Over the past years a renewed appreciation and interest for the British tailoring tradition can be noticed. That combined with the re-interpretation of industrial clothing heritage made us once again fall for the true iconic pieces from across the Canal. In Italian sportswear it's not uncommon that with the development of a collection various archives of military or naval dress regulations are consulted. To bring an authentic tribute to Britain's classics in our store, made the choice for outerwear brand Gloverall, with their origin in the Second World War, more than logic to us.
A bit ironic it is that the commander of Britain's Eight Army, who led his desert Rat troops to victory over Rommel in the sweltering heat of El Alamein in North Africa, should be so closely associated with a heavy, hooded coat designed to tackle the cold of the North Atlantic. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's image was defined in part by his distinctive and sometimes shabby wartime dress - his grey, knitted sweater and, most famously, his beret - but was perhaps best captured by his preference for a duffle coat.
For a military design the duffle coat has a somewhat cosy reputation, as the choice of Peruvian bear (and children's storybook character) Paddington, and the uniform of the British nuclear disarmament movement of the late 1950's. But the basis of the style predates the Second World War considerably: 'duffle' comes from the Belgian town of Duffel (now part of Antwerp), where a heavy woolen cloth with a high lanolin content that makes it naturally water-repellent has been woven since the Middle Ages. It was used to make coats for Royal Navy personnel during the First World War, but not in the duffle style.
The Original Monty Model 575 characteristic fastenings - large wooden toggles slotted through rope loops - could easily be manipulated with cold hands and were thought to be originated with Belgian peasants who used whatever basic materials were available to them. The coat retained its humble nature. During the Second World War, when what now be recognized as the duffle coat was manufactured to Britain's Ministry of War specifications as a Royal Navy general issue item, coats were rarely assigned to anyone serviceman. Rather, one was picked up and worn by whoever needed it, officer and rating alike. The style's loose fit made it workable for just about every size and shape. Few classic movies of naval warfare are free of the duffle coat.
The duffle's transition to civilian wear came about only because so many coats were surplus to requirement after the war. The Ministry of Defence contacted M. & F. Morris Industrial Clothing, a specialist supplier of overalls and chain-mail gloves, for assistance in getting them to market. To make the coats more appealing to a public tired of war and anything associated with it, in 1951 the company's head, Harold Morris, conceived a brand name: Gloverall.
Demand for Gloverall coats - affordable, durable and very warm - was such that when the surplus supplied ran out the company began to manufacture them, albeit in a more streamlined, fashion-friendly version styled by Morris's father, a master tailor. The benchmark style called 512 was being exported by 1955. French filmmaker Jean Cocteau, playing on the coat's everyman, democratic leanings, was photographed wearing one, not just among bar society but also on grand occasions. Actor James Stewart was a fan and John F. Kennedy wore this particular model for sailing during winter.
For all its new glamour the duffle coat never lost lost sight of its hardy roots. In 1979 the members of the British Transglobe Expedition wore them, as did members of the British Winter Olympic Team in 1980 as part of their official uniform. Belgian though its origin may be, the duffle coat has now come to be regarded as quintessentially English.
[Source credits: Icons of Men's Style - Josh Sims / Laurence King Publishing]
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