Military-inspired menswear has always been prevalent in the fashion scene, and it only takes one look at current style trends (especially the most recent presentations at New York Men’s Fashion Week) to see that it’s having yet another moment in the spotlight.
In that spirit, and with winter still going strong, let’s explore the most iconic pieces of military outerwear.
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 in which that specific garment became standard issue.
So, 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 military style. It’s iconic, and for good reason.
Made from a midweight canvas, the M-51 is most commonly found in olive green with a shirt-jacket style collar that lends itself to more casual settings than the M-65.
The M-51 is also usually seen sans hood (although one was included, which buttoned on to the jacket collar) along with other details like: Four pouch pockets, a removable liner, snap closure and button cuffs.
While a lot of the M- issued coats are still made by Alpha Industries, they don’t carry the M-51. Instead, you’ll have to scour vintage stores or eBay to find something truly authentic.
The Modern Take
This interpretation of the M-51 by Rag & Bone keeps the vintage style of the original, but trims down the fit (and, knowing Rag & Bone, likely ups the quality).
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 Saint Laurent, embellished in a bold camo pattern.
The M-65 Field Jacket
The M-65 was created as an upgrade to the M-51 field jacket and keeps many of the same characteristics, but with a few key changes.
The color, again, is usually a classic ‘army’ olive green, and again it comes with four pouch pockets.
Apart from the hood, big changes were made to the collar, which became a stand collar rather than a pointed shirt collar and to the button cuffs and collar closures, which 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.
Throughout the years, the M-65 has been featured on the backs of pop culture icons, the most memorable of which being Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.
Alpha Industries, the original supplier of a wide variety of U.S. military gear, is still pumping these bad boys out for the general public today (now offered in both a slim and standard fit).
The Modern Take
J.Crew stays faithful to the original, but even 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.
Belstaff has done some incredible work transforming vintage military styles into edgy “rock star” pieces, and this black waxed cotton version does not disappoint.
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 favorites, 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 style 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, and was worn with intense pride as pilots would 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, although truly accurate replicas or vintage originals are rare and quite 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, a flap pocket is placed on either side of the chest, with no hand-warmer pockets as the use of such was seen as too undisciplined for military personnel. Today, these details vary model-to-model, but the silhouette remains a winning classic.
Rough Wear, one of the original manufacturers, can still be found at a few outlets like British suppliers Eastman Leathers.
The Modern Take
Timberland, while known for their boots, has been stomping all over the outerwear game lately with pieces like this trimmed down A-2 style bomber in a rough black suede.
Like all things leather, Schott makes some of the best, and they are actually cheaper than finding something vintage.
The MA-1 Bomber is another iconic piece of military-inspired menswear that you’re sure to recognize and see everywhere…these days especially.
Originally created as a response to the development of jet aircraft, which flew higher and faster and therefore 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 leather 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 again cut waist-length, and kept the knit ribbing around the cuffs and waist. Instead of a shirting style collar, the MA-1 utilizes more knit ribbing around the neck, and also includes regular 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 has seen a recent resurgence thanks to it’s heavy use by high fashion designer Helmut Lang, and more recently its adoption into street style via celebrities like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky.
The classic by Alpha Industries is still going strong today.
The Modern Take
The long-length version got a lot of love in the streetwear scene, and even OG manufacturers Alpha Industries have taken a stab at their own version.
For something sleeker, try out the khaki bomber from Acne Studios that eschews some of the original M-1 detailing for a more minimalist look.
The Duffle Coat
While the term ‘Duffle Coat’ has come to indicate a distinct style, the name originally refers to the specific type of fabric used, which was 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 most notably the toggle closures, fashioned from wood or horn fastened to rope or leather loops. Additionally, 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
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.
Editor’s note: currently sold out at Uniqlo, but this gets a refresh every fall and can be worth the wait to save some dough.
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, originating within the British Royal Navy and later adapted by their american counterparts, with mentions of the garment appearing in American newspapers as early as the 1720’s.
Crafted from similar (if not identical) fabric and designed for the same function as The Duffle Coat, the differences lie in the details.
Pea coats are characterized by a double-breasted closure, with broad lapels and a length that is traditionally shorter than the duffle coat (although knee-length options do exist, 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 ‘P-Coat.’
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.
Instead of picking one from the crowd, here are two unique but equally drool-worthy grails…
For a truly bad-ass pea coat, Cadet makes a bold officer’s coat that is sure to command attention.
For something more ‘lux’ than ‘bad-ass,’ look no further than this version from Todd Snyder in conjunction with 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’ll 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 proved me wrong.
The snorkel parka was intended for flight crews – the folks manning the runways, who often worked in downright frigid weather. You learn something new every day.
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, but later iterations moved to a cotton/nylon blend shell and a padded polyester lining that’s both warmer and lighter weight.
The truly defining characteristic, though, is the hood, which is 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 the coat a real weapon against the cold.
Again, Alpha Industries takes the cake as the original military supplier.
The Modern Take
This collab between Club Monaco and Woolrich incorporates a subtle camo pattern that pays homage to its military heritage.
Sure, it’s become rather ubiquitous over the past few years, and you might not stand out from the crowd, but there’s a reason the Canada Goose parka is so damn popular – it’s one of the best.
So, which military coat or jacket do I get?
First, consider the temperature. All of the jackets above give pretty decent protection from the elements, but there’s definitely variation in how that protection is provided. Perhaps the best way to think about it is to look at who the jackets were originally intended for.
Field jackets were given to ground troops of all types, and therefore are probably the most versatile.
In civilian life, I’d probably stick to these for transitional seasons or more mild climates. They’ll be generally wind and water resistant, with a medium level of insulation – great for a Northeastern fall day, or 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 as they are meant to withstand the pretty-darn-cold temps inside the cabins of airborne fighter jets.
That said, they are also cropped, which is useful for pilots as it doesn’t get in the way of the seating positions and allows more in-flight mobility, but is 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 probably the warmest of the bunch here.
Pea coats and duffle coats often utilize Melton Wool, a thick fabric known for its durability as well as its wind and water resistance, while parkas usually combine a protective shell with a decent amount of toasty down filling.
Duffle coats and parkas really take the cake over pea coats, though, if only for the inclusion of a hood.
Along with that, you’ll want to consider your personal style.
How to wear military coats and 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, tend to actually come across as more rebellious than regimental, as they were worn just as notably military and counterculture representatives.
Bomber jackets carry some rock-star ‘cool’ edge, with leather iterations bringing to mind bad-boys on motorcycles, and thanks to Mr. Kanye West (an influential style icon, regardless of your personal feelings about him) the nylon MA-1 bombers have become a favorite of the hip-hop crowd.
Pea coats and duffle coats are often associated with a more classic nautical style, and their adoption by ivy-leaguers has given the coats a preppy reputation. These wool pieces also tend to lend themselves a bit better to more formal looks as they resemble a traditional topcoat.
Lastly, a parka has a rugged, outdoorsy feel to it that says ‘I can survive anything’ – and means it. That said, while they’re still more often worn with flannels and sturdy pants, the fashion-forward crowd has started rocking them over suits to great success.
Do you have a military-inspired coat or jacket in your wardrobe? Which one above is your favorite?
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