A Brief History of The Duffle Coat

We explore the origins of a British icon of style sported by everyone from naval officers, beatniks to a certain bear from Peru with a penchant for marmalade sandwiches.

What is a Duffle Coat?

You can spot a classic style by the thick woolen fabric, box-cut, large patch pockets and characteristic wooden toggle and hemp closure. Though commonly regarded as an icon of British style, its name comes from the Belgian town of Duffel, where a coarse heavy wool of the same name was used to craft overcoats.

The Duffle Coat and the Military

Though the fabric was crafted in Belgium, its namesake jackets are an altogether British creation. The wool was used by the British Naval Forces, who found it ideal for braving the unforgiving North Sea and Atlantic winds.

The overcoat’s design was carefully calibrated to meet the needs of naval officers, with a roomy fit to layer over military uniform, a large hood to pull over naval caps and toggles that could be easily adjusted with gloves.

Due to it’s growing popularity in the Naval Forces, the coat was also adopted by the British Armed Forces in the First and Second World Wars. It was soon sported by airmen, soldiers and seamen alike, who were drawn to the universality of a jacket, men of any rank could wear.

The Gloverall Duffle

The 1950s saw the duffle coat grow in popularity among civilians, with the help of Gloverall.  After the Second World War “Gloves and Overalls” wholesalers Harold Morris and his wife Freda were offered a large quantity of surplus military duffle coats by the MOD, which they sold and recreated for workers.

Following it’s growing demand, Gloverall modernised the traditional duffle, turning it into a casual-wear staple. Utilising a lighter, hard wearing, and water repellant Loden fabric, the new duffle was exported across Europe, Canada and USA.

The Duffle Coat & Popular Culture

Cheap surplus duffle coats became the choice of intellectuals, artists, and students in the 50s and 60s. The jacket was soon worn by the beatniks in the US and the mods in the UK.

Actors, musicians and writers followed suit, cementing the style in 20th century popular culture, from a duffle-clad David Bowie in his 1976 film “The man who fell to Earth” to  all of Oasis on the cover of their 1995 single “Roll with it”. Not forgetting, a certain bear from Peru – Paddington, who first made an appearance in his iconic blue duffle coat in Michael Bond’s  “A Bear Called Paddington” published in 1958.

The Sunspel x The Gloverall Coat

For our first foray into duffle coats, we’ve relied on the expertise of Gloverall. A visit into their archives unearthed  a style from 1988, which we then updated the style in a cropped fit that feels urban and modern. The coat is crafted from a double faced Melton wool  with a supremely soft handle that feels lighter than the usual duffle coat, keeping it in line with our approach to clothing.

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