Military-inspired menswear has always been prevalent in the fashion scene. Take one look at current style trends – it’s having yet another moment in the spotlight.
In that spirit, let’s explore the most iconic pieces – including military jackets.
Editor’s note: While we go through each style, we will also provide you with a range of models to choose from. Ones that are more “OG”, some a modern take on the original, and of course, “grail” pieces (ones you may need to spend a bit more on). Enjoy!
Before we go too far, a little background on the numbers you see attached to these field jackets. Rather than a random product number, this number actually refers 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
The M-51, along with the M-65 (discussed next) is what most likely comes to mind when you think of classic men’s military jacket. 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
While a lot of the M- issued military jackets are still made by Alpha Industries, they don’t carry the M-51. You’ll have to scour vintage stores or eBay to find something truly authentic.
The Modern Take
This interpretation of the M-51 by J. Crew keeps the vintage look of the original military jacket, but with a trimmed down fit, cotton fabric, and a few stylish details.
I’m not sure if there is one go-to ‘splurge’ for an M-51. But if you’re going for high-fashion, look no further than this version from Mr. Porter.
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 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.
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.
The original supplier of a wide variety of U.S. military gear, Alpha Industries, is still pumping these bad boys out for the general public today (now offered in both a slim and standard fit).
The Modern Take
Even the Alpha Industries ‘slim fit’ version tends to be oversized. If you want something truly slim and modern, the J.Crew version is the way to go.
This black waxed cotton version from Belstaff does not disappoint. They’ve done some incredible work transforming vintage military jackets into edgy “rock star” pieces.
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 fill me in via the comments!
Regardless, flight jackets are some of my favorite military jackets. And lucky me, they’re definitely having a moment in modern men’s fashion.
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 model-to-model, but the silhouette remains a winning classic amongst military jackets.
One of the original manufacturers, Rough Wear, can still be found at a few outlets like British suppliers Eastman Leathers.
The Modern Take
The shearling collar stands out as a modern touch to this All Saints jacket that’s otherwise steeped in the original style.
This impressive jacket by Our Legacy has the luxurious details it takes to stand out – and it’s built to last.
The MA-1 Bomber 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 70’s, the MA-1 bomber 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.
The classic by Alpha Industries is still going strong today.
The Modern Take
Like all things leather, Schott makes some of the best – and they’re cheaper than finding something vintage.
This jacket from Rag & Bone gets it right – the balance between OG and modern, the sleek look, and the classic details.
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.
Originally a British creation, Gloverall took up production after acquiring a boat-load of surplus originals issued to the British Royal Navy during WWI and WWII – and they continue to make one of the best models out there.
The Modern Take
Japanese brand Uniqlo took the Gloverall original, clipped the sides, replaced the wood and rope closures with horn and leather, and gave it a price that is much easier on the wallet.
For the duffle coat, it’s all about the OG version! Doesn’t get better than the original, in my humble opinion.
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 1720’s.
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.’
Today, Sterlingwear of Boston is the official supplier of pea coats to American naval forces.
The Modern Take
Ok, this is a cop out, but the pea coat can be found at practically every modern menswear brand, from J.Crew to Bonobos to Club Monaco and everyone in between.
For something more ‘lux’, look no further than this version from Todd Snyder + Private White V.C. and embellished with a swaggy fur collar.
The Crew Coat
The N-3B Snorkel Parka
This one goes to show you: You never know it all!
Here I was, thinking that the N-3B parka discussed below had to be either a ground troop or maybe even a naval issue. But my research into military jackets proved me wrong.
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.
Again, Alpha Industries takes the cake as the original military supplier.
The Modern Take
Water resistant, lightly insulated, and warm, this J. Crew parka is both stylish and functional for the cold, wet weather.
I love that this Parajumpers parka is built for warmth on the coldest of days but can still turn heads on city streets thanks to its grail worthy touches – like that coyote fur trim.
So, which military jacket do I get?
First, consider the temperature. 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.
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 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 filling.
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 personal style.
How to Wear and Style Military Jackets
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.
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.
Do you have a military style jacket in your wardrobe? Which one of the above is your favorite?