When I was at university I had already begun to grow into the sort of clothing my parents approved of; wearing shoes instead of trainers, sensible overcoats instead of paper thin fashion jackets. It was an instinctive switch. My life had changed course. I felt that I was suddenly more responsible for my own maturation. I decided to grow up. However, I grew up unilaterally. A girl who had been interested in attaining my affections remarked that I had matured too soon. She said that I would eventually suit the clothing style that I had begun to adopt, but when I was a good deal older. “It’s just not sexy” she once commented, rather inanely. Others conformed to the student wardrobe with greater ease than I. I was never happy in a hoodie. As a result I developed, alone, a confidence in wearing clothing that was seen by many as ‘too old’ for my age.
When I recently expressed an interest in purchasing a duffel coat, a friend of mine remarked that I was probably now a little too old for one. A little maturation, a few years and suddenly no longer am I too young for clothing but, in actual fact, too old. The window for wearing such an item must be remarkably small according to this wisdom. A couple of years at the most? Bizarre.
It’s for certain that the duffel coat is a classic, collegiate item of clothing that seems to belong on wooden pews in dusty libraries beneath dreaming spires rather than draped over an Eames chair in an air-conditioned office boardroom. It has a childlike simplicity. It makes no attempt to conceal its origins as a practical garment for Naval officers; the fastenings and toggles often look like reef knots and it is certainly not an item of refinement.
However, although it is not an item to wear with your pinstripe suits it can surely be a perfect friend on chilly, winter days. The duffel material is a heavy wool and, designed to keep sailors warm in freezing Atlantic winds, provides more than adequate protection for cold, metropolitan Sundays. The toggles themselves, ideally horn, were designed to be fastened and unfastened whilst wearing cumbersome gloves and the hood, perhaps the most ‘juvenile’ feature of the entire garment, provides protection against icy winds. Beyond these practical points, the duffel coat has an undeniably youthful aesthetic. It manages to dress down even the dressiest of accessories – bow ties, silk scarves and waistcoats – and yet does not alienate them. It draws from these items a dishevelled elegance that is interesting and distinctly ‘weekend.’
It actually does make gentlemen look younger. Unlike trainers, hoodies, printed t-shirts and other remainders of a varsity wardrobe – which merely make gentlemen look desperate. Wear it with slim trousers or jeans in blue or khaki. Gloverall, the original military surplus suppliers, are the best producers of quality duffel coats.