Style 101: The Field Jacket

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So, you’re looking for a new spring jacket to wear all the time on rugged adventures aplenty … where to start? That’s where our Style 101 series comes into play, telling you all about the history behind your favorite gear, plus ways to wear these essential picks. Take the field jacket — a humble-yet-tough piece of hard-wearing outerwear that rose from humble beginnings (figuratively) as the preferred military jacket of choice to become a civilian style staple found on streets the world over (and popularized for all-time in the iconic Robert DeNiro movie “Taxi Driver.”). It remains an essential to this day for the modern man, all owing to that intriguing cross-section of functionality and fashion that’s so frequent throughout the menswear world.

What exactly does that mean for you? Think of your Oxford shirt — those buttons at the collar prevented the collar from flapping when worn by polo players. Think of your favorite desert boots — a staple worn by British military officers literally trudging through the dusty desert. In a similar vein, the field jacket was worn, well, in the field by soldiers . Packed with a multitude of pockets for carrying ammo and other essentials, today’s field jackets have a gentler side — namely, we’d wager you won’t be wearing one in quite the same way as soldiers did decades ago.

Our Picks:

Proof Field Jacket

Helly Hansen Kobe Field Jacket

Orvis Around The World Jacket

The classic field coat that first comes to mind is perhaps the M-65, the original style first issued to Vietnam soldiers by Alpha Industries, a brand contracted to work with the military that now sells those same styles (in modern cuts and fabrics) to average Joes like us. In that case, the field jacket is set apart by front button chest and hip pockets, plus (most likely) epaulets on the shoulders. The M-65 field jacket — issued in (you guessed it!) 1965 — replaced the M-51 as standard issue for soldiers, but today, you can find takes on the field jacket from brands as diverse as Portland-based Bridge and Burn or a black waxed cotton version from Grayers. The field jacket, just like tan chinos or lace-up military boots, is a functional piece that eventually made its way back into civilian life, both as worn by former soldiers and later sold by brands like Alpha Industries.

Just as with other gear that finds its roots in ultra-functional situations, the field jacket for today’s man is highly versatile — use it as a blazer replacement with a classic blue chambray shirt and tan chinos, wear it atop your favorite broken-in slub tee alongside grey denim, or take your new favorite field jacket for a spin as a travel companion. Like we said, those pockets will certainly come in handy. Depending on the type of field jacket you buy, you might even find one with a zippered hood behind the collar — thus, the iconic field jacket becomes a rain jacket, too. That brings us to another point: You’re going to want a field jacket made out of water and wind-resistant canvas — feel free to add some of your own wax if you want to amp up the durability even further.

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The field jacket’s functionality and relatively light construction means you can wear it with ease through the spring months atop a grey crewneck, and you can certainly make it work for you through the fall when paired up with a rugged thermal henley. Even on unexpectedly breezy summer nights, it can help keep you warm around the bonfire when thrown on over a garment-dyed pocket T-shirt.

And of course, the iconic field jacket you might have in mind — a la the one worn by DeNiro in “Taxi Driver” — is probably a deep military green, all the better for wearing with light wash denim or dark black jeans, plus other functional style staples (think a rugged henley and those trusty desert boots). Field jackets have also been produced in patterns like rich tan camo or varying shades of black or brown — we appreciate each one all the same.

The key with finding the right field jacket is recognizing that you can get one that’s as close as it gets to the original — that’s more than good enough for us.