Military Jackets: An Effortless Guide To The Most Popular Styles (From M-51 to N-3B And Beyond)

by   |  in Style Tips

Military-style inspiration has always had a strong presence in menswear, from pants (cargo pants and chinos) to shirts (CPO shirts, the original shacket)… and yes, even coats and jackets.

Many of our favorite outerwear pieces—from field jackets to pea coats—originated from one military branch or another. In that spirit, let’s explore the most iconic military style jackets we see in modern (civilian) menswear today.

As we cover the different jacket and coat styles, we’ll try to provide a handful of models to choose from that you can actually buy today, right now. Some are more OG and traditional, while others may be more luxe or fashion-forward.

Let’s get into it!

 

Military Field Jackets

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A little background on the numbers you see attached to the field jackets we profile below. They’re not random; they actually refer to the year that specific garment became standard issue.

In this first case, M-51 indicates that the style was released in 1951. Simple enough!

The M-51 Field Jacket

What most likely comes to mind when you think of the classic men’s military jacket is the M-51 (or the M-65, discussed next). It’s iconic, and for good reason.

Made from a midweight canvas, the M-51 is most commonly found in olive green. Its shirt-jacket style collar lends itself to more casual settings than the M-65.

The M-51 is usually seen sans hood, although one was included, which buttoned on to the jacket collar. You’ll notice other details like:

  • 4 pouch pockets
  • Removable liner
  • Snap closure
  • Button cuffs

The M-65 Field Jacket

The M-65 was created as an upgrade to the M-51 field jacket. It keeps many of the same characteristics, but with a few key changes.

The color is usually the classic army olive green and it comes with four pouch pockets.

Apart from the hood, big changes were made to the collar. It became a stand collar rather than a pointed shirt collar. The button cuffs and collar closures were replaced with velcro fasteners.

Casual jacket with M-65-inspired design. view on Instagram

As indicated by the name, the M-65 was released in 1965 and then widely used by American troops through the Vietnam war.

Over the years, the M-65 army jacket has been featured on the backs of pop culture icons, the most memorable of which was Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

Shop Our Field Jacket Picks

  1. Alpha Industries M-65 Field Jacket
  2. Alpha Industries M-65 Field Jacket
    $180

    100% vintage cotton slub and treated with a heavy garment washed with stones, the Alpha Industries field coat has an updated finish and different feel

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  3. J.Crew Combat Jacket
  4. J.Crew Combat Jacket
    $198

    The perfect jacket for transitional weather and inspired by the classic M65 military jacket, this go-to layer is built with rugged 100 percent slub cotton twill and reinforced in key areas.

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  5. Vintage M51 Field Jackets on eBay
  6. Vintage M51 Field Jackets on eBay
    Price Varies

    Browse a variety of original period and reproduction M-51 military field jackets available on eBay.

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  7. Belstaff Fieldmaster Jacket
  8. Belstaff Fieldmaster Jacket
    $595

    "Crafted from 6 oz. waxed cotton, the Fieldmaster jacket features our signature slanted map pocket and internal drawstring at the waist so you can perfect the fit." –Belstaff

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Military Flight Jackets

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Alright, quick disclaimer: While I had that fun fact regarding the numbering on field jackets, the numbering (and lettering) on flight jackets remains a bit of a mystery to me. If I have any enlisted readers or military enthusiasts, please feel free to contact me and fill me in.

Regardless, flight jackets are some of my favorite military jackets. And lucky me, they’re definitely having a moment in modern men’s style.

vintage photo men wearing flight jackets next to a plane
Various styles of flight jackets. Via Life

A-2 Flight Jacket

While there was an A-1 predecessor, many consider the A-2 to be the definitive style of American flight jacket.

Introduced as standard issue to Air Force pilots in 1931, this jacket was originally very hard to come by for any non-air crewmen. As such, it was worn with intense pride by pilots. They would often add patches and other embellishments to signify accomplishments, camaraderie, and rank.

After being discontinued in 1943 in favor of newer cloth-shell jackets, the style became popular among the general public. Still, truly accurate replicas or vintage originals are rare and expensive.

The jacket itself is distinguished by a leather shell with a lightweight silk or cotton lining, a shirting-style collar, and knitted ribbing at the cuffs and waist.

Additionally, they have a flap pocket on either side of the chest, but no hand-warmer pockets (they were considered too undisciplined for military personnel). Today, these details vary from model to model, but the silhouette remains a winning classic amongst military jackets.

MA-1 Flight Jacket

The MA-1 flight jacket is another iconic military style jacket that you’re sure to recognize and see everywhere.

The MA-1 was originally created as a response to the development of jet aircraft. Since they flew higher and faster, they subjected pilots to colder conditions. The MA-1 wouldn’t freeze if it got wet like previous leather iterations (like the A-2).

Additionally, the new jet cockpits were much smaller. Previous men’s military jacket styles were too bulky and stiff to be comfortably mobile.

