Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Greatcoat revisited

It was four years ago when I first introduced you to the great overcoat awakening and the greatcoat renaissance.  If I blog it here you can rest assured that it will enter mainstream culture in a few years.  These days "military style overcoats" are all the rage.  And a lot has changed since then. Well I'm here to share my findings.

I have cycled through many an overcoat over the years. All relatively cheap. And these days I'm settled on bridge coats (alternately spelled bridgecoats with no space), the coat of choice for naval officers stationed on the bridge in inclement weather.  Why bridgecoats?  Glad I asked.

The bridgecoat way

First and foremost bridge coats are black. Black is the traditional color of overcoats and you won't find many men wearing any other color. So while the overcoats and greatcoats of different branches of different militaries around the world have an interesting variety of colors; black is best.  Black has always been my favorite color and is also the overwhelming favorite color of business jerks wearing long wool overcoats.  These days it is nice to be a little less conspicuous.

Second they are double breasted in a way that is different from your typical double breasted overcoat. With a typical double breasted overcoat the lapels stick out when you pop the collar up.

This is because of the way the collar and lapels are cut.  With a bridgecoat and the pea coat cut, this isn't an issue.  You see, every part was designed for a specific function.  The collar was designed to fold up to protect the back of the neck and head from the elements.  The lapels too are functional.  They are designed to fold over and button up to protect the chest from the elements.  There is even a chin strap included that buttons in to protect the front of the neck.

Underneath the collar is yet another set of buttons.  These button up the now folder over lapels, just in case you forgot your scarf.  On the underside of the collar is a set of tiny black buttons for buttoning up your chin strap.

The chin strap conveniently buttons into the inside of your coat for storage during regular times, to be buttoned under your chin when you really need it.

Typical civilian overcoats turn functional design into useless vestiges.  A small collar that doesn't fold up.  Small lapels that are mere decoration.  But military clothes tend to follow the "form follows function" philosophy so most everything has a purpose.  I suppose the row of buttons on the left side is superfluous as they are typically anchored in a way that they can't button, even if the coat has a set of button holes on the other side (which they usually do).  They are there merely for symmetry.  But check it out they have this small side vent for carrying a sidearm.  So you can pull out your saber or something.  And of course it buttons closed.  Did I mention these coats have a lot of buttons?

There's also something timeless about these coats.  The cut and look of them fits with today's military coat fetish but also reminds me of coats from the Victorian and Edwardian era.  I had this olde timey picture of dudes hanging around drinking whiskey from the 1800s wearing similarly cut coats but now I lost it.  But you get the point.  No matter the trend this look will last.

Okay so I've cycled through 3 and I'm here to tell you about them. Let me preface this by saying I bought them all on eBay and the most I paid for any individual coat was 40 dollars including shipping.  I am an obsessive eBayer and I find deals, okay?  They usually go for a lot more.  My first bridgecoat was too long and narrow. The original owner must have been tall and thin.  I am guessing it was a more modern vintage because the lapels were fairly narrow. So too small of collar and lapels, poor fit because many of these old coats don't have regular measurements.  Eventually I bought a second and unloaded the first on eBay. So, on to the second. 

My second bridgecoat was superior to the first in every way. Bigger lapels. Wider collar. Shorter length.  Wider in torso and shoulders.  A better fit overall (I am short ok!). The wool is very thick and very fine and it is a very warm coat. Overall it is superb and I have no complaints about it other than the coat is so old that the threads that held the buttons on disintigrated, especially the top and most important button, so I had to re-sew it.  Everything else was in great shape.  I am not a natural at sewing but I did an ok job at it.  Now the threads that protect the button holes are wearing away because of the brass buttons, but that is another story.  This is still my favorite coat.  Better than my first bridge coat.  Better than my regular double breasted overcoat.  About as heavy and awesome as my Soviet Greatcoat.  All black and looks great.

So why did I buy a third?  Well, a few reasons. Mostly because it was a bit snug in the shoulders and with all that GTL I was worried it wouldn't fit.   Good news, it still fits okay, but I still I went shopping for something maybe a little wider...

File photo of Mr. Booze hard at work this summer

My third bridgecoat was a super deal on eBay (less than ten bucks including shipping!). The seller had only one crappy picture. The coat itself was in bad shape. The owner cut all the original buttons off; probably thinking that they were the most valuable part and sold those separate. He replaced the buttons with standard plastic ones but did a shitty job. For some reason he sliced open the lining to sew the buttons between the inner and outer layers instead of using a back button. Stupid and I have never seen it on any overcoat I've owned - and this is my 6th.  Yes I have problems.  So I've been slowly repairing his handiwork.  Unlike my other coats this one has a clear date of manufacture:  1977.

Overall my second bridgecoat, which I will never sell, is the best. It is the thickest wool, the nicest shape. Overall a winner. The wool on my third bridgecoat isn't as thick. I'm not sure if it was made that way or what but there isn't an inner wool shell in the sleeves.  The inner lining was sliced at the cuffs.  Did the original owner slice it to remove the inner wool shell too?  Still my third bridgecoat has virtues. The plastic buttons are more discrete. It is lighter, which is sometimes useful.  And it is slightly wider in the shoulders.  And though not as heavy and warm it is still about as heavy and warm as a typically modern department store overcoat.  They truly do not make them like they used to.

The brass buttons of a bridge coat depict an eagle perched atop an anchor.  Kinda cool but the raised relief frayed the button holes.  Also my second bridgecoat is technically a Coast Guard coat, though the only difference is the inside tag and the position of the eagle, who is perched atop the very top of the anchor.

Most Navy bridgecoats I've seen have the eagle sitting on the sideways anchor so this might be a distinctive Coast Guard thingy.  This is literally the only difference between the three coats in terms of actual design.  The other differences are just variations in size and manufacturing style.  Though these buttons are cool and interesting they are also a bit bling and cause the button holes to fray.

So there you have it.  Come hang out with Mr. Booze in the winter cold and have a nip of brandy or whiskey and keep warm wearing a old bridgecoat you bought on eBay.  Because you deserve it, baby.

No comments:

Post a Comment