Fashion History – it’s Duffel coat not duffle coat
Modern duffel coat with flap pockets front (left) and back view

This post describes the design of the duffel coat, it’s history from military, fashion statement to mainstream and eternal classic item including what to look for when you want an authentic version.

Contents
  1. A coat is named after a town
  2. The duffle coat’s military background
  3. How the duffle coat became a classic
  4. The original duffle coat cut on a woman is a men repeller
  5. Look for duffle coats cut with the female body in mind
  6. Famous people who wore a duffel coat
  7. References

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A coat is named after a town

Originally, the duffel coat was made from a coarse, thick, woolen material called duffel. This name refers the town of its origin Duffel, Belgium. Thus, the American way to write duffle coat is actually a misspelling in regards to the coat’s origin. Out of respect for the city of Duffel I use the original spelling in this post.

The duffle coat’s military background

During the Great War, the British Royal Navy issued a camel-colored duffel coat the duffel coat with a bucket type hood. This military coat reached to the knees for protection from winds and cold. The original British style duffel coat had a genuine double weave duffel with tartan pattern on the inside. First, the closure featured three, later four wooden or buffalo horn toggles with leather loops.

During World War II, the duffel coat featured a revised design. At that time, the duffel coat got the name convoy coat or Monty coat because Field Marshal Montgomery wore a duffel coat. After WWII, the manufacturer sold their large stocks of surplus duffel coats to the public at affordable prices. Due to their high quality and good weather protection duffel coats became popular in the 1950s and 1960s.

How the duffle coat became a classic

In 1954, the British company Gloverall started their own version of the duffel coat that has two large outside patch pockets with flaps. Later pancake type hoods became popular. Today duffel coats are available in all lengths from to the knees to just covering the bum. Modern duffel coats, like many other high quality coats, are often made from a softer wool fabric with distinct nap than duffel. Modern duffel coats often don plastic toggles for easy closure. Some designers use carabiner hooks like my new duffel coat featured in this post at the link (in case you missed it).

The original duffle coat cut on a woman is a men repeller

Duffel coats are classic, stylish coats. But their straight cut does nothing for your shape. In my opinion, they look great on men. For my money, they leave something to desire when worn by women. However, for a straight-up-and-down slim and tall gal, a duffel coat can be a great choice as an additional second coat, sort of a Men Repeller like statement piece when it comes to protection from the cold, rain and wind. It also may work for a pregnant woman.

But why would someone spend so much money on a coat for just one season?

Look for duffle coats cut with the female body in mind

As you know, I usually prefer the original cuts as the more classic ones. However, when it comes to a duffel coat for women in mid-life, I would recommend to look for slight twists on the theme. Go for the highest quality you can afford when it is your primary coat, read work horse and look for a cut that is slightly nipped in at the wait. If you are full-breasted look for pieces with darts for your girls. If you can’t find one with these adjustments, keep looking or skip the look.

Previous posts of my Fashion History series covered the pea coat, the original Fair Isle sweater, and the Irish fishermen cable-knit sweater.

Learn the tools to look to your best in life. Deep inside you know  you can learn to have style too.  Buy my fashion recipe book How to Dress for Success in Midlife.

Famous people who doned a duffel coat

First General Bernard Montgomery comes to mind. However, since the coat is a Euro Chic classic the list of celebrities is long. It includes, among many others, Paul McCartney and the tenage Prince of Wales. In 1965, Prince Charles wore the coat when leaving Inverness old High Church after the rehearsals of the Gordonstoun school orchestra. The iconic Monty was often featured in the movies in the early second half of the last century. Recall Art Carfunkel, Jack Nicholson or David Bowie. Of course, it also found it’s way into the literaure, just think of Burton Miles‘ Crime Club Detective Story. Last but not least, the Paddington Bear wore one in Michael Bond’s book A Bear Called Paddington.

References

Bond, Michael (1958) A Bear Called Paddington, London: Collins.
Burton, Miles (1956) Death in a duffle coat, London: Collins.

Photos: N. Mölders

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