After replacing the leather with a nylon or polyester shell, the MA-1 was cut waist-length with the same knit ribbing around the cuffs and waist. Instead of a shirting style collar, the MA-1 utilizes more knit ribbing around the neck. And it includes hand-warmer pockets along with a signature pocket along the bicep of one sleeve.

Popular in civilian fashion since the 70s, the MA-1 military jacket has seen a resurgence thanks to it’s heavy use by high fashion designer Helmut Lang. And – more recently – it’s been adopted into street style by celebrities like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky.

photo of two men in bomber jackets vintage life photo
Bomber jackets in action. Via Life

B-3 and B-6 Bomber Jacket

While other flight jackets (like the MA-1) have been referred to as “bombers”, the true title of Bomber Jacket belongs to the B-3, first introduced in the mid 1930s. They were originally designed for aircraft bombers flying to increasingly high altitudes in uninsulated planes, up to 25,000 feet.

Since staying warm and dry were of utmost importance, these B-3 bombers were bulky and designed with sheepskin leather and sheep fur lining. One of its most defining characteristics is its oversized fur-lined collar with two straps that can fasten the open collar closed when needed.

The successor to the B-3 was the B-6 bomber, introduced in the 40s. As in-flight conditions improved for pilots, the B-6 bomber was made to be less bulky while still keeping much of the same design, styling, and warmth as the B-3.

Shop Our Flight and Bomber Jacket Picks

  1. Alpha Industries MA-1 Bomber Flight Jacket
  2. Alpha Industries MA-1 Bomber Flight Jacket
    $81.18 - $199.00

    Reversible flight jacket with water-resistant nylon on both sides and double zipper pulls

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  3. Eastman Leather
  4. Eastman Leather

    Eastman Leather Clothing, established in 1984, is one of the best in the business when it comes to producing authentic reproductions of military flight jackets.

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  5. Leather Flight Jackets on eBay
  6. Leather Flight Jackets on eBay

    Find original and reproductions of vintage flight jackets like the A-2, B-3, B-6, and more, on eBay.

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  7. Schott A-2 Leather Bomber Jacket
  8. Schott A-2 Leather Bomber Jacket
    $825

    "Pebbled leather and a plaid lining give restrained ruggedness to this classic bomber done in an earthy hue." –Nordstrom

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  9. Alpha Industries B-3 Sherpa Mod Bomber
  10. Alpha Industries B-3 Sherpa Mod Bomber
    $300

    An affordable rendition of the classic B-3 Bomber, faux leather silhouette lined with sherpa.

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  11. Schott B-3 Leather Bomber Jacket
  12. Schott B-3 Leather Bomber Jacket
    $1325

    A reproduction of the B-3 bomber made in the USA with heavyweight shearling, leather welted seams, heavy duty hardware, buckled collar, waist adjustment straps, and two front handwarmer pockets.

    Shop Now

Military Naval Coats

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The Duffle Coat

The term “Duffle Coat” has come to indicate a distinct style. But the name originally referred to the specific type of fabric used, a thick wool developed in Duffel, Belgium.

Now you can find duffle coats made from a wide variety of fabrics – though usually still wool-based. And the defining characteristics have become the toggle closures. They’re fashioned from wood or horn fastened to rope or leather loops.

Most duffle coats are hooded, thigh-length and feature a more boxy fit.

The Pea Coat

Like the duffle coat, the pea coat is a staple of naval wear. It originated within the British Royal Navy and was later adapted by their American counterparts. Mentions of the garment appeared in American newspapers as early as the 1720s.

The pea coat is crafted from similar (if not identical) fabric and designed for the same function as the duffle coat. So the differences lie in the details.

Pea coats are characterized by a double-breasted closure, with broad lapels and shorter length. Knee-length options do exist; they’re usually referred to as an “officer’s coat”, named for their use in the uniforms of high-ranking naval officials.

As for the origin of the name, opinions differ. Many attribute it to an abbreviation of “Pilot-Cloth” (which pea coats were often made of in their early forms) to “P-Cloth” and then to “P-Coat”.

Shop Our Naval Coat Picks

  1. J.Crew Dock Peacoat
  2. J.Crew Dock Peacoat
    $298

    J.Crew updated their take on the famous naval coat with an authentic, straight fit, corduroy-lined pockets, reinforced buttons, and Thinsulate to keep you extra warm.

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  3. Spier & Mackay Peacoats
  4. Spier & Mackay Peacoats
    $448

    "Completely versatile, our peacoat can be worn over a suit or sports jacket for work, or a sweater and jeans on weekends. A true wardrobe staple, this coat will be your favourite for years to come." –S&M

    Shop Now
  5. Gloverall Original Monty Duffle Coat
  6. Gloverall Original Monty Duffle Coat
    $656

    Bearing the brand's hallmark wooden toggles and jute rope fastenings.This duffle is made from a fine Italian wool blend and finished with a cotton herringbone webbing interior.

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  7. Officer Duffle Coat in Italian Melton Wool
  8. Officer Duffle Coat in Italian Melton Wool
    $398

    This roomy coat in Italian Melton wool features custom developed toggles and dropped shoulders for an easy-over-everything fit.

