Embrace Transitional Layering

Transitional layering is one of the greatest pleasures that menswear has to offer, but it’s also a source of a surprising amount of difficulty for a surprising number of men. It’s understandable, really – we’re bombarded with heavy outerwear and beach-ready clothing, and you have to look to find the stuff that falls in between, as plentiful as it is.

We’re big fans of light outerwear at Styleforum, and while a leather jacket, M-65, or other option worn over a shirt and maybe a sweater is a simple way to win at life, there are more interesting ways to layer. Let’s go over a few of them.

  1. Wear Two Shirts at Once

    Seriously. Well, not two normal shirts; @Conceptual_4est wrote a great article on the Shacket last year, and his advice on the matter is still relevant. A shirt-jacket can be worn alone, or under a heavier parka should the weather already have turned on you. Denim or canvas workshirts also do well at this, especially if they’re noticeably thicker than your standard button-up. I haven’t tried one myself, but Styleforum affiliate Yellowhook is making some denim workshirts that would work for this. Otherwise, Evan Kinori, about whom I’ve written before, does a good field shirt; and I happen to have a flannel, pocketed variety from Cloak. This is also one of those pieces you can find at LL Bean or the like, although they’ll be of a different, Bean-ier variety. Note that this is specifically casual – wearing two shirts under a sportcoat probably isn’t going to go over that well – literally and figuratively.

  2. Put a Jacket Under Your Jacket

    It doesn’t have to be a shacket, either. It’s really easy to slip the ever-present chore jacket under your outerwear, but there’s other stuff that can work as a midlayer. Say, a knit jacket that’s cut like a blazer. And a sport coat can be certainly be worn under a field jacket or hunting jacket. Nifty, no?

  3. Are you a Cardi-can, or a Cardi-can’t?

    The cardigan is the perfect transitional layer. If you’re wearing a suit or sportcoat, you can wear a thin merino cardigan under your jacket as a warmer stand-in for a waistcoat.  If you’re putting together a casual outfit, you can easily substitute a heavy cardigan (say, the perennial favorites from SNS Herning, or perhaps a cowichan) for a jacket. This works with both denim and with trousers, as the buttoned (or zipped – FULL zips, please) front makes the knit look a bit more like a jacket, and tends to lend a more flattering silhouette to the wearer than a sweater would.

  4. Vestos are the Bestos

    By vest, I don’t mean that you have to wear North Face puffer the way you do when you’re raking leaves or otherwise living the suburban dream. In fact, it doesn’t have to be made of nylon at all. There are some really cool insulated (and not) vest options from a whole host of makers, and it’s worth your time to check them out. Vests are super handy, and although I can’t endorse the Instagram hero vest-over-blazer look, I’ll happily wear a vest over a more casual garment, such as the aforementioned shacket, chore jacket, or cardigan.

I can’t really think of anything for number 5, but my main point here is that you don’t have to resort to a grey sweatshirt or a heavier sport coat for autumn. Nor do you have to immediately fall into a rotating uniform of light jackets, as I’m certainly guilty of doing. Experiment with colors, silhouettes, and textures. More importantly, experiment with layers of various weights, because autumn can be fickle and proper layering is the key to staying comfortable.

It’s Time for a Field Jacket

Lightweight outerwear is, in my opinion, the best category of clothing. And the king of lightweight outerwear is the field jacket: it’s versatile, it’s variable, and there’s pretty much a model out there for you, whatever your tastes may be.

Like just about every menswear classic, the field jacket is originally a military piece. And really, it has no definite beginning, since any jacket worn into the “field” became, by definition, a field jacket. But the best-known models are the American-made M-series jackets that replaced the original OD-3 (Olive Drab 3) field jacket, which itself replaced the four-pocket service coat that had been in action through WWI: the M-43, M-51, and M-65.

