Sir Hardy Amies asserts in the ABC of Men’s Fashion that ‘anyone with a feeling for clothes will not want to wear a coat longer than the knee’. With all clothing, form should always follow function. This is not to say, however, that a performance fabric such as tweed cannot be as beautiful as it is practical. With a few exceptions, a coat is designed to protect its wearer from inclement weather. The above quotation (emblazoned on the window of number eight Savile Row, no less), interestingly, seems to contradict this idea. Perhaps it is archaic to think that a coat should be long, but the reason for believing so is born from practicalities.
The style of the outercoat has gently vacillated since the Regency era. Numerous wonderful coats of the past have become extinct owing to changing tastes. Nevertheless, many coats worn today remain largely unchanged from earlier designs. On the whole, the most popular outercoats of today are overcoats, raincoats, and topcoats.
An overcoat’s most important characteristic is that of warmth. The heavy cloth (ideally 20 – 30 oz) from which overcoats are made blocks wind and keeps the wearer shielded from the elements. At their longest, they drop all the way to the ankle and, at their shortest, to just below the knee. For the tall man of 6ft upwards, mid-calf is an attractive length, offering a comfortable balance between ease of movement and warmth. For the slightly shorter fellow, two or three inches below the knee works well. Sir Winston Churchill, a short yet well-dressed man standing at around 5ft7, wore his coats below the knee. A risk of venturing above the knee is that it makes short men look shorter and, rather unintuitively, tall men taller.
Trench coats were born as an alternative to the military great coat. Impervious to the weather but lighter, they were popular with many soldiers even after their return from war. Modern raincoats, even from the most reputable manufacturers, are often cut well above the knee. Nonetheless, any man with sense would choose a longer coat to prevent their legs from getting soaked.
A topcoat is a coat designed to be worn in spring and autumn when the weather requires a lighter coat but still an added layer of warmth. In more recent years, the overcoat and topcoat have become largely synonymous, although they are quite different in weight, fabric, length, and general design. Topcoats are commonly made of lighter-weight fabrics (17-18 oz). They are often single breasted and usually finish just below the knee, as they are not designed to be worn in the biting cold. However, both low and high end retailers are conforming to the air du temps of producing coats that finish above the knee. Although extra warmth is not necessarily required from these coats, as a matter of elegance, a longer coat best flatters a man’s proportions.
Apart from the meteorological considerations, it is worth noting that the length of a tailcoat affects the length of anything worn on top. The tails of a morning coat or evening tailcoat should fall to the point just behind the extension point of knee. When wearing an overcoat on top of tails, it is important to ensure that the coat on top is longer. Meaning, more concretely, an overcoat must extend further than the knee.
It is a great shame that the current trend towards exceedingly short coats has pushed longer cuts aside. These days, it is a rare thing and a benison to see a man dressed elegantly in a well-fitting coat. In the metropolis, a gentleman should wear a dark double or single breasted coat and in the country an ulster in a more casual fabric is sensible. Should he live in a particularly damp city, a raincoat might be advisable.
Please, gentlemen, do me a favour and do not submit to the urge to buy shorter coats purely because they are readily available but to find a coat that flatters him, be it an inch below the knee or six. GPDL
Mehr über den Autor: George Packe-Drury-Lowe.