The Field Coat: Outerwear That’s Proved its Mettle


Written by: Jodie Lindop

Military-inspired clothing is deeply entrenched in fashion. In camouflage print separates and bomber jackets, the military influence is front and centre. But the military heritage of the field coat , also called a field jacket, is unknown to many of the men and women who sport the modern version of this versatile outerwear. Read on to learn how the highly fashionable and functional field coat is interwoven with the United States military’s standard-issue uniform.

The History of the Field Coat

The field coat as we know it today evolved from the US Army’s M-1943 Field Jacket, simply named for the year of its introduction. Known as the M-43, the cotton sateen jacket was developed by the army during World War II to improve the utility and protection of existing military field outerwear. The new jacket was oversized to allow room for layering and enhanced range of movement, and sported four roomy patch pockets with flaps on the front to hold personal items and ammunition.

The next version, the M-1951 Field Jacket, was put into service during the Korean War. The army added a removable lining to the M-51, as well as a covered zipper with snap-front closure so soldiers could crawl on their bellies without their jackets opening or snagging.

The rough terrain, tropical climate, and changing weather conditions soldiers faced in the Vietnam War prompted further design changes to the field coat, and the M-1965 was introduced by defense supply company Alpha Industries. The M-65 included many of the technological advances of previous models whilst introducing a rugged and wind-resistant nylon/cotton fabric and a hood that could be rolled into a hidden zip-up pocket within the collar.

The palette of the uniforms transformed through this period as well. The earliest field coats were produced in the olive-brown colour known as “olive drab,” a hue made famous by Dwight D. Eisenhower’s iconic WWII short jacket. The M-65 shifted to a grayish-green colour, known as “Olive Green 107,” that was thought to flatter the widest range of soldiers and provide better camouflage in jungle warfare.

The M-65 would eventually make the leap from military to civilian garb, first by way of the counterculture and antiwar movements of the time and then through popular culture. This version of the field coat surfaced in movies—Woody Allen wore one in Annie Hall, Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, and Sylvester Stallone in Rambo. Andy Warhol expressed his subversive side by mixing a field jacket with dressier style elements. In the years since, men’s and women’s outerwear fashions fully embraced the laid-back good looks and versatility of the field coat.

The Field Coat is at Ease in City or Country

With three-quarters of a century’s thought put into its design, it is little wonder the field coat is such a familiar silhouette in everyday looks and even high fashion. It is the perfect casual outer layer for evenings out or setting off on a hike. The field coat offers defense against the elements and ample storage for wallets, cell phones, and keys, so the wearer can easily set off on any journey unencumbered in town or in the country. This last benefit makes it a go to coat for travel , particularly in the transition seasons.

It only takes a quick glance at a field coat alongside a barn coat, hunting jackets, and safari jackets to know that these coat styles influenced each other as their finer points evolved. The elements that make a field coat such a utilitarian and attractive option have found their way into all these varieties of outerwear—it’s just a matter of choosing which suits you best.

Selecting Your Field Coat

Waterproof waxed cotton field jackets are ideal for sporting men and women who won’t allow inclement weather to keep them from their outdoor adventures. A field coat with a stowaway hood, a removable liner, and an extra interior pocket or two is perfect for those who are planning upcoming travels.

Quality matters when choosing a field coat because the extra pockets and roominess put you in danger of a frumpy silhouette if the tailoring is sub-par. The same risk exists if the fit is too large; a field coat should have room for layering, without being so oversized that it can’t sustain clean lines.

The field jacket has rugged, useful, comfortable, and stylish well covered. But what of colour? Is a shade of olive the only choice? Thankfully, no. Though still found in the classic olive green, today’s field jackets come in a wide variety of attractive hues, including rich browns, tans, and blues that pair well with most outfits and accessories. And there’s nothing drab about that.

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