well considered, paired well with other garments and you can certainly pull it off, but smocks are a bit too Liam Gallagher for my taste, and it’s hard to escape the negative connotations. I’m a massive Oasis fan by the way.
I can’t see the advantage of a smock as a practical form of clothing over a Harrington or blouson, or even a proper technical jacket. Only buttoning to half way is a big inconvenience, especially for a piece of outerwear that you would expect to take off and on when you go indoors.

Fede U.

Hi, Simon. Great article. I think Barbour should consider bringing back the longshoreman smock.
May I ask if you know any garment in production that resembles said smock?
Thanks in advance.

Kevin Mallory

Hilltrek can be ordered MTO in Ventile and Organic fabric: https://hilltrek.co.uk/

Raj

Good reads as always but I’ve sorta had a different philosophy, I tend to ignore fashion cycles, and well aim for timeless look mainly using fit, contrast etc as barometer ie look at my figure see what cut of Jean would work best, as opposed to what is fashion ,same case with suits if it was the 80s and power suits with heavy shoulder padding were the all the rage I would look at my shoulders and go from there.

I think some trends have endured , and will continue regardless and you will safe using them ie preppy style and if you wear glasses ( like me) a style like the Ray-ban club masters will look good on you just as they have looked good on influential figures such as Malcom X.

However this just my view and from my limited experience. “Just my two cents” as they say, not sure what you would make of my views?

Raj

I think that is quite true, I remember seeing one prominent example that Huntsman shared a picture of one of their staff from the 1970s. The cut and prominent features such as the shoulders and the so called “hacking jacket” style remained the same but the lapels were super wide and the was quite a prominent boutonniere sewn in.