The latter has become the standard-bearer for the clothing genre, but it has an equally compelling cousin in the form of the Safari Jacket, or Bush Jacket. These also have their origins in military use, particularly as warm-weather British uniforms in khaki drill, but were rapidly adopted into casual offerings as well. Now they’re often referred to as “Hemingway Jackets,” thanks to Ernest’s penchant for wearing them while shooting things in Africa. Similar in style to the American service coat, these jackets share the four-pocket style with the addition of a waist belt.

As you might expect from a style that’s been around for the better part of a century, there are now endless options for safari jackets. They range from vintage M-65’s (still very popular due to their robustness and movie-star appeal) to modern interpretations made from luxurious materials like suede, soft wools, or supple leather. My own field jacket – yes, I own just one – comes from the short-lived but excellent brand Cloak. Unlike some of the lighter-weight examples, this one is fully quilted, and is at its best over a roll-neck sweater on a chilly day.

However, most field jackets are still true to their origins as a versatile, always-applicable jacket. The cloth versions can be sported with sleeves rolled up, which is perfect for confusing autumn weather. I’ve never understood the aversion to rolling the sleeves on a jacket – there’s nothing odd about the look, and I find it comes in handy much more regularly than you might assume. Besides, a field jacket can be worn over a linen shirt or even a medium-weight sweater, depending on what you need. And best of all, you’ll never run out of pockets.

I’m not really a fan of out-of-control luxury interpretations of utilitarian pieces, although I certainly understand the appeal. And I think that a suede field jacket is a truly handsome piece – I’d go so far as to say I’d love to own one. But if you’re looking for a real workhorse of a jacket, I would stick to fabric offerings – especially as you can find lots of models that are water- and weather-resistant, which turns the field jacket into a dependable standby every time you pack a suitcase.

Shopping for a field jacket is really case of being spoiled for choice. Because it’s such a classic style, it’s pretty easy to find a model that won’t break the bank. You’ll find examples at brands like Orvis, Land’s End, and L.L. Bean, and if you’re looking for a purely utilitarian piece, the truth is that you probably won’t be disappointed with a budget option.

Of course, you can always go vintage. A quick web search will show hundreds of options for surplus and vintage suppliers, as well as from brands like Alpha Industries. You can also find exacting replicas at Buzz Rickson’s or The Real McCoy’s, if you’re looking for period-correct details and fantastic build quality. In these cases, expect to pay orders of magnitude more than you would at your local thrift shop.

The internet menswear set has embraced the suede field jacket, which is just fine with me. While these were never exactly hard to find, it does feel that they’ve seen yet another resurgence, and Menswear designers have certainly cottoned (sueded?) on to the trend. Now, you’ll find suede models everywhere from Hickey Freeman to Brunello Cucinelli. Hell, Mr. Porter even has an entire section of their website devoted to field jackets.

Here’s the thing: if I were going to add another field jacket to my closet, which is already bloated with light jackets, I’d go for one of two options: first, I’d check for a budget option that fit my fancy for a dose of boring but functional style. Barring that, if I had the spare cash, I’d look for a suede option.

I first heard about Stoffa from Derek at Die! Workwear, and after stalking their offerings for a year I think they’ve really hit the perfect mix of clean lines and functional details – and I don’t think that’s easy to get right. I also happen to like their colors; all of which are a bit whimsical and exciting as opposed to standard drabs. You’ll have to inquire directly about materials as well as fittings.

The other maker I’d consider is Styleforum affiliate Craftsman Clothing, a Hong Kong-based made-to-measure leather company. Their Hemingway jacket is a bit more traditional, a bit less clean, which I find very appealing. And so far, Styleforum members have shared nothing but praise.

Even if we’re in the middle of a field jacket craze, it’s a very safe buy that I really doubt anyone would come to regret. Like most menswear classics, it’ll have its moments, but it’ll also never look outdated or out of style. And while I’m not a proponent of having a wardrobe made up entirely of classics, I think a field jacket is a piece that can easily be styled to the wearer’s tastes.

Regardless, best of luck on your search, dear reader. And if you have other favorites, feel free to mention them in the comments below.