To a large extent, a man’s outerwear needs are determined by climate and his lifestyle. For a Caribbean gentleman, outerwear may amount to a good umbrella and, perhaps, a sturdy raincoat. But for a Canadian gentleman, a down-filled or fur-lined coat might be a necessity. Whether a man typically uses private or public transportation also influences the type of outerwear he must select: A gentleman who must wait at bus stops and stand on subway platforms in cold weather will have different outerwear needs than a man who dashes about town and country (within the speed limit, of course!) in a private vehicle.
Overcoats (Top Coats, Greatcoats)
From times Biblical, coats have come in many colors. But today, they also come in many shapes and sizes to meet the varied needs of modern man. There are, for example, ponchos and parkas; trucker jackets and duffel coats; pea coats and the slightly longer bridge coat; polo coats and trench coats, etc., all designed for providing warmth, protection, and/or fashion. But one thing is for certain: Whenever a man wears a coat with his suit or with formal wear, that coat should be an overcoat (also called a “topcoat” or a “greatcoat,” depending on the weight of its fabric, the top coat being the lighter). With formal wear, a gentleman for whom money is no object might wear a black topcoat of vicuña or cashmere, perhaps with a collar/lapel of sable. But for everyday business wear, a number of fabrics—primarily wools—are appropriate. (In the 1920s and up until the 1940s and ’50s, some men of means would don fur coats; but by the 1990s, the practice—independent of the consciousness raised by animal rights activists—would come to be regarded as distastefully ostentatious. Today, a gentleman who wears fur would wear it as the lining of a coat of exquisite fabric, with, perhaps, only the collar/lapels of exposed fur; or he may wear a fabric coat with a collar/lapel of fur. But the days of gentlemen in full fur coats are gone—at least for the foreseeable future).
Whether a coat is single- or double-breasted, styled with peaked or notched lapels, or designed with raglan or set-in sleeves, for example, is a matter of personal taste and the degree of formalness desired. (A shawl collar or peaked lapel is more formal than a notched lapel, for example; and set-in sleeves are more formal—even if not more comfortable—than raglan sleeves). But what is critical is that a gentleman procure his overcoat from a reputable outerwear establishment, which will likely only offer well-made garments of good-quality fabrics.
The best way to ensure the proper fit of an overcoat is to try on the coat over a properly fitting jacket since overcoats are designed and constructed to be worn over jackets. A man who wears a 42L jacket, for example, would wear a 42L overcoat. The overcoat’s shoulders, therefore, would extend slightly beyond those of the jacket, and the sleeve length of the coat would extend beyond that of jacket by about one inch.
For a gentleman who must wear a suit or jacket in cold, rainy weather, a trenchcoat is a wardrobe essential. (In such weather, a gentleman in formal attire would not wear a trenchcoat over his tuxedo or tailcoat. Instead, he would wear his black overcoat and protect himself from the elements with a black umbrella). A trenchcoat is primarily a raincoat, generally constructed with a removable insulated lining. Ranging in length from mid-calf to above-the-knee, the traditional color is khaki, but olive drab is also popular. Waterproofed cotton gabardine, poplin, or drill are the traditional fabrics of choice.
Whether the trenchcoat (also “trench coat”) was first designed in the 1850s by John Emary of Aquascutum or in 1901 by Thomas Burberry is likely to remain a matter for debate for the foreseeable future. What is known for sure, however, is that in World War I, the coat served as a welcomed alternative to the traditional, heavy serge greatcoats that had proven too cumbersome in the trenches of previous wars.