    Shop Now

Military Crew Coat

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The N-3B Snorkel Parka

The snorkel parka was intended for flight crews. Those were the folks manning the runways in frigid weather.

The N-3B Parka is characterized by a ¾ length (at mid-thigh), a weatherproof shell, and an insulating liner. Originally, the shell was nylon with a wool liner. Later iterations moved to a cotton/nylon blend shell and a padded polyester lining that’s warmer and lighter weight.

The truly defining characteristic is the hood. It’s fully attached with a high collar closure; when fully closed, the hood leaves only a small tunnel, or “snorkel”, for the wearer to see out of. This, along with a fur lining (real fur on the vintage and quality modern versions) make this military jacket a real weapon against the cold.

Shop Our Crew Coat Picks

  1. Alpha Industries N-3B Heritage Parka
  2. Alpha Industries N-3B Heritage Parka
    $225

    "The N-3B is a USAF Snorkel parka featuring reinforced elbow patches, a full-length storm flap and inset knit cuffs for durability and protection against the elements." –Alpha Industries

    Shop Now
  3. Parajumpers Kodiak Jacket
  4. Parajumpers Kodiak Jacket
    $1175

    "Inspired by adventurers and designed for urban explorers, the Parajumpers Kodiak Jacket blends arctic-ready performance with enough style for the streets of Aspen, St. Moritz, or New York. It's cut to mid-thigh, with a protective membrane to keep you dry as you stroll the snowy avenues." –Backcountry

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  5. L.L.Bean Maine Mountain Parka
  6. L.L.Bean Maine Mountain Parka
    $399

    Technical enough for white-out conditions, in a sleek, modern down snorkel parka design that navigates from mountain to city street with ease.

    Shop Now
  7. Canada Goose Langford Down Parka
  8. Canada Goose Langford Down Parka
    $1050

    "Sure to be a winter-weather staple, this cleanly designed slim-fit parka is styled with a low thigh-length for maximum protection against cold temperatures." –Nordstrom

    Shop Now

So, which military jacket do I get?

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First, consider the temperature in which you’ll be wearing your military jacket.

All of the military jackets above give pretty decent protection from the elements. But there’s variation in how that protection is provided. The best way to think about it is to look at who they were originally intended for.

Field jackets were given to ground troops of all types. They’re the most versatile style.

In civilian life, I’d stick to these for transitional seasons and milder climates. They’ll be generally wind and water resistant, with a medium level of insulation. That makes these military jackets great for a Northeastern fall day. Or for year-round use in a city like San Francisco. But probably not the best pick for surviving a Chicago blizzard.

man wearing grey peacoat and green beanie and tan boots
Wool peacoat from J.Crew

Flight jackets tend to offer more insulation since they are meant to withstand the pretty-darn-cold temps inside the cabins of airborne fighter jets.

That said, they are also cropped. That’s useful for pilots; it doesn’t get in the way of the seating positions and allows more in-flight mobility. But it’s also less useful for keeping your legs and butt warm and dry.

For that reason, I’d be more likely to opt for a flight jacket if I’m living in a car-prevalent city, rather than one where I’m doing a lot of walking.

Naval jackets, designed for nautical use, are among the warmest of the bunch here.

Pea coats and duffle coats are often made from Melton Wool, a thick fabric known for its durability, wind resistance, and water resistance. Parkas typically combine a protective shell with a decent amount of toasty warm down fill.

And for the coldest conditions, duffle coats and parkas really take the cake over pea coats, if only for the inclusion of a hood.

Along with that, you’ll want to consider your own style and what you personally like. Think of how the jacket looks, how it looks on you, and how it makes you feel when you wear it. Feel like a badass? Oh, and it keeps you warm when you need it? Perfect.

How to Wear and Style Military Jackets

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While every coat and jacket listed here comes from a military background, they each have a distinct style.

Field coats, while issued in large quantities to new recruits, come across as more rebellious than regimental. Over the years, they’ve been worn just as notably by military and counterculture representatives.

Bomber jackets carry some rock-star cool edge. Leather iterations bringing to mind bad-boys on motorcycles. And thanks to Kanye West (an influential style icon, regardless of your personal feelings about him) the nylon MA-1 bomber has become a favorite of the hip-hop crowd.

Military field jacket worn casually. view on Instagram

Pea coats and duffle coats are associated with a classic nautical style. Their adoption by ivy-leaguers has given the coats a preppy reputation. These wool pieces lend themselves to more formal looks as they resemble a traditional topcoat.

A parka has a rugged, outdoorsy feel to it that says, “I can survive anything” and means it. They’re often worn with flannels and sturdy pants. But the fashion-forward crowd has started rocking them over suits to great success.

What’s your favorite Military Jacket?

So considering the popularity of military jackets in men’s fashion, there’s a good chance you have one of these in your wardrobe. Which one is your favorite? What coats / jackets do you need to add to your wardrobe next?

I hope this guide helped you decide on the best military jacket for you!