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
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
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
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
"Classic fit field jacket in 5.7 oz. yarn-dyed cotton/poly twill weather cloth with a durable water repellent finish." -Buck Mason
Made from the original manufacturers of waxed cotton, British Millerain, the Flint and Tinder hunting-inspired Hudson Jacket is contemporary but fully honors the old ways. It’s handsome, hard-wearing, and will patinate over time, ensuring it wears in long before wearing out (if it ever even does that).
Military Flight Jackets
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.
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.
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
Military Naval Coats
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
Military Crew Coat
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
"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
This jacket is actually a parka version of Eddie Bauer’s flight jacket. It has the tactile, multi-pocket front, but is also filled with down insulation, a quilted interior, and a warm and stylish faux fur lining on the hood. Of course, it’s sophisticatedly waterproof and breathable.
So, which military jacket do I get?
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.
The Most Versatile: Field Jackets
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.
Most Insulated: Flight Jackets
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.
Very Warm: Naval Coats
Naval jackets and coats, 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.
For The Coldest Conditions: Duffles and Parkas
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
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
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!
|Added and updated links
|Updates to text, updated links
|Original publish date