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Coats of Arms

From the Utilarian Apparel of Both War and Peace Comes Classic Outerwear
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 2)

Today, the raglan overcoat is usually seen in both solid-hued and patterned tweed, loden cloth, cashmere or, for topcoat versions, in gabardine. Its shape is not only characterized by the natural, padless shoulder but by a capelike fullness in the body. Pockets may be either set-in slanted or patch; and collars and lapels slightly rounded (called a bal collar, which is short for "Balmacaan," an estate near Inverness, Scotland), notched or peaked. The coat comes with or without a fly front to its single-breasted cut; sleeves take cuffs, straps or button tabs.

A frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado on the subject of fashion, G. Bruce Boyer is the author of Eminently Suitable (W.W. Norton, 1990).
From Sprezzatura to Sublime: the Duffle and the Vicuña

The duffle coat has, as they say in the music business, spread across the charts and become a crossover hit. The original term, Duffel, refers to a town of that name in Belgium, just south of Antwerp, where a heavy woolen overcoating woven in a twill weave with a thick, spongy nap has been made since the seventeenth century. Since it is both heavy and warm, and need not be made with expensive wool, it came to be used for soldiers' garments, as well as for the bags named for them. The most notable garment made from Duffel cloth was the loose, hooded coat worn by British sailors during the Second World War that Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery made famous as his standard outerwear. As war surplus, this garment (along with khaki trousers and other leftover accoutrements) became popular in the United Kingdom and abroad on college campuses during the 1950s and '60s and was known (and spelled) as the duffle coat.

Now simply called a duffle, this comfy and utilitarian single-breasted coat is enjoying a fashion resurgence, made in its original cloth as well as some finer fabric versions, and even leathers. Characterized by a straight-cut body and an attached hood, patch pockets and toggle closures of wood or horn or even leather, this isn't the sort of coat you'd want to wear with pinstripes, of course. But the English have long worn it as cozy country attire, and the Italians have made it a point of considerable style to wear this casual coat with tweedy tailoring in the studied nonchalant way (the Italian word is sprezzatura) for which they are legendary. With a tweed suit or sports jacket and odd trousers, the duffle coat is as perfectly at ease in town as it is in the country with a turtleneck sweater and corduroys.

The authentic model is unlined wool, with attached hood, patch pockets, shoulder yoke and toggle closures of wood or horn. Originally done in tan and navy blue, the color spectrum is today bounded only by imagination and one's personal sense of propriety, which is just another measure of the coat's enduring appeal.

At the complete other, shall we say ethereal, end of the coat spectrum is the vicuña overcoat. Vicuña clothing of any sort has long been unavailable, because the animals that provide the material were almost hunted to extinction by mid-century, and were saved only by their placement on the Endangered Species List. But due to a controlled breeding program designed to enlarge the Peruvian herds, the vicuña is now a "returning" species, and new techniques now allow the animals to be sheared of their pelts without harm to them. So the future looks bright both for them and for lovers of the world's most luxurious fabric.

The place to go for the world's most luxurious coat is Harrison James, in New York City. "It certainly wouldn't pay anyone to stock such a garment," says the president, Alan Katzman, "but we've made several in our custom shop. We prefer classic town styling in a coat like this, because it's something you'd want to keep for a long time. The fabric is so handsome it speaks for itself, and so simplicity in styling is a virtue." Mr. Katzman would be happy to run up one of these handsome coats for you, in either single- or double-breasted styling, with your choice of black, navy or natural vicuña, in about six weeks' time. It's priced at $35,000. It's a Wrap

Phone the following for the address of your nearest vendor of fine topcoats:

British warm: Luciano Barbera (212) 315-9500

Chesterfield coat: Bergdorf Goodman Men (212) 753-7300


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