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.


Styleforum’s Favorite Brands

Styleforum has a lot of “favorite” brands. They wax and wane in popularity over the course of months or years, and because of the diversity of our members these brands range from the rigidly conservative to the breathtakingly avant garde. Although this isn’t a complete list, it does capture a snapshot of some up-and-comers alongside a number of old standbys. Let’s take a look at Styleforum’s favorite brands, and what they say about us – the people who love to wear them.


Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Epaulet

The Dream: You’re a globe-trotting gentleman-explorer, and your footwear reflects that. No matter the occasion, you’re always well put-together – but you never stick out. Several people have referred to you as “dashing.”

The Reality: You spend more time applying leather-care product to your massive collection of Alden shoes than you do wearing them.

Brooks Brothers

Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Brooks Brothers

The Dream: Your life is a perfect blend of work and play. You roll up your chinos and play tag football on the lawn. You are happy and content, your collar roll is always immaculate, and you spend your summers vacationing on the Vineyard.  You know it’s gotten crowded but you just can’t imagine going anywhere else – you’ve made such meaningful connections.

The Reality: You have recently discovered that penny loafers don’t go with everything. You constantly talk about how “real men wear pink,” but you’re uncomfortable and fidgety every time you do. Recently, you have begun to fear that people find you boring.


Carol Christian Poell

Styleforum's Favorite Brands

The Dream: You curate a minimalist gallery in a European city. Or if not a gallery, you curate a hugely popular photo-slash-contemporary philosophy website with descriptions of each photo posted in all caps. You curate something. People admire your taste.

The Reality: Upwards of five people owned your “collection” before you. You rarely wear any of it, and when you do, you remember why you don’t. You think about selling all of it constantly, but worry that you won’t be able to make back what you paid. You wonder why you don’t just start curating sweatpants instead. You have begun to suspect that no one cares about your moody photography.


Christian Kimber

Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Christian Kimber

The Dream: You’re a free spirit, the kind of guy who spends weekends at destination flea markets looking for antiques to furnish the quirky studio apartment you keep in a neat, artsy neighborhood. You ride your skateboard to the coffee shop every morning; not to work, but to read several Very Interesting Books every week. Your signature touch is a giant scarf. You eat a lot of noodles.

The Reality: You’re an internet hobbyist who spends his days browsing web-stores.


Eidos Napoli

Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Eidos

The Dream: You are an Italian bon vivant who has excellent hair and rides a scooter through the hills of Tuscany.

The Reality: You got the suit 40% off  at Bloomingdales. Sometimes, guys at work ask if you have an interview.  Now you mostly wear it for your Instagram. You have 200 followers.


Engineered Garments

Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Stitched and Stitched

The Dream: You make a living as a travel correspondent, and spend your days fishing, surfing, and hiking with your group of friends and photogenic dogs. All of you carry vintage film cameras – even the dogs. You routinely get your fancy clothing very dirty, but you don’t care. Sometimes candid photos of you appear in Japanese style magazines, with captions like “How to live a care-free life.”

The Reality: Your apartment doesn’t allow dogs, and people wonder why you’re always wearing the same jacket and carrying a camera around.




Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Kapital

The Dream: You are a carefree artistic type, a creative director at an independent magazine. You are well-read and your friends are regularly featured in iD magazine.

The Reality: On the street, people wonder if you are homeless.  You tell your friends you got it all on sale so that they won’t ridicule you for the prices you paid. You secretly wish you lived in Japan and owned an Indigo dye-house.


Robert Geller

Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Barney’s

The Dream: You spend your time drinking ironic beer on urban rooftops around the world with your friends, all of whom are models, photographers, and graphic designers. You just launched a fashion magazine that has disrupted the industry and brought you several publisher’s accolades.

The Reality: You have three bomber jackets in your closet. You never know what to wear with any of them.



Suit Supply

Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Suit Supply

The Dream: You are a successful young entrepreneur. You are stylish and always up-to-date on the latest New Yorker. You have respected opinions on everything from art to the economy to the state of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Reality: People wonder why your pants are so tight, and most women you meet find you just creepy enough to avoid. Your boss thinks you spend too much time looking in the mirror.





Styleforum's Favorite Brands

Photo: Antik Boutik

The Dream: You drive a vintage Defender, and all of your most precious belongings can fit into a single well-worn duffle bag. You live authentically. You eat interesting street food all over the world. You laugh constantly. Visvim is the only brand in your closet.

The Reality: You talk about hating John Mayer because he’s not authentic but deep down you burn with unbearable jealousy.