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Made to Last: Duffle Coat

November 24, 2009

Knowing its history makes anything so much more fascinating and valuable to me.  Where it started, why they made it and how they did it….. I’m curious. This is where I spread my curiosities and share some stories.

The traditional English coat, “Duffle coat” is one of my favourite styles for outerwear and I’ve got one that’s originally made in England by Gloverall. Those two words, duffle and Gloverall refer to pretty much the same thing now. Duffle coat survived two world wars, and the British firm Gloverall made it possible to remain in the vagaries of fashion for nearly 100 years to become a classic, and that’s intriguing to me. 

The word “Duffle” originally referred to a heavy, coarse, woollen weatherproof cloth closely woven for warmth and was first produced in the Belgian Town of Duffel.

Duffle bags were originally made from the same material.

However over the years it has come to signify a hooded coat with distinctive rod-shaped wooden toggle fastenings that passed through rope or leather loops. It was adopted by the British Royal Navy and they issued a camel-coloured variant of it as an item of warm clothing during World War I.

Left: A photograph of Lieutenant Basil Beal wearing foul weather gear, a World War 1 Royal Navy duffle coat (taken in 1914) from the RN Submarine Museum.

The design of the coat was modified slightly and widely issued during World War II. In the Navy, it was refered to as a “convoy coat”, and used by officers and men of the watch to protect against the biting Atlantic and North Sea winds. The toggles could be unfastened whilst wearing thick gloves, and hoods were carefully designed to fit over peaked Naval caps.

[Worth a Watch: Jack Hawkins in The Cruel Sea (1953)]

(Images via LIFE)

Field Marshal Montgomery with officers of the First Canadian Army. Second left, General Harry Crerar in duffle coat next to Montgomery.)

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a famous wearer of the coat and the Allied hero wore the duffle coat wherever and whenever he could as a means of identifying himself with his troops, leading to another nickname, “Monty coat“.

[Worth a Watch: Trevor Howard in The Third Man (1949)]

World War II British Army officer and  the founder of the Special Air Service, Sir David Stirling

David Niven, right, and Gregory Peck in The Guns Of Navarone (1961)

After World War II, large stocks of army surplus duffle coats were available at reasonable prices to the general public and  the British company Gloverall purchased surplus military supply. When that supply ran out, in 1954, Gloverall began making its own version, adapting the fit and style of the military coat for everyday wear.

All members of the Royal Family wearing Monty coats. photo taken in 1946.

The Gloverall duffle coat proved instantly popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s with young men who were suddenly presented with the prospect of further education rather than military service abroad. Ironically, then, what had started out as rough military garb soon came to stand for bohemian edginess.

Gloverall still maintains this Naval link through the iconic ‘Monty’ and its application to the service highlighted by its namesake Field Viscount Montgomery.

Duffle coats are for girls, too.

(Images via Gloverall Fall 2009)

The design of duffle coats continued being improved. The original jute rope and wooden fasteners, so practical to use during stormy weather at sea, were replaced by high-quality leather thongs and real horn toggles. Flaps were also added to the patch pockets, though they could still accommodate the gloved hand. The bucket hood was turned into a flatter, more stylish ‘pancake’ hood.

(Special thanks for great information @ The Ivy League Look)

Above is my current favourite pick . This combination of heavy itchy wool and the blackwatch tartan is perfect. If you put blackwatch on anything, I have to buy it. That’s just another “my thing”.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 24, 2009 11:31 pm

    An incredible post, thanks!

  2. Suska permalink
    November 25, 2009 3:16 am

    OOo! I love! I wish I can wear those, but I’m afraid of looking like a little school girl with my baby face. 😦
    But fun read!

  3. November 25, 2009 1:29 pm

    Excellent post, thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you!

  4. Jenn permalink
    November 25, 2009 7:27 pm

    This was really great to read! Thank you so much!

  5. nessi permalink
    December 8, 2009 11:06 pm

    This was really interesting. I never even knew what those coats were called or that there was a history behind them. I love learning about the history behind things. Thanks so much!

    • December 9, 2009 12:38 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I love learning about history and fascinating stories behind the scenes. I’m working on a history post on another well-known style for outerwear now. Hope you like it